7 key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs
There’s a growing community of people who chose to abandon the comfort of a 9-to-5 corporate gig in exchange for a low-paying, statistically-unwise, nerve-racking prospect of building something from scratch. And they’re loving every minute of it.
And why wouldn’t they? Successful entrepreneurs are the rockstars of the 21st century, showered with praise and inundated with deals that would make even Mick Jagger’s head spin (well, more than usual at least).
Still, data is a harsh mistress, especially to entrepreneurs. Nine out of ten startups fail, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find sufficient funding for your project. With that in mind, before you quit your day job and lay your entire future on the line, it’s crucial to ask yourself: ’Do I really have what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur?’
To help you out on the road to self-awareness, here’s our list of the most common character traits found in successful entrepreneurs. While none of these can guarantee your place among the business stars, they’re often obligatory in any startup’s success.
1. Unbridled passion
Whatever you’re trying to build, being clinically obsessed with your product is the first step to making it big. Above all, entrepreneurs are people on a mission. Whether it’s reinventing a multi-billion dollar industry, curing notorious diseases or helping people poop better, they are completely shameless and unapologetic in their drive.
According to a Gallup poll, only about 13% of employees worldwide describe themselves as ‘engaged at work’. Entrepreneurs, too, are not engaged at work. They are their work. The market doesn’t care about anyone’s dreams and aspirations. It is cold and unforgiving, and the only way to beat the odds is by living and breathing your idea.
Being passionate about your work also makes perfect business sense. Enthusiasm is contagious. It spreads to your co-workers, making them work harder to enact the company vision. It shows in your service, turning your customers into loyal ambassadors of your brand.
Lack of genuine zeