What Motivates Entrepreneurs? That Depends on Your Age and Gender…


VentureBeat has published a guest column that I wrote on this topic "Recession: A Good Time to Trade Money for Power?" based on new research analyzed by Professor Noam Wasserman of Harvard Business School (HBS).

On October 23, 2008, I moderated a panel on Effective Board Leadership for Long-Term Success at the Forum for
Women Entrepreneurs & Executives
at the offices of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (WSGR) in Palo
Alto and presented this data, which suggests that men and women
entrepreneurs from ages 20-50 can flourish even in down economies.  The panelists were
Shellye Archambeau, CEO of MetricStream, Jacqueline Akerblom of Grant Thornton, and Steve Bochner of WSGR.

The data, originally gathered by Dr.
Tim Butler of HBS
, identifies differing motivating factors behind male and female
entrepreneurs—and it reveals fascinating, unanticipated results. The study
focuses on what motivates males and females across three age categories: 20-29,
30-39 and 40 and older. The data points out the unique differences as well as
similarities between men and women at each stage.

Wasserman, who coined the
term “Founder’s Dilemma” in his ground breaking research, is an
active blogger
on issues related to founder frustrations
and has recently written about the conflict founding CEO’s face between wanting
to be ‘Rich vs. King’ (
Harvard Business Review, March 2008).  As we examined the data in the context
of women entrepreneurs, one of the most interesting conclusions is that there
is no clearly analogous ‘Rich vs. Queen’ conflict for women entrepreneurs, as
women executives who choose the startup path are motivated very differently
from their male counterparts.

Crisis demands innovative solutions– an economy facing increasing rates of unemployment, scarce credit, and general fear, uncertainty, and doubt may be just what the doctor ordered to fuel the entrepreneurial spirit. 

I received the following comment about the VentureBeat story from a 20-something female CEO:

Great article Pascal!  Very inspirational

What I find interesting however is the comment about personal/family interests driving the reason for majority of women 20-29 to choose Autonomy as #1.  This is counter-intuitive to me and most women in this age group I interact with (although we may be very unlike the norm).  For the most part this age group is dedicated 150% to career and therefore the flexibility of defining your own hours, etc is somewhat irrelevant.  I know for me the top reasons that motivate me are intellectual challenge (I LOVE learning so many new things every day), the ability to affect the outcome and impact results, and the dedication of the people in this environment.


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