Security - The Khuram Dhanani Blog
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Khuram Dhanani

Security

Entrepreneurs who have experienced poverty are often highly motivated to achieve financial security. They will do whatever it takes so they and their families never have to worry about where their next meal will come from, if they will have a roof over their head, or if they will be able to pay the heating bill. They want to build the biggest cushion possible between themselves and the hardships they once endured. 

One notable example of this is Thomas Edison. Edison’s family lived an itinerant, hardscrabble life as his father moved from job to job. Edison and his siblings had to leave school at an early age and go to work to help the family. Such instability would be emotionally distressing for almost anyone, and young Edison was likely no exception. As a teenager, he channeled his anxiety into entrepreneurial endeavors to restore a sense of control over his destiny. For example, the meager wages he earned selling local newspapers inspired him to create and distribute his own newspaper, keeping most of the proceeds for himself.

Edison spent his late teens and early 20s working at various railroad lines as a telegraph operator, often sleeping in the telegraph office. Even after he moved to New York and began tinkering with electrical inventions, he seldom maintained a long-term address. Because he had so little money, he would frequently sleep at friends’ houses and perhaps “splurged” on a bunk bed in a cheap hotel room when he sold an invention. He sometimes felt ashamed when comparing his living conditions to those of some of his peers who were better off. 

Edison had no love for an austere living. When he became wealthy, he purchased several palatial estates, including an opulent winter home in Florida next door to Henry Ford. Edison’s story reflects a years-long emotional journey in which he sought to pull himself out of poverty and into a more personally fulfilling life of security and wealth. The drive to achieve financial security was one of his clicking points. 

John Jacob Astor is another great example of an entrepreneur driven by an emotional need to escape poverty. The German native came from a large family with 11 brothers and sisters, all supported by the meager income from his father’s modest butcher shop. With their mother deceased and their father working long hours, the siblings were forced to become self-sufficient at a young age. 

Astor worked in the butcher shop while he was relatively young and learned he could make a profit by buying milk and cheese from the farmers supplying the beef, then selling the dairy products door-to-door at a mark-up. Thus began his entrepreneurial journey. Astor embarked on this path to escape the emotional burdens of poverty. He understood that the only way to improve his living circumstances was through hard work and initiative. Being an entrepreneur also gave him the emotional satisfaction of taking charge of his destiny, and allowed him to hope for a brighter future as his small business prospered.

Astor emigrated from Germany to New York City in search of better opportunities. Once in America, he worked for others just long enough to learn how to go into business for himself. His job as a furrier led to the knowledge and connections he would use later in the fur-trading career that would make him the richest man in America. 

Astor’s early experiences as a small-time entrepreneur taught him that he could derive much more emotional satisfaction from running his own business. Working for others meant less money and less control over his destiny. After experiencing the pain of impoverished family life, he was determined to never fall into that trap again. Like Edison, Astor became famous for living a luxurious lifestyle once he became wealthy. As with Edison, this suggests that his emotional clicking point during these long years of struggle was the prospect of leaving poverty behind.

Domestic instability can be an equally powerful emotional trigger. Walt Disney’s family appears to have enjoyed a middle-class income much of the time, but their living circumstances were precarious. Disney’s father moved unpredictably from job to job, constantly uprooting the family and crisscrossing the Midwest in search of better prospects. Before Walt was out of his teens, his father had done a number of jobs including being a farmer, a newspaper distributor, and a jelly factory operator in different cities hundreds of miles apart. An itinerant and unsteady lifestyle can cause long-term emotional distress and create a profound longing for stability and simplicity of lifestyle.

Disney’s biographers agree that the most emotionally significant portion of his childhood was the five years the family spent farming in Marceline, Missouri. It was here that young Walt learned to draw, and developed a sentimental appreciation for the quiet wholesomeness of small-town life. Though his father eventually moved the family to the urban landscape of Kansas City, Disney spent the rest of his life dreaming about and idolizing small-town America. When he designed Disneyland, he modeled the Main Street U.S.A. area after his memories of Marceline’s simple town square. In interviews, he openly admitted that he had spent much of his adult life trying to find his way back to the sense of security he felt in Marceline. This town square became the central feature of the iconic theme park, a place where he and millions of visitors could enjoy the feeling of hometown security forever.

Financial security is the power behind the success of many entrepreneurs. Having experienced financial insecurity, always being worried about how to pay the bills and put food on the table, and the desire to never worry about having enough money ever again is a critical factor that motivates many entrepreneurs.

Khuram Dhanani
Khuram Dhanani
Khuram Dhanani
kd@softstonecapital.com