Are You Starting a Business for All the Wrong Reasons?

07/28/2014 04:36 pm ET | Updated Sep 27, 2014

If you're reading this article, chances are you have some sort of connection to the entrepreneur community. Maybe, just maybe, you're even an entrepreneur yourself, aspiring or established. You're looking for food for thought on how to get your business off the ground, and then keep it afloat.

If that's the case, here's something to consider: Why are you starting your business?

It's concerning how many budding entrepreneurs can't actually answer that question, or more often, answer it incorrectly. This is a question with such a thing as a wrong answer. With shows like HBO's Silicon Valley fueling the desire of today's millennials to join their peers in entrepreneurial endeavors and media fame, we may soon be looking at a wave of wannabe founders who answer that question based on what they see on TV -- not on any legitimate internal drive or vision.

The most common wrong answer to the above question is, "I want to get rich." Many people may harbor that aspiration (secretly or not-so-secretly), but it can't be an entrepreneur's primary motivation. Why? Because it probably won't happen. It is statistically likely that a startup will fail, and even those that technically succeed may never actually see much in the way of profits. Something else many entrepreneurs fail to consider is that not only will you not make money particularly quickly (or maybe ever), but you'll spend it. Aggressively. You will personally shoulder the responsibility of managing business bank accounts as they dwindle, racking up credit card debt and applying for loans, all in your name. While it's true you need to spend money to make money, sometimes that cliché never balances out. Even if we consider the unlikely possibility that your company is successful, there's still your investors to consider; they'll see the cash long before you do.

But there are some people who know all this and still choose to start a business. They realize they won't get rich quick (or at all), but they start businesses for another incorrect reason: more freedom. Most of us can appreciate the idea of being our own bosses, whether or not we choose to actively pursue that. The autonomy and independence that come with answering only to yourself seem highly desirable - but unfortunately, this is another common misconception. The sad truth is that while your schedule as an entrepreneur is maybe a bit more flexible overall, the work is also more demanding and more stressful, leading to significantly longer hours in the long run. Maybe you can choose to start work at 10 a.m. instead of nine, but when you're working 100-hour weeks, does that sense of power really make things any better? The freedom is unfortunately an illusion, right next to the array of riches.

Now that I've broken down these entrepreneurial fantasies, what's left? What's the right reason to start a business?

In my case, and for many other successful entrepreneurs I know, it had nothing to do with what we wanted for ourselves, and everything to do with what we wanted for other people. An entrepreneur who hopes to succeed needs to objectively identify his skills, the market opportunities and where there is room to shake things up. This is not for the goal of creating a larger bonus check or longer weekends, but with the goal of legitimately impacting a given field. "Changing the world" is an extreme vision, one mocked by " Silicon Valley" and plenty of others, but it's one that needs to at least be in the back of an entrepreneur's mind - and notice that it's not about changing your world. Think bigger. Think outside yourself. The market will change and the business environment will shift, but your investment and understanding of the end game never should. If that end game includes a big pay day and summers off, then you're likely going down the wrong path. The real privilege of being an entrepreneur doesn't come in those material perks, but rather in the intangible feeling of seeing your efforts come together in such a way that creates a new industry or develops products that come to be integral components of our lives.