Being an entrepreneur is often glamorized, but in reality, starting and running a company is tough and requires grit and perseverance. Success is not guaranteed, but pressure and stress are.

The pressure and stress can ebb and flow, but almost every entrepreneur will face seemingly insurmountable challenges at some point. I’ve faced it multiple times in my fifteen years starting up companies. Well-known entrepreneur and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz sums up the feeling of staring into an abyss of hardship, with no end in sight, in his blog post “The Struggle,” which has resonated with thousands of entrepreneurs.

Being an entrepreneur is often glamorized, but in reality, starting and running a company is tough and requires grit and perseverance. Tweet This Quote

The defining question in these moments of struggle is, what really drives and motivates you? When you’re stuck in the abyss, what is it that guides you? When it feels like the world is against you, what gets you out of bed to face a new day?

In my early days of entrepreneurship, my goals were very self-oriented—pretty typical for a young, ambitious American. Six months after finishing college, I quit my engineering job to start a company with friends. We created a technology that enabled us to make personalized music for kids that seamlessly integrated their names throughout the music. I loved music, technology and kids, so I felt this startup was a way to follow my own passions and do something I loved. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to grow, be financially independent, and control my own destiny.

Self-oriented goals are legitimately motivating and aren’t bad in and of themselves. But, in my experience, they can only get you so far. By themselves, they form an incomplete picture of what creates a fulfilled life. As the personalized music business struggled to get to the next level, my original goals weren’t meaningful enough to justify my continued perseverance.

Self-oriented goals form an incomplete picture of what creates a fulfilled life. Tweet This Quote

Around that time, I found myself drawn to the idea that business and technology could be leveraged to address major social issues. Instead of continuing to work on the personalized music business, I went to business school in hopes of immersing myself in the world of social enterprise. This eventually led me to co-found d.light, which went on to impact over 55 million people in 60 countries.

There were plenty of moments along the way when it looked unlikely that d.light would ever get off the ground, and many moments when I wondered if it even made sense to continue. But despite seemingly overwhelming odds, my business partners and I stuck with it. After ten years of hard work, sweat, and tears, we’ve been able to attract amazing employees and partners to the cause; we built something that is changing the lives of millions of people in the developing world.

My goals and guiding principles, when self-centered, are fleeting during tough times; the more self-centered they are, in fact, the more fleeting they are. The more my goals and guiding principles encompass others, the stickier they tend to be.

Every entrepreneur will face seemingly insurmountable challenges at some point. Tweet This Quote

When our goals are driven by a desire to serve other people, they have an entirely new depth of power. Many of us begin by wanting to create a better world for our families. This is certainly more meaningful and drives people to achieve amazing things and overcome incredible odds. I think of my father, who sacrificed everything familiar and safe, and immigrated to the U.S. to create better opportunities for his family. Similarly, I am continually amazed and inspired by the sacrifices our customers make in order to provide a better future for their children.

But what if we dedicated our professional ambitions to people outside of our immediate circle of family and friends, perhaps even to strangers? In the Bible, Jesus teaches to “love your neighbor as yourself.” He answers the provocative and loaded question of ‘who is my neighbor?’ with a highly countercultural answer: the story of the Good Samaritan.

When our goals are driven by a desire to serve other people, they have an entirely new power. Tweet This Quote

The Good Samaritan is not just someone who is kind to another human being in need. Rather, it’s someone who reaches across cultural and racial barriers, overcoming socially accepted prejudices, in order to show love and kindness to someone who is different—even considered an enemy.

This expanded view of the “neighbor” we are to love is particularly poignant today. Even though social media and other modern technologies are making the world feel smaller, at the same time, socioeconomic inequality is widening at a frightening pace.

For me, the drive to be a good neighbor and love families living off the grid has motivated me to persevere in difficult times. When I am clear on why I am doing something, the what and how eventually follow—even if I’m exhausted and feel far out of my element.

