The quote "the way is the goal" or „the journey is the reward“ is attributed to Confucius. For many years I did not really understand the meaning of this saying. Meanwhile, the basic idea embedded in the quote has become one of the principles in my life. The way is the goal. The goal is not the goal.
When the media celebrates big startup exits, I subsequently experience a stronger focus on the goal as the goal among founders. The goal is then the exit, the sale of the company. The search is then on for business ideas that are thematically popular, e.g. artificial intelligence, and promise high growth rates. What founders underestimate is that only very few companies are actually sold and that it takes quite a long time until this happens. For business ideas aimed at end consumers (B2C), it takes on average (median) seven years until an exit happens1. Seven years! That's a long time, especially if the motivation for starting up is not intrinsic, such as a real interest in the problem to be solved, but extrinsic, the hoped-for millions when the company is sold. The startup roller coaster, major challenges along the way, opportunity costs and unclear future prospects then often lead extrinsically motivated people to abandon the entrepreneurial venture.
In my opinion, founders should therefore not focus too much on the end of the entrepreneurial journey, but on what the journey will look like. Instead of thinking about a potential exit, founders should ask themselves:
What kind of person will I become if I take this journey? How does this path fit into my life goals? What experiences can I gain along the way? How will I develop my skills? What encounters, experiences and topics await me on this path?
When founders focus on the path and not on the destination of the journey, this offers important advantages. First: The journey begins now. That means the positive experiences, the topics that I really want to work on, the experiences I want to have, are made directly with the beginning of the entrepreneurial activity. Even if the company doesn't become commercially successful or make a big exit at some point, as perhaps secretly desired, even if it fails, the journey has been fulfilling, enriching and worth taking. Therefore, for me, the path is the goal. And not the goal the goal. But how do I find the right path for me? More about this in later episodes of the current content season "Start with you".
„Life is a process, not an outcome. If you can get that, you’ve got it all.“ - Burnett & Evans (2016)2
Abdullah, S. (2018). How Long Does It Take a Startup to Exit? Crunchbase. https://about.crunchbase.com/blog/startup-exit/