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7 Types Of Entrepreneurs And The Motivations That Inspire Them


There are millions of ways to start a business and limitless ideas of what you could sell, create, or teach others. 

Figuring out what kind of business to start can be a challenge, but we found a big factor in helping pin down what business is best for you: life motivation.

After surveying the millions of business owners on our platform, our research revealed that what motivates you is a strong predictor for the type of business you should run.

Motivation—whether a flexible schedule, extra income, or wanting to pass on a family business—strongly correlated with the industry that people ended up operating in. 

We found 7 types of entrepreneurship based on what motivates folks:

We followed up with some Shopify merchants to find out how these businesses fulfilled their life motivations—and what advice they had for you. 

Type 1: The Independent 

If you’re looking to strike out on your own, you may be an Independent type of entrepreneur.

For this type, starting a business is all about forging your own path and taking control of your financial future. You might aspire to work for yourself full time, breaking free of making money for someone else. Or, if your business is a side hustle, maybe you’re seeking that feeling of self-reliance you’re not getting at your nine-to-five.

By far the most popular of the entrepreneurial motivations we found was the desire to be independent and self-reliant, with 47% of respondents saying that was a main reason for starting their business.

Going independent means taking big but calculated risks. You know how to build a solid plan, but you also know you need to adapt when things change. Determination will be key to your success, as will trusting your gut.

By far the most popular of the entrepreneurial motivations we found was the desire to be independent and self-reliant, with 47% of respondents saying that was a main reason for starting their business. 

Business ideas for The Independent 

People across all industries chose this motivation, which makes sense—entrepreneurship is a great path toward achieving independence. But the three industries that topped this category were:

  • Bags and luggage 
  • Vehicles and parts
  • Cameras and optics

All these options have potential to blossom into a full-time venture, and your desire to be self-sufficient can help get you there. 

Turning your entrepreneurial motivation into a business

If this is your type, you’re looking for products or services that are well established that you can innovate from within. The Independent entrepreneur needs a high-demand industry proven to lead to profit, and therefore financial independence. 

While there can be a lot of competition, if you’re able to set yourself apart and offer an excellent customer experience, you can build a clientele who will come back again and again.

The Independent entrepreneur needs a high-demand industry proven to lead to profit, and therefore financial independence.

Bags and luggage are also a sensible option. The global market value of luggage is a massive $16 billion and is only expected to grow, even after travel slowed during the pandemic.

The handbag market is even bigger and offers a range of options, from practical everyday options like backpacks to luxury goods costing thousands of dollars. The trick is finding your niche within that market. 

Take Shannette Prince, the founder of Africa On My Back, a company that started with a focus on backpacks.

Shannette sets herself apart by exclusively designing her bags with vibrant and unique printed fabric sourced from markets in Ghana. She’s also now expanded her line to include other handbags and accessories, but it’s that original backpack design that created demand.

In 2016, Shannette took a solo trip to Ghana, her first time in the country. She got to see first-hand how local merchants made their businesses work with whatever resources they had. 

She said her business embodies the Kwanzaa principle of kKujichagulia, meaning “self-determination.” Seeing the self-determination of merchants in Ghana inspired her to do the same back home in the US and following that motivation created a business that she now gets to do full-time. 

“I just wanted the level of freedom that I saw in those artisans. And I took the leap and left my job shortly thereafter and started Africa On My Back,” said Shannette.

With Africa On My Back allows Shannette gets to pass that independent spirit along. Ten percent of her backpack sales go toward Brilliant Black Boys, an initiative she started that gives young African American men the opportunity to study in Ghana. Plus, Africa On My Back creates opportunities for the artisans she works with in that country.

Now, even when things feel overwhelming, talking to her customers and her partners in Ghana reminds her why she started her business: “It really builds confidence and self-esteem. I feel like I can do anything.”

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Type 2: The Freedom Seeker 

Wanting freedom and flexibility is what motivates The Freedom Seeker to start a business. This type of entrepreneur wants something that fits around their schedule—a business they get to control, rather than something that controls them.

If this is you, you might be looking to break out of the nine-to-five routine and find something that better fits your lifestyle (or the lifestyle you wish you had). You want a business that goes with the flow, adapts to change without breaking a sweat, and doesn’t get in the way of your hobbies and adventures.

Overall, freedom was the second-most common motivation entrepreneurs chose in our survey, with 42% of saying they fit this type. 

