Empire Builder or Lifestyle Builder

When meeting entrepreneurs, one of the mental questions I like to ask myself is whether or not this person is an empire builder or a lifestyle builder. An empire builder wants to build a massive company, or collection of companies, and yearns to play the great sport that people call business forever. A lifestyle builder wants freedom to be both financially independent and to do what they want with their time, but doesn’t aspire to having an empire. There’s no right or wrong approach, and people can switch between the two, though that’s usually rare.

Here are a few questions to discern empire builder vs lifestyle builder:

  • When do you want to retire? What are you going to do during retirement?
  • If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would you do?
  • How big do you see your startup getting? Why?
  • What’s your desired exit (my favorite exit strategy)?

Again, there’s no right answer. Only, there’s more insight into the entrepreneur and his or her desires. The next time you talk to an entrepreneur, see if they’re an empire builder or a lifestyle builder.

What else? What are some more thoughts on this idea of empire builder vs lifestyle builder?

8 thoughts on “Empire Builder or Lifestyle Builder

  1. Nice post, David. I’ve been thinking about this recently — since the last startup, I’ve been working with several companies consulting looking to continue to learn, grow my network, and the like.

    It’s comfortable doing consulting… TOO comfortable. Consulting is great, and it was always a means to an end (to spark the next startup).

    I need to take a step out of comfort and back into Empire Building mode. Or, I focus on building a consulting empire.

  2. David, I believe there’s a third type called ‘Impact Builder’ that probably fits closer to Empire Builder but not the same.

    The Impact Builder wants to impact a specific issue or group and believes building a business (for profit or non profit) is the most sustainable way to drive that change. They’re not really in it for the ‘sport’ or goal of building a company but, instead, look at that process as a means to an end. Impact Builders want scale, profitability, etc. — primarily because it enables them to impact more people.

    • Alok, that’s an interesting view. I’ve always wanted to grow my sphere of influence using entrepreneurship and building companies as vehicles to do that.

      Though, would you say there’s also a more individual impact builder that may parallel the “lifestyle entrepreneur”? This person would have a lifestyle business that enables s/he to make more individual impacts like traveling to other lands teaching, building schools, whatever that may be.

      Maybe the two broader categories David details are less specific like “play the great sport”, but each type of entrepreneur has then more specific goals in mind.

  3. Hey David,

    To funny as the earlier post suggesting an “Impact Builder” was my same comment… although I hadn’t given this type of Builder a name… I may steal Alok’s nomenclature :). I am in the early stages of putting something new together that I am passionate about and will contribute to society. Yes, I need to make a profit so we can stay in business and someday I can retire… but that’s second to what I feel is a mission that I am uniquely qualified, dare I say “obligated” to fulfill.

  4. Alok, John, and David,

    Given current hostilities in some social circles toward business, it seems that your (David) division between the two main camps of entrepreneurial characters is a great step toward dispelling that hostility! Thank you for that!

    It seems that the concept of an “Impact Builder” could very appropriately fit within the lifestyle builder category. Being someone from this category myself, I see how I need to be careful to not try to push further from the Empire Builder category. If I were to push the “Impact Builder” category into its own corner it seems that I would be denying the value in the other categories.

    Maybe, the best way to be an “Impact Builder” is to integrate ourselves, rather than separate ourselves?

  5. Totally agree with your insights…

    I have worked at startups that were empire builders and my current company is more of the lifestyle builder (even though I could argue we are the leaders in our space).

    One thing that frustrates me is that it seems like 90% or more of the discussion, books, podcasts, blogs, etc. focus on empire building and not lifestyle building.

    I am not sure why that is…but it bugs me and I feel like it is a mistake.

  6. David when I read your post I was stuck because I felt that I was in between. I love the game of business like many people love sports. I enjoy the money as it supports my family and finances their dreams however I personally enjoy the grind a little more. I think the tricky part for me is that I don’t mind building an empire as a by-product of living financially free and developing resources that can productively serve other entrepreneurs that can impact their family and the community. I may be closer to the lifestyle definition depending on how you specifically define empire.

  7. I strongly believe it’s just one’s personal interest. If one would not conflict with the other, why not? one could be a lifestyle builder and be an empire builder at the same time.

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