We all know the guy who has a million business ideas. At parties, he’s cornering someone with an energetic demonstration of his latest invention. On Facebook, he’s spewing a constant stream of Tim Ferriss quotes. If you don’t consider yourself entrepreneurial, or even if you do, you may wonder: what makes some people motivated to start their own business? Do you have to be a certain personality type to strike out on your own, or do all of us have the potential to transform ourselves into successful business owners?
People who start their own businesses can be loosely categorized into one of four types. Some of these people match the stereotype of the typical founder, while others are more unexpected. All four types, however, can be successful entrepreneurs—if they know how to create businesses that play to their strengths.
These are the people who usually come to mind when we think “entrepreneur.” Their minds are filled with ideas (not all of them crazy) and they constantly dream about heading up their own empire. In fact, recent research has found that Innovator types are much more likely to report that they are self-employed in surveys.
Innovators are usually motivated to start their own businesses because of the desire to, well, innovate. Whether they’ve come up with a new algorithm to match people with their future spouses or figured out how to literally reinvent the wheel, they envision ways their ideas can make the world a better—or at least more interesting—place.
Innovators are typically attracted to opportunities on the cutting edge, in technology, science, finance, and so on. Although using their ingenuity is their primary aim, they’re not opposed to making piles of money with their ideas either. They're also not afraid to entertain plans that include hiring a vast number of employees, raising millions of dollars for financing, and holding blockbuster IPOs.
Although Innovators rarely need encouragement to start a business, they may need help when it comes to implementation. They often do best when partnered up with someone who can key them into the practical aspects of their plans, and gently dampen their spirits with an occasional cold dose of reality. Innovators have no shortage of great ideas, but to really succeed, they must also become great at making things happen.
Although you’ll unlikely hear an Idealist label themselves as a “businessperson,” many founders actually fall into this category. But Idealists aren’t motivated by money or power. Their drive to start a business comes from somewhere else: their values.
Idealists leave the corporate world in search of meaning and purpose. They often have one deeply felt conviction that drives them in all that they do, and their businesses are a reflection of that conviction. In fact, the organizations they often create are not businesses at all, but rather nonprofits, charities, or schools.
Idealists are also intensely interested in self-expression, and may come into entrepreneurship through a desire to have more freedom to be creative. These Idealists may be freelance artists, designers, or writers, or they may just start larger companies that are a natural extension of their creative voice.
Idealists don’t often dream of leading huge organizations, unless it’s absolutely essential to accomplishing their mission. For the Idealist, culture is as important as the business itself, and they usually want to hire employees who feel as strongly about the organization’s aim as they do. For this reason, they can be tentative about growth, but when they do grow, they tend to keep a strong focus on maintaining connections among their teams.
The nuts and bolts of running a business can be a bit of a downer to Idealists. They usually don’t have a passion for marketing (which often feels inauthentic), accounting, or finance. They often benefit from partnering up with someone more tough-minded than they are; someone who can ensure that the gears of the company continue to turn while the Idealist is changing the world.
Traditionalists in business are an interesting breed. They’re often reluctant to leave the security of a conventional job, and tend to be unexcited by innovative ideas. In fact, in a group of entrepreneurs, you can recognize the Traditionalists as the ones who consistently shoot down the ideas of their more excitable colleagues.
But when it comes to actually creating a successful business, the Traditionalist’s wary viewpoint is an asset. Traditionalists typically seek out businesses with a proven track record and are more likely to choose a proven model in an established industry (for instance, a construction firm or a restaurant franchise) than to try to invent something completely new. And once they’re up and running, Traditionalists work hard to make sure everything goes as planned. As a result, Traditionalists’ enterprises are typically well researched, meticulously planned, and executed with total precision.
Because Traditionalists tend to not be particularly creative or forward-thinking, they may not seem naturally entrepreneurial. Traditionalists make fantastic employees—hardworking, detail-oriented, and attentive to schedules and deadlines—but they don’t excel at thinking outside the box and usually don't feel any special urge to strike out on their own.
So, why would a Traditionalist bother to start their own business? Often, it’s because they aren’t seeing sufficient results for their hard work as employees. Traditionalists may get the sense that they’re being taken advantage of. They may see their companies benefit from their long hours of dedicated labor, while their fellow employees (or even their bosses) slack off. Nothing annoys the Traditionalist more than slackers, and they may decide that the only way to ensure that everyone works as hard as they do is to take the helm themselves.
Of the four types, the Improvisers are the least likely to start their own business. These types are casual, flexible, and fun-loving, and thus may long for the freedom of working for themselves—but it’s rare for them to actually take the steps to make it happen. Perhaps it’s because overall, Improvisers tend to put less emphasis on work, period. They typically care less about career advancement and more about hobbies, friends and family.
In their work, freewheeling Improvisers excel in roles where they need to solve practical, hands-on problems in the moment. Long-range planning is their Achilles’ heel, and they often don’t know what they’re going to do until they’re actually doing it. For this reason, getting an enterprise off the ground is difficult for Improvisers, and maintaining a long-term vision presents an on-going challenge.
So why do some Improvisers take the plunge? Typically, these types are motivated to start their own business in order to give themselves more freedom and inject a bit more fun and action into their work lives. Of all the types, Improvisers are the ones most likely to dread being stuck in an office. If they see an opportunity to escape the cubicle to do something exciting, they may just muster all of their resources to make it happen. You’ll often find Improvisers running companies focused on fun and adventure—travel tour companies, outdoor adventure outfits, children’s shops, restaurants and bars.
Because Improvisers are more prone to focus on the day-to-day actions of the business, they do well to minimize the time they have to spend with planning and strategic thinking. This can be accomplished through a business with a simple, straightforward model, or by pairing up with a partner who’s more adept at big-picture thinking.
What Type of Entrepreneur Are You?
Although some types are certainly more likely to start their own companies, anyone can be an entrepreneur. The key is to dial into your reasons and motivations for striking out on your own, and then choose a business opportunity that matches your style. Whether you dream of starting the next Apple or just spending your days taking tourists out scuba diving, there’s a business out there for you.