Business ideas for The Freedom Seeker 

Many entrepreneurs are looking for a business and career that fits around their lifestyle, and we found that this motivation was especially common for those who sell products in the following industries:

  • Electronics
  • Cameras and optics
  • Vehicles and parts

These are broad categories that you can find your niche in and that can be taken in any direction to best fit your definition of flexibility.

Turning your entrepreneurial motivation into a business

It’s no coincidence that these businesses are also particularly well-suited to the dropshipping model. In Oberlo’s report of trending products for 2021, phone cases, phone repair kits, and wireless earbuds were all hot products to dropship. 

Dropshipping is a great option for people who want flexibility in their business venture. Dropshipping can be done from anywhere—your products are manufactured, stored, and shipped by a partner company, leaving you free to take care of your customers. It’s also a low upfront investment because products are created based on orders coming in, so you don’t need to keep an inventory. And without needing your own physical warehouse or storefront, you can sell from anywhere. It’s perhaps the most free and flexible way to run a business.

You could also start from the ground up, like Kristian Rauhala did when he started H2O Audio, a company specializing in waterproof headphones and accessories. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Kristian was using his engineering training to develop products for Nokia, but he wasn’t satisfied with only having a hand in part of the business.

Starting his own business let Kristian take control of the process and build a company on his own terms, making a career that suits his lifestyle.

“I wanted to be in control of the product engineering and the business side. Many times, in a bigger company, you end up working on a small portion of the equation,” said Kristian.

“As an engineer, I would successfully develop the product, but the marketing and business team would drop the ball. That was frustrating to me.”

Starting his own business let Kristian take control of the process and build a company on his own terms, making a career that suits his lifestyle.

As an avid outdoors enthusiast and athlete himself, he saw a market for people like him who were looking for headphones they could take in the water. He was also able to go it alone, without the influence and demands of outside investors.

“When you are no longer answering to other people and using outside capital, you can be in full control. This has given me the opportunity to take H2O Audio in the direction I want,” he says. “Now it is up to me. That gives me total freedom and flexibility. “

?Get inspired

Type 3: The Creative 

The Creative is someone who loves to use their skills and imagination not only to make something new, but to inspire others to do the same. They love to see other people enjoying what they’ve created, and their business becomes another way to nurture their talents. In total, 34% of merchants we surveyed said that this was their motivation to start a business.

Business ideas for The Creative 

If you’re an artist looking to turn your hobbies into a business by selling art prints, crafted items, or even lessons, this is an obvious outlet. But The Creative doesn’t just need to be an artist. It could be anyone whose work and life revolves around what inspires them, or a maker who wants to sell their goods on the side.

Overall, this motivation ranked high for business owners in the following industries:

  • Arts and entertainment
  • Media
  • Religion 

Either way, The Creative is a dreamer, someone who wants to feel an emotional connection with their work. You put your heart into what you do and want other people to see and celebrate that.

Turning your entrepreneurial motivation into a business

All of these industries require someone motivated to make their own mark on the world and create something fresh, rather than selling something someone else has made.

In the media category, that could mean starting a publication for people who share your passions or even just selling handmade zines. Religious businesses could include spiritual goods or clothing. Either way, your business isn’t just a way to sell something, it’s a way to connect with a community of people who are like you.

Christy Nelson found that community with her craft studio and shop, Makit Takit, located in Lincoln, Nebraska. Christy has been a crafty entrepreneur since she was a kid and is a great example of The Creative. Her first hustle was making and selling friendship bracelets to schoolmates, followed later by beaded creations.

At Makit Takit, customers can buy materials and also stay for classes and parties.

“I’ve always loved crafting and entrepreneurship,” she says. “It’s just been something that I’ve done my whole life.”

At Makit Takit, Christy wanted to build a space where people could come to try out a new craft with the guidance of her staff.

“One day you could come and try out metal stamping, one day you could come and try acrylic pouring,” she says. “I just wanted to have that kind of store where people could come and not have to invest in a lot of different supplies to try out new things.”

Being the owner, Christy has less time to craft these days—although she still loves knitting—but she says that seeing her customers get into a new project keeps it fun. And she still gets to teach, leading the knitting, resin, and weaving classes.

“I still just love it so much,” she says. “I love walking in and seeing all the tables full of people making things.”

Christy’s best advice for other people who identify as a Creative is that you have to love business as much as you love whatever your creative passion is.

“I do hire out some things, like I don’t do my bookkeeping. I know my limits. But I think you do kind of have to go in with that mindset that it’s not going to be all just like, ‘Oh, I get to make stuff every day.’” she says. “But you do get the same satisfaction.”

?Get inspired

Type 4: The Opportunist 

Have you ever found yourself searching for the perfect product, only to find it doesn’t exist? Or maybe someone else is making it, but you just know you could do it better.

The Opportunist is someone who finds an opportunity to fill a niche in the market and be the first to offer something newer and better.

In our survey, 32% of merchants said this was one of their motivations to start their business, making it the fourth most popular response. 

Business ideas for The Opportunist 

The best businesses for this type of entrepreneur are ones that are constantly evolving and innovating:

  • Food and beverage 
  • Business and industrial
  • Media 

These are all business ideas that you can truly make your own.

Turning your entrepreneurial motivation into a business

All of the above business ideas are prime for you to add your own spin to.

In the media category, maybe you dream of starting your own online fashion magazine or the next big cooking series on YouTube. Succeeding in media requires finding an underserved market and delivering the content they crave in a way that no one else can.

In business, maybe you’ve identified a way that other companies can do something faster, more efficiently, or with fewer costs.

The common thread here is that you’re offering a solution to a problem, whether that problem is finding a product, a service, or content.

The Opportunist is someone with a keen eye for analyzing the market and knowing not only what’s missing but how they can provide it. 

Entrepreneurs in the food and beverage space especially stood out for this motivation, with nearly half of these merchants saying that filling a niche motivated them. This makes a lot of sense—food and beverages have a ton of potential to innovate new ideas. There are always emerging niches presenting opportunities, such as health conscious consumers, vegan or vegetarian eaters, or those who avoid particular allergens, like gluten or nuts.

Take for example The Herbivorous Butcher, a completely vegan “butcher” in Minneapolis. Siblings Aubry and Kale Walch founded the company after finding faux-meat options at the grocery store to be lacking. They first tested their idea at a farmers market, found high demand for their meats and cheeses, and were eventually able to get funding for a brick-and-mortar operation, complemented by online sales.

The Opportunist is someone with a keen eye for analyzing the market and knowing not only what’s missing but how they can provide it. This type of entrepreneur believes that their product can make it big and does the legwork and research to prove it. They are innovators as well as savvy go-getters who know a good idea when they see it. 

?Get inspired

Type 5: The Hustler 

In our survey, 29% of merchants said their motivation was to have extra income—a side hustle. They’re not necessarily looking for a whole new career or a new day job, but a business that fits into their life and brings in some cash.

The trick for The Hustler is founding a business that doesn’t take over every day of their week and that doesn’t need too much babysitting. Having a successful side hustle means striking a balance between your day-to-day—whether that’s in an office or taking care of things at home—and your own business. 

For some Hustlers, success could be simply running a hobby business for a little extra money or growing a company that can bring in serious cash for savings or fun spending, like vacations. 

Business ideas for The Hustler 

Like the ideas for The Freedom Seeker, these industries are flexible enough to build a strong side business:

  • Cameras and optics
  • Electronics
  • Pet supplies
  • Sporting goods 

All of these industries are also well suited for dropshipping.

Turning your entrepreneurial motivation into a business

Picking a business that already has established demand will save you time and money because you’ll spend less effort proving value. That doesn’t mean you can’t offer something new and innovate, but it will give you a leg up as you create your business.

Finding a niche will also help focus your business so it doesn’t overwhelm other parts of your life and gives you a clear vision for growth.

Both pet supplies and sporting goods are great ways to do this. Take, for example, Frenchie Shop, which specializes in adorable outfits exclusively for French bulldogs. You could also focus on your own community by starting a dog walking or pet sitting business. For sporting goods, consider zeroing in one one sport or hobby and becoming a go-to source for fellow enthusiasts.

Like those seeking freedom and flexibility, dropshipping is also an excellent option for those who want extra income, because your partner company takes care of making the products, inventory, and delivery. That frees you up to focus on other things while still being an entrepreneur.

You can find pet supplies and sporting goods merchandise on dropshipping suppliers like DSers or CJDropshipping. These are also great ways to find electronics and cameras and optics products, both very popular business options for dropshipping ventures.

As with other businesses, starting a dropshipping store is best done with a niche in mind, which you can develop using analytics, search terms, and seeing what niches are already proven to be profitable.

?Get inspired

Type 6: The Digital Nomad 

The Hustler has some crossover with our next type: The Digital Nomad. This type of entrepreneur is motivated by a desire to work from home. In our survey, 20% of merchants said this was a motivation for them.

Working from home on your own schedule means getting to take control of your day. Instead of commuting and spending your day somewhere else, you can use that precious time for yourself and your business. 

For parents, that means a greater ability to balance work and child care, but there are people of all types who prefer working from home. Maybe you want some leisure time back in your life, or even just the ability to do a midday workout or simply work in sweatpants.

Business ideas for The Digital Nomad 

Not all businesses are suitable for running from home, but in our survey, those who make it work were likely to work within these industries:

  • Baby and toddler
  • Cameras and optics
  • Home and garden
  • Pet supplies

Turning your entrepreneurial motivation into a business

Perhaps it’s not surprising that activities you tend to do at home, like parenting, home improvement, gardening, and taking care of pets, all lend themselves to at-home businesses.

If you’re starting from scratch, taking inspiration from what you’re already spending time on at home is a good place to start.

If you love gardening, you could use your green thumb to sell plants online. If you love perfecting every corner of your own home, you could make a go of selling furniture and home decor items.

It’s also not surprising new parents who want to stay close to home create businesses selling baby and toddler items to other parents.

Earlier this year, we surveyed parents and found that more than half of women with children were interested in starting a business, and one in six moms were very interested. These moms were particularly invested in the idea of doing something part time to bring in supplemental income for their family. Working from home is a way to bring in extra money while still fitting in child care and other household tasks. 

“I’m so grateful that I get to make my own hours. That if my kid gets sick at school, I can pick them up and take care of them, without getting penalized for it,” one mom told us.

The Digital Nomad understands that, now more than ever, with companies offering more flexible work arrangements during the pandemic, you don’t need an office away from home to do your best work.

?Get inspired

Type 7: The Legacy 

Some people start a business not just to find success for themselves, but for their whole family. The Legacy is looking ahead and building a business their children or other family members can take over when the time is right. If this is you, you want security for the present and for the future.

This type of entrepreneur wants a business that can continually grow and stand the test of time. Rather than looking at what’s trending right now, The Legacy is thinking long term. How will this business succeed in 10 years? Or 100? 

Business ideas for The Legacy 

In total, 14% of all owners we surveyed said legacy was their motivation, but that number went up significantly for entrepreneurs operating in the following industries: 

  • Hardware
  • Health and beauty
  • Baby and toddler

Turning your entrepreneurial motivation into a business

None of the ideas here should come as a surprise. We could all imagine a family hardware store that stays in the family for generations. Or even a giant cosmetics corporation carrying the last name of its founder.

 Luke Ryan wanted to build a company that lasts for generations with Willow by the Sea, an organic skin care line. And it all started with family.

When Luke’s wife, Corina, was pregnant with their first daughter, she tried but was unable to find truly organic products for skin. What she did find was a lot of greenwashing and lax regulations around who can call their products “organic.”

Luke did some research and found that other people were looking for organic products for mothers and babies, too. At first, they thought this would just be a side hustle, but instead went feet first into launching a family business.

The couple was living in Manhattan at the time and decided to move back to Australia, by the sea, to start their company. They named it for their new baby girl, Willow.

“I never would have started this business, and we might have never moved back home to Australia, if it wasn’t for us starting a family,” says Luke.

”How can I provide something generationally? Does it help anyone else beyond just my wife and I? I wanted to be in a position where no matter what happened, my family would be OK.”

He wanted to build Willow by the Sea to be something that meant his children wouldn’t have to worry about money, and that they had a career waiting for them, if they wanted it. Skin care made perfect sense because it’s scalable. Starting with the needs of pregnant women, he and Corina can continually grow the business and add new products.

“It’s the kind of business that isn’t trends-based—it can last for generations and evolve,” he says.

?Get inspired

Did you find your type? 

Reading through the above types, you might identify with one, or you might identify with several. Merchants named several different motivations for why they started their business, and it’s likely that there’s more than one thing motivating you too.

Determining what motivates you in life is one way to figure out what kind of entrepreneur you want to be. But no matter what gets you there, starting a business is a path to freedom and independence.

If you’re guilty of loving all things personality-related and need some additional guidance before committing to a business idea, take our entrepreneur personality test to find out what your Founder Sign is. It could tell you a lot about your signature strengths and areas of opportunity before jumping into anything. 

Ready to create your business? Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify—no credit card required.

Illustrations by Mark Conlan

This originally appeared on Shopify and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.
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