Here are a few traits of successful entrepreneurs:
1.Tenacity. Starting a company is not for the meek. Sure, some people get lucky. But odds are that you will experience failure in many forms along the road to success. That’s especially tough because entrepreneurs tend to be so passionate about their ventures, that their self esteem gets tied to their company performance. To succeed, entrepreneurs must have intestinal fortitude to get through the tough times.
Want to get inspired by some real world entrepreneurs of yore? Read Giants of Enterprise: Seven Business Innovators and the Empires They Built by Richard Tedlow – one of my favorite professors of all time. You’ll learn about people like George Eastman, who dropped out of high school when his dad died and clawed his way to a successful career as a banker. Oh, and by the way, he tinkered around with chemicals every night after work for 6 years before creating a photography business, and another 20 years before marketing the Brownie, which essentially created the billion-dollar consumer photography industry.
For a more recent example, consider Sir James Dyson. Dyson spent 15 years and his entire life savings trying to develop a bagless vacuum cleaner. During that time, he created 5,126 prototypes that failed. He also failed to sell his invention to the vacuum cleaner market leaders. Number 5,127 succeeded, and now he’s a billionaire. So much for “third time is the charm”…
2. Flexibility. I ride a bike to meetings in New York City when the dress code, weather and logistics allow for it. Each time, I know where to begin, and where I want to end up, but I can never quite predict the path I’ll take. My route shifts, as I try my best to dodge traffic, red lights and the occasional open taxi door. It’s not a bad metaphor for entrepreneurship. Truth is, while it’s important to have a viable idea as we’ll see in the next chapter, most great entrepreneurs don’t succeed the way they expected at the outset. They do a fair amount of planning to come up with a seemingly valid approach, test the waters, and then modify their strategy, tactics – even their entire business model. A survey of Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 500 Award winners showed that 65% of CEO’s that wrote business plans “strayed significantly from their original conception, adapting their plans as they went along.” So entrepreneurs need to be good at rolling with the punches.
3. Salesmanship. Selling is a big part of starting a venture. As an entrepreneur, you may or may not be the one selling your product or service to your customers or clients. But for sure you’ll have to sell yourself and your ideas. You’ll have to persuade suppliers to work with a company that doesn’t have an established track record. And you’ll have to convince employees to forgo less risky jobs, and quite possibly to take lower salaries and less attractive benefits. You may also have to convince investors or partners to bet on you.
This scares some people. They think great sales people are born closers, or at least have the charisma of a fraternity president. While that couldn’t hurt, what’s important is that you can inspire trust, and be charismatic and persuasive. I once had a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) who could practically write code in his sleep, but had always thought of himself as a back-office guy – someone you’d never put in front of a prospective client. A few years after we parted ways, he tried his hand at selling tech development and recruiting services, and was very successful. Turns out he could sell anything as long as it was related to his passion for technology.
4. Resourcefulness. Many entrepreneurs don’t have ample resources, like support staffs or cash reserves. But good entrepreneurs have a knack for making the most of what’s available to them. Many founders work part-time as consultants to keep the lights on during startup mode.
One of my clients, Amanda, is a perfect example. She started an email newsletter about personal finance for women. Her first goal was to build a subscriber base. She couldn’t afford to launch paid marketing or PR campaigns, so she got creative. She had all her friends sign up and encourage their friends to sign up. She used social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and her alumni networks to spread the word. And as her list grew, she swapped promotions with other email newsletters. She also syndicated her content to other websites for women, and on personal finance, providing free articles in exchange for links back to her sign-up page. She positioned herself as a leading expert on personal finance for young women, and used that positioning to generate press. Within months, she had thousands of subscribers, at the low, low cost of zero dollars.
If you have the entrepreneurial traits I’ve described, you are off to a great start. If not, you’ll just have to break the rules – something else most entrepreneurs are good at.