The struggles and obstacles become fleeting and what remains are the millions of lives we are changing for the better. Tweet This Quote

A couple of weeks ago, I visited some customers in Kenya who were using our newest solar product. The experience felt like a bolt of electricity to my system. Seeing firsthand the positive impact of d.light fuels my desire to continue persevering. All the struggles and obstacles we have had to overcome are what become fleeting; what remains, far more fulfilling and enduring, are the millions of lives we are changing for the better.

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About the author

Ned Tozun

Ned Tozun

Ned co-founded d.light in 2006 and currently serves as the company’s CEO. Ned has been recognized by Forbes as one of the world’s top thirty social entrepreneurs. Prior to d.light, Ned founded several consumer product start-ups in Silicon Valley. Ned graduated from Stanford with degrees in Computer Science and Earth Systems, and returned to Stanford to earn his MBA.

  • Ned, thank you so much for this post. I could not agree more with it and the power of why in goal setting as well as with what drives you to make an impact with the expanded definition of a neighbor. I also truly empathize with the bolt of energy you got from visiting your customers and seeing the impact of your work in person. I think many of us who get into work that seeks to put a dent on history often may get removed from the impact we are creating when we are in a different location, working from behind a computer screen or doing responsibilities that feel not directly impactful (though they are) and being able to witness the change you are actively taking part in making – even if just once a year – reignites the fuel, passion and purpose of why you do what you do. I hope to implement this into a cultural practice someday here at Unreasonable in that the employees and co-conspirators have the option to work for a couple weeks in market of where our entrepreneurs operate once or twice a year to see first hand the big problems we are tackling and the people + companies (like yourself and d.light) who are making a difference. Thanks for writing this post and inspiring me… truly appreciated for this and the work you are doing in this world!

  • Ned Tozun

    Thanks so much Cat! I really appreciate the thoughtful response. Having practices that give people a chance to see first-hand the impact they are enabling is not only energizing but really important in improving the overall effectiveness of the organization. For instance, at d.light, by giving our operations, quality and engineering people an opportunity to visit the homes of customers and better understand the environments where our products will be in use enables them to make better day to day decisions.

  • Emily Butler

    I really really love this post so much. It’s so fascinating. Most of the time entrepreneurs are shown as just being after the money and the recognition but this post proves that there’s so much more to it. I loved the quote “self oriented-goals form an incomplete picture of what creates a fulfilled life.” It’s great to do things for yourself but you can only get so far with that. As an entrepreneur it’s important to think of the affect that you’ll have on people as opposed to how the company will simply benefit you. I love the way this post illustrates that.

  • Daniel Hartman

    I agree with you very much so Ned in the way that you
    describe caring for and wanting a better life for those close to you can be the
    motivation you need to succeed. I have trouble believing that the motivation to
    improve the lives of those you haven’t met is greater than that motivation provided
    by your loved ones. I am not suggesting that we do nothing for the people and
    world we haven’t met or experienced first hand, but I do believe that seldom
    does the want to better the world outweigh the need to provide for those
    closest to you. This is shown in the exact nature of entrepreneurs, starting
    and running a business to reap the benefits and collect profit from that endeavor.
    If there was no profit involved with the taking of these risks, I seriously
    doubt the number of new business there would be, as well as the number of
    people willing to take those risks. Again, helping the world be a better place
    is a noble cause that is motivating in many ways, ways that should not, and
    cannot be ignored, but I feel as though you are diminishing the impact that
    loved ones can have on your desire to succeed and thrive in the business world.
    Love the article, very interesting and very inspiring.

  • Katie Frank

    I was particularly interested in this article and loved the motivation behind your article. It wasn’t all about the economics aspect and making a great profit, but instead the work ethic and self belief in an idea to make it work. This post really makes me thankful for choosing to study the world of business and I am proud to want to become an entrepreneur and am looking forward to increasing my work ethic and hopefully making my own successful business in the future.