Sex and the startup – how entrepreneurs leverage libido

Not so long ago I interviewed Rachel Elnaugh of Dragon’s Den fame and made the point in passing that many of the entrepreneurs on the show had lots of kids.  Rachel …

15th August 2008 at 11:19 am

Not so long ago I interviewed Rachel Elnaugh of Dragon’s Den fame and made the point in passing that many of the entrepreneurs on the show had lots of kids.  Rachel herself has five and other Dragons haven’t been shy when it comes to pro-creation: Duncan Bannatyne (6), Theo Paphitis (5) and Peter Jones (5).

What I wasn’t expecting Rachel to say, she did:

I think you’ll find the answer in Napoleon Hill actually … he looked at all the great entrepreneurs of the time and the one thing he found is that they all had a huge sex drive.

This might be a slight over-simplification of Hill’s classic Think and Grow Rich, but his chapter on The Mystery of Sex: Transmutation certainly goes into some depth about how the energy of the libido is often channeled by successful people to focus on achieving specific goals, creative, political, entrepreneurial or otherwise.

So the week after publication of a book by writer Paul Carr, which I haven’t read, but is rumoured to expose the sex, lives and egos of some well known web entrepreneurs, perhaps it’s a good time to explore briefly the fact and fantasy behind the entrepreneurial libido.

Rachel Elnaugh

The whole concept of channeling sexual energy or ‘transmutation’ has lived on since Napoleon Hill published his book back in 1937.  Post-Freudian blogging guru of personal development, Steve Pavlina, has written extensively on the subject.

One of his key evolutions of the Napoleon Hill theory is that unless a goal, whether entrepreneurial or otherwise, is actually arousing, it’s unlikely to be a great goal in the first place.  By tapping into the ‘chemistry’ of this very phsyical energy, an entrepreneur can achieve much more.  As Steve says your goals should:

resonate with your own biological attraction factors, such that you actually enter a state of biochemical arousal just by thinking about them.  In this state action becomes effortless and enjoyable.

The cynical, repressed Englishman in me balks at the idea of entrepreneurs leaving damp patches on their balance sheets, but passion has always been a much vaunted trait for the founders of successful startups.  It’s not hard to see a sublimated sexual drive at work.

This is beautifully expounded by VC Naval Ravikant in response to a classic post by Netscape and Ning founder Marc Andriessen on that old chestnut of age and entrepreneurship.

Naval takes the view that not only do young entrepreneurs have less to lose, more time and more enthusiasm, they are much more likely to take risks or to take a swing of a bat (to use the Andriessen baseball analogy) because it’s a great way of showing off to attract a mate.

The argument goes that (with some notable exceptions) once you’re hitched, settled and middle-aged you might as well forget any idea of creating a successful business from scratch.

Napoleon Hill disagreed.  The business people he studied in the early 20th century were by and large not successful until their 40s.  Hill suggests it took them this long to learn how to channel their sexual energy and they’d simply spent too much time sowing their oats earlier in life.

Whether the Dragons started behaving more like rabbits than fire-breathing mythical creatures before or after their business successes isn’t clear.  Is the number of their progeny indicative of their entrepreneurial prowess?  Probably not.

But risk taking, power and wealth are the same aphrodisiacs they’ve always been and having a large family is a hell of a lot easier after you’ve made your first million.


Alex is the founder and editor of SmallBizPod, the UK's first podcast dedicated to small business, start-ups and entrepreneurship. Alex writes about topical small business issues, entrepreneurs and anything else that catches his eye here on the small business blog.

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  1. Sue Tupling says:

    I totally agree with this. It is a well written about subject and i have read a lot along the lines of strong libido equates to strong creative drive and output in artists/writers and the like (look at Henry Miller!).
    Perhaps it is all chemical and dependent on the cocktail of hormones that we have circulating in us – genetically mapped out.
    However it is the brain that is the control and regulating centre for chemicals and just about everything else. So perhaps if you have a psychological type that thrives on change (meta programme of difference) and you are both ‘towards’ motivated and proactive rather than reactive; i think perhaps this dictates what particular chemical soup is slushing about in your particular bag of skin and bones.
    The whole area is fascinating.
    But lucky for us that keeping busy as successful entrepreneurs keeps us out of trouble on other fronts!!!

  2. Stefan says:

    I have never read about this subject, but I think you exposed great true. Sexual energy drives many of our actions. Great article.

  3. @Sue it’s certainly a complex and fascinating subject. The interaction between psychology and body chemistry is intriguing and something I’d like to know much more about. Do you have any good further sources of reading online for me and others stumbling on these comments?

    @Stefan glad you got something from this post and thanks for taking the time to comment.

  4. Benjamin says:

    “Transmutation certainly goes into some depth about how the energy of the libido is often channeled by successful people to focus on achieving specific goals”

    Freud called it sublimation, and described translating the energy of libido into higher social goals as one of the most powerful human motivators.

    At this point I’m feeling very self-conscious, with my brood of 4 kids 😉

  5. Just wondering where all that energy will be directed now you’ve built your brood. Unless of course there are any more little Ellises on the way 😉

  6. Benjamin says:

    Ah… Now that would be telling… Safe to say it will be something to do with technology and the UK 🙂

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