Serial entrepreneurs: What do they seek?

Last week I wrote about Dan Pink’s contention that once our basic needs are taken care of we humans seek three things in our work: Mastery, Autonomy and Meaning.

This may be especially true for entrepreneurs.  Or not? I got to thinking about this by last week when I read the Forbes article about Elon Musk taking his electric car company, Tesla, public.   As a serial entrepreneur, what does he seek?  He co-founded PayPal, a phenomenal success, and proceeded to pour all his wealth into the new company, which has now suffered heavy losses and put a big dent in his personal wealth.  Despite being broke, Musk appears eternally optimistic and somehow, I think he will land on his feet. This is a common story for serial entrepreneurs, who found company after company, regardless of the financial risk.

Why do they do it?  I revisited our eClips interview with Elon Musk to see if I could pick up a clue about his motivation as an entrepreneur. There is no doubt that Autonomy is first and foremost for him, based on his entrepreneurial pathway, but what about Mastery and Meaning?

In the clip below, he discusses the run up to PayPal and reveals the thinking process.  He’s looking for further mastery in the internet space.  Yet later in the interview when he begins discussing space travel, he seems focuses on the financial return.  And what about Tesla?  Is he motivated mostly by trying to change the world (Meaning) or wants to be known for coming up with the best electric car (Mastery?).

Musk may be an outlier (he is apparently the inspiration for Robert Downey Jr.’s interpretation of Tony Stark in Iron Man), but I wonder.   What does keep them going when most of us would simply deposit the money someplace safe and live off the interest.  Or would we?