<< dcgross.com

Fuel Materials

The body burns multiple types of fuel – glucose and fat – in order to keep living. Maybe the same is true for motivation. When interviewing both for hiring and investing, I’ve seen different types of fuel that keep founders or employees going. I thought it might be interesting to detail some.

Greed. Greed would be easy to write here. I find it worth unpacking. Why does this person really want all the money?

1. Power. Blissfully uncommon with younger, early stage founders, but very common with politicians and other investors.

2. Financial Freedom. It seems to me that a lot of it stems from a financial insecurity. It’s not that you really covet a yacht in order to realize your long-lost nautical dreams; it’s that you want to know that “things will be OK”. Shelter; food; water; sex. A guarantee that basic needs will be met without having to depend on others.

3. Status. Some (all?) founders are fueled by a desire to secure positions in the dominance hierarchy. A successful company (or the spoils from it), will help demonstrate good position and status. Culture comes into play: in Vegas, status is demonstrated with bottle service and cars, so money is required. In Palo Alto, the alpha dog might be driving a Prius, but he or she owns an online property that’s extremely well respected, as shiny as a Ferrari.

4. Conspiracy. Small teams often are motivated just by the mutual orbit of other team-mates, like electronics spinning in an atom. Startups are irrational activities, and the early days are often bleak. Humans seem to do irrational things mostly because of relationships with other humans.

5. Adventure. “Why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?… Not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” – JFK

6. The Scene. A form of status. I dream of getting approval from The Scene. This can be a particular pied piper (PG was this for many in the last decade), or from a group of people. I just want to be let in into The In-Group.

7. Curiosity. One of the purest forms of energy. Someone doing something just for the dopamine hit of learning. Solving a puzzle because it feels fun and useful to do.

8. Craftsmanship. Must… make… the blade… smooth. I find craftsmen are often extremely obsessed, which cuts both ways. It’s like a rocket with no vectoring: endless manic energy, but they’re never changing course.

Diagnosing fuel sources is helpful when interviewing talent. “The essence of ultimate decision remains impenetrable to the observer - often, indeed, to the decider himself”. That’s JFK, and I think it’s true for motivation, it’s hard to self-diagnose your fuel source. I certainly can’t.

However wondering why, at a deep level, the person is doing what they’re doing is very helpful in interviews. Which fuel source they’re relying on, and who they might be performing for. Like in biology, it might be a mixture of both glucose and fat.

Learning about the engine’s fuel helps predict performance of the vehicle.