The motivation myth that’s a threat to most startups

By Nvulane Nhlapo

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I had a minor misunderstanding with a friend and later that night I got a lengthy text reiterating some of the important points we discussed. For me it was about striking a balance on motivation with what one really aspires to achieve and not falling into the motivation myth.

By this I mean some heavy pop psychology that distorts reality by giving us unrealistic expectations and impressions that things aren’t as they actually are, making people aspire for a Hollywood type of reality or worst, making individuals live in a ‘Disneyland’ that they create in their own minds.

Having people jumping up and down with their unrestrained imaginations going wild, which in most cases last until the seminar and/or conference is over isn’t motivation.

Motivation is and should cultivate an already present drive in an individual, thereby acting as a propellant into the aspired endeavors.

The following account is part of a lengthy message sent my way:

Jeff Bezon of Amazon left a lucrative top job in Wall Street and headed to Seattle to establish the now $500bn plus internet giant. He now competes with Bill Gates to the title of the richest person in the world.

Google boys walked out of their Computer Science PhD program at Stanford University to pursue what is now the world second biggest company by market value.

Elon Musk dropped out even before attending his PhD classes to establish a digital mapping company which he sold later to Compaq or HP and used the money to fund what we now know as PayPal.

Facebook main cofounders were Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin. In June 2004, Zuckerberg and other small cofounders decided to leave Boston for Silicon Valley but Saverin instead took an internship at a certain Wall Street bank.

What happened next was that Saverin saw his shares diluted more compared to others because he was not there during the struggle. What should also be learnt from this is that Zuckerberg & Co left the prestigious Harvard University to manage their startup full time.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen left their respective varsities to pursue Microsoft.

What I’m trying to highlight is that ‘these’ successful tech people we normally look up to took inculcated risks somewhere. Which may then mean, we might have to redefine motivation. Distinction should be made, there is motivation and there is insanity.

Good ideas we have now will not be great or useful in a decade or so hence it’s wise we rightfully commercialize our ideas and profit from them. With proper motivation we can be of help in transforming our socioeconomic climate.

I know this is one of the those things we hate to hear but look around Maseru and see the formula of living and success:

  1. Get a qualification
  2. Get a job
  3. Put on some sharp formal shoes
  4. Gain weight
  5. Rent a duplex
  6. Buy a Fitz, Polo or Golf 4 BMW; all these from Japan
  7. Visit your hometown with your Japanese car and get worshiped.


While the message holds so much value and truth, there are harsh realities that go beyond a piece of motivation. Sad realities of our business world. They are not excuses but not everyone is excused from them.

We got the most motivated peeps, especially those running a ‘start-up’ around Maseru blowing their horns on how disruptive their product is. And with these individuals, they always give off an impression that their business is thriving.

You will only get shocked later to realize it’s entirely not true and their businesses are slowly plummeting. In my opinion the above account is the product of pop psychology, often confused with being motivated.

We rarely admit when our businesses are failing and are always egotistic.

Truth be told, some ideas seem very disruptive and fitting for our market, but somehow fail to take off and gain traction. A website will run for a few months and later when you visit it, it’s down. These things happen around us and the founders still insist their startup is taking off.

Worst of all, we benchmark our success on the tech gurus when the world we live in offers the complete opposite. Nothing wrong with aspiring to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, but can you at least start off with positively impacting one life in your community. Devise your own definition of success.

Chomwa Shikati on his publication in The Startup – Why is it so hard to build a startup? – highlights one of the painful truths hitting hard on most startups. “Though most people would refer to this point as an excuse, the truth is blunt and succinct: Not everyone is in Silicon Valley or New York. You could be doing the right things and maybe the environment and its culture are stifling the growth of your startup.”

“And well some of the challenges are different, because the culture and environment is different, and some of them are exactly the same. But I do believe it is a lot harder for someone in a third world country to build a company to reach the same size, rate of growth and have the same impact as someone in a first world country,” he continues.

We are too late. Just too late. I know the motivation gimmicks believe it’s never too late to start. Sadly, we get our hustle on at 22 earliest, but normally at 25 when life gives us a hard blow.

Kids somewhere in the world get their hustle on in their teenage years. And it’s a serious hustle.  For some of us, we don’t even remember what we did with all those early years. We also get involved in business after varsity. Mostly because unemployment is hitting hard on us.

I have seen the most successful people around who still work a 9 -5. Their side hustles are paying off quite well and they’re very silent about their success. Our generation of entrepreneurs seems to be seeking for more recognition or fame, to be more specific.

Hence we’re good at the talk but fail when it comes to action. We are paralyzed by gimmicky talks, yet motivation should give us a momentum into working toward reshaping our undesired present reality.

While we want to fuel our action with motivation, we need to be more realistic with who we are and what success means to us. We need to be wary of the motivation myth.

The challenges in the business world call for a very strong character. Motivation alone can produce a bunch of motivated idiots, sad as this maybe we have a lot of these fellows all around us.

Motivation isn’t opium or some form of a psychoactive drug that romanticizes reality, it should be about how we can deal with facts and successfully bring to life our aspirations.