Purpose: There is a lack of research on the link between the personal disposition of an entrepreneurial firm's founder, the firm's strategic orientation and its performance outcomes. Also, there is a lack of cross-national research on entrepreneurial firms' strategic orientations. This paper seeks to address these gaps by exploring the differences in strategic orientation choices and their performance outcomes for American and Japanese entrepreneurial firms, focusing on founders' achievement motivation as a key personal disposition. Design/methodology/approach: A survey was conducted among 397 Japanese founders and 189 American ones. Findings: This paper's key counterintuitive finding is that Japanese and American founders of entrepreneurial firms are more similar than is often suggested. The paper first finds that in both Japan and the US, achievement motivation is positively related to customer orientation and cost orientation while not being related to technological orientation. Second, it is found that the adoption of customer orientation is positively related to the profitability of both Japanese and American entrepreneurial firms, although the effect is stronger in the US. It is also found that the adoption of technology orientation is negatively related to the profitability of both Japanese and American firms, although the effect is less negative in Japan. Finally, it is found that the adoption of cost orientation does not have an impact on the profitability of either Japanese or American entrepreneurial firms. Originality/value: This is one of the first studies to examine how founders of entrepreneurial firms use their personal disposition to shape the strategic orientation of their firm. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.