Brain of the Entrepeneur

What is likely going on is an inherited deficit in dopamine receptors which makes the brains crave feel-good experiences.  Dopamine is the “feel- good” neurotransmitter.

Knowing this can help a Type-A, aggressive person not get carried away with their “passions.”   Can make life a lot easier for themselves and those around them.


Starting Up: The Thrill of the Launch

January 24, 2008
By Diana Ransom

YOU COULD CALL hurtling head first into one risky venture after another youthful exuberance or just blind gall. Mac Lackey, a 36-year-old self-described “start-up junkie” who has founded five companies since his 1994 college graduation, calls it a rush.

For instance, Lackey spent 14 months plying his second enterprise,, with licenses and rights to broadcast live sporting events — and then almost immediately put the soccer-centric media company on the block. In the hopes of starting a bidding war, the Charlotte, N.C., native hopped on a plane to meet with the company’s three biggest competitors in London. A few days and several negotiations later, InternetSoccer sold for $15 million in July 2000. The entire process from start-up to sale “was stressful,” he says, “but also extremely satisfying.”

Lackey, now working on his fourth and fifth companies — BlackHawk Capital Management, a hybrid investment fund in Charlotte, and Mountain Khakis, a clothing company in Jackson Hole, Wyo. — says: “When you get the bug, it’s very hard to get rid of it.”

Sure, starting a business promises considerable financial rewards, but it’s also arguably the hardest stage of the business cycle. Not only are entrepreneurs usually required to spend long hours working for little or no pay for years at a time, but the process is typically fraught with uncertainty.

Yet, a number of entrepreneurs such as Lackey say once they start a business, they just want to do it over and over again. Often dubbed “serial” entrepreneurs, these business owners typically experience financial success, even though it sometimes comes at a cost to their personal life or even health. The question that perplexes many psychologists and researchers is whether these repeat entrepreneurs are born with an inner drive to start multiple businesses. Or, is the rush of the start-up just plain addictive?

Nature vs. Nurture
“To understand the entrepreneur, you have to understand the psychology of the juvenile delinquent,” says Abraham Zaleznik, a psychoanalyst and professor emeritus at the Harvard Business School. “A juvenile delinquent is impulse-driven.” Likewise, he says, “a lot of entrepreneurs are impulse-driven.”

Marvin Zuckerman, a psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Delaware who pioneered research in the 1960s and ’70s on personality traits of “sensation seekers,” would likely agree. Why? Well, for the same reason that one person likes to ride the tallest and fastest rollercoaster at an amusement park while another is content with kiddy rides. “They have a thirst for intense, novel and complex sensations and the willingness to take risks to attain it,” he says.

According to Zuckerman’s research, people are born with sensation-seeking traits, which are essentially personality traits that may be amplified in some individuals. People who rank high on the sensation-seeking scale for “susceptibility to boredom,” for example, will have an aversion to regularity or routine. “When conditions are boring or the environment is unchanging, this person gets restless,” says Zuckerman. If people feel these pangs of boredom with heightened sensitivity, he says, it’s likely they’ll also be quicker to move on to the next sensation.

By contrast, “low sensation seekers don’t see the sense of taking risks just for the sake of the reward,” says Zuckerman. In addition to being financial, that reward, he adds, can come in the form of dopamine, which is a chemical linked to joy. High dopamine activity is characteristic of sensation seekers.

“Dopamine is also released by stress,” says Zuckerman. For example, the thrill of skydiving is not the descent via parachute but actually free-falling at warp speed just before the parachute opens. When the human body experiences stress, a symphony of biological mechanisms kick in and release various hormones which seek to temper the ill effects of that stressful situation. As a result, you get a surge of energy, which can help you focus, tackle difficult projects and meet impossible deadlines.

For business owners, the start-up phase presents a similar cycle of extreme stress and then, upon success, euphoria. However, the rub is: Your body tends to get used to this chemical reaction, and over time you may lose sensitivity to it. According to widely accepted research, future stressful situations may then require heavier doses of body chemicals including the stress hormone, cortisol, to dull the pain. Chronic exposure to cortisol can lead to ill health effects, among them depression, obesity and diabetes. And, it can also harm the brain.

Better for Business
But for start-up junkies, the thrill of launching a new business usually supplants any worries about personal health. In fact, entrepreneurs who love to launch venture after venture “have an incredibly high belief in their own abilities,” says Sanford Ehrlich, a professor of entrepreneurship at San Diego State University’s Entrepreneurial Management Center. “If they see an opportunity, they want to act on it.”

That’s what Jeffrey Cornwall, founder of 12 health-care companies, did before hanging up his start-up spurs 11 years ago. Being able to spot a good opportunity when he saw one helped him move from one business to another, as did having a successful track record, business contacts and ready-to-tap sources for funding. Plus, when you start up numerous businesses, “you get better at it,” says Cornwall. “You develop patterns that can be replicable and that can be improved with each deal.”

Most entrepreneurial researchers agree that visionaries who are also good managers are hard to come by. “I think the best entrepreneurs understand when they can no longer add value to a company from a growth perspective,” says Ehrlich.

At this point, says Harvard’s Zaleznik, it might be better for the business if its progenitor went off and started something new. “If [repeat entrepreneurs] don’t cash in and they do stay on they may run [the business] into the ground because they don’t necessarily have the aptitude to run an organization.”

Cornwall, an admitted sucker for start-ups, agrees. “In my eyes, nothing beats the challenge of the start-up.” He adds that this phase always offered a number of puzzles to piece together and opportunities to problem-solve. It was stressful, he says, but “as I saw that puzzle creating something that got sales and created jobs, it was [also] kind of cool.” In some ways, says Cornwall who is now the director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., “I get more of that stimulation now because I get to interact with so many start-ups.”