The Second (Sutton’s) Law of Entrepreneurship

Notorious Bank Robber Willie Sutton

William FrancisWillieSutton, Jr. was an American bank robber. During his forty-year bank robbing career, in which he was he stole an estimated $2 million back in the 1930’s and 40s (roughly $30 million today). Willie Sutton a.k.a. “Willies the Actor” a.k.a “Slick Willy” spent more than half of his adult life in prison and even managed to escape three times. Although he is usually remembered for his wit, charm and masterful disguises while committing crimes, Sutton is perhaps most famously known as the namesake of Sutton’s law, even though he later denied originating it.

Slick Willy on the FBI’s Most Wanted List

Today, Sutton’s law is used by doctors around the world and is loosely based on Willie’s famous answer to the seemingly most ridiculous question on Earth: “Why do you rob banks?”

His answer:

“Because that’s where the money is”

It’s a similar concept to Occam’s Razor or the other old medical school adage of “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras

In modern medicine, Sutton’s law states that when diagnosing, one must first consider the obvious. It suggests that one should first conduct those tests which could confirm (or rule out) the most likely diagnosis. Indeed, the first time I heard of Willie Sutton was during my second year pathophysiology course.

By extension Sutton’s law today is also applicable to any process of diagnosis, e.g. debugging computer programs. Today’s, I claim Sutton’s Law as the Second Law of Entrepreneurship.


“Why should I start a ‘insert Silicon Valley buzz word’ company…”


“Because that’s where the money is”

Sure, starting a business should always be about the M&M’s (Market and Money), but there is a reason I claim Sutton’s Law as only the second most important law (or out-law). For more on the Number 2 in Entrepreneurship click here.

In my opinion, every single new startup must be socially responsible from the…well… start, with the ultimate goal of creating value for society. Socially Responsability is the First Law of Entrepreneurship. You can call it Razouki’s Law.

To sum up, another famous quote by Tommy submachine-gun wielding Willie Sutton is that:

“You cannot rob a bank on charm and personality.”
Thompson Submachine Gun, Caliber .45, M1928A1 wartime production variant

But that’s for another article, perhaps on pitching. Almsot everyone knows how I really feel about banks.