When I was the business editor for The Park Record newspaper, I interviewed dozens of Park City entrepreneurs. I discovered their motivations, combed over their business ideas, and played the role of amateur psychologist in identifying the thought processes of these people.
From my limited observation, these people all ranged from levels one to 10 on the “Dumb to Genius Scale.” However, the overall I.Q. didn’t seem to matter much. The successful entrepreneurs all had a few traits in common, and it didn’t seem to be Einstein-like brain power.
Aside from having a good business idea, here are the traits I noticed that helped those entrepreneurs be successful.
1. Risk tolerance
Those who laugh in the face of risk often make for successful entrepreneurs. The fear of risk might be the ultimate separator of entrepreneurs and employees. Whether it was an entrepreneur who started a new pizza restaurant, invented a new product, developed new technology, or started a business in a competitive industry, the “no fear” attribute seemed to be the most important characteristic. As an entrepreneur, you have to move forward without being paralyzed by “What if it all fails?”
In the TechCrunch article “Should You Really Be a Startup Entrepreneur?” Mark Suster, an entrepreneur and VC, said:
“Make sure it’s in your personality type, make sure you have the risk appetite, make sure you can afford to take the risks given your life situations, and make sure you know that there is a high possibility your startup won’t be hugely financially rewarding. If you still want to go for it knowing all this and all that you’ll endure — awesome! It’s the best experience I’ve had in life. But not for the faint-hearted.”
A recent Inc. Magazine story titled “How Great Entrepreneurs Think” revolved around a survey by Saras Sarasvathy, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. It surveyed corporate leaders and entrepreneurs and revealed interesting differences between the two. One entrepreneur in the article said:
“I always live by the motto of ‘Ready, fire, aim’. I think if you spend too much time doing ‘Ready, aim, aim, aim,’ you’re never going to see all the good things that would happen if you started doing it. I think business plans are interesting, but they have no real meaning because you can’t put in all the positive things that will occur … If you know intrinsically that this is possible, you just have to find out how to make it possible, which you can’t do ahead of time.”
Successful entrepreneurs are usually very decisive and move forward, fixing things on the way. That is not to say entrepreneurs don’t have goals, “only that those goals are broad and — like luggage — may shift during flight. Rather than meticulously segment customers according to potential return, they itch to get to market as quickly and cheaply as possible.”
3. Improvise, adapt, overcome
It’s the unofficial mantra of the Marines. But it applies to business owners of all shapes and sizes. The Inc. article showcases this well. Sarasvathy compared expert entrepreneurs to Iron Chefs:
“At their best when presented with an assortment of motley ingredients and challenged to whip up whatever dish expediency and imagination suggest. Corporate leaders, by contrast, decide they are going to make Swedish meatballs. They then proceed to shop, measure, mix, and cook Swedish meatballs in the most efficient, cost-effective manner possible.”
Sarasvathy said entrepreneurs rely on effectual reasoning. They are brilliant improvisers who constantly assess how to leverage their own strengths and resources and develop goals on the fly.
“By contrast, corporate executives — those in the study group were also enormously successful in their chosen field — use causal reasoning. They set a goal and diligently seek the best ways to achieve it. Early indications suggest the rookie company founders are spread all across the effectual-to-causal scale. But those who grew up around family businesses will more likely swing effectual, while those with M.B.A.’s display a causal bent. Not surprisingly, angels and seasoned VCs think much more like expert entrepreneurs than do novice investors.”
The entrepreneurs in her study seemed impatient with anything involving extensive planning, particularly traditional market research. Entrepreneurs also give a second thought to their competitors at launch. One entrepreneur surveyed said:
“Your competition is a secondary factor. I think you are putting the cart before the horse … Analyze whether you think you can be successful or not before you worry about the competitors.”
4. Good salesperson
Everything we do is sales. It’s even more so for people trying to build a business. It’s probably the other most common attribute of the business owners I interviewed. Each one seemed to know the right buttons that sold their product or service.
Entrepreneurs have to sell to their customers or clients, sure, but they also have to sell their ideas to partners, investors, lenders, potential employees, on social media, to mainstream media, and so on. Without sales skills, it’s like an author who writes the next great novel but never gets it in front of the right publisher. Good ideas are a dime a dozen. But you have to sell that idea to the right people.
5. Blindingly optimistic
I’ve talked to many founders of successful startups, nothing seems to get them down, no matter how many people tell them their ideas are stupid. They remain optimistic even after being rejected many times.
In a TechCrunch interview, Bnter CEO Lauren Leto said, “Every day, I try to get rejected.”
Being able to handle rejection, and even seek it out, seems to be crucial for entrepreneurs. That confidence matters, especially after being rejected 49 times and then walking into a room where that 50th investor is ready to give you a $1-million dollar check, or when you present yourself to a lender to get a small business loan. You have to be able to present your idea and own the room with confidence.
Successful entrepreneurs are characterized by their resilience and the ability to withstand setbacks and failures without losing their long-term motivation. In the realm of entrepreneurship, failure is almost a certainty. However, the way a business owner responds to these failures can often determine the long-term success of their venture.
Entrepreneurs are known for the immense passion they harbor for their work. It’s this passion that fuels them through the long hours and relentless challenges of starting and running a business. Their enthusiasm is infectious and often inspires their team to strive for excellence.
Creativity is a fundamental trait among successful entrepreneurs. It’s the entrepreneur’s creative mind that can see opportunities where others only see obstacles, and it’s their innovative solutions that allow them to surpass the competition.
A successful entrepreneur possesses a clear vision and is able to communicate it effectively to their team. These visionaries can forecast future trends or needs, and accordingly, they strategize and work toward meeting those future demands.
10. Lifelong learners
One of the most distinctive traits of successful entrepreneurs is that they are eternal students. The business landscape is perpetually evolving, and thus, they are always open to learning new strategies, technologies, and best practices that can help them stay ahead in the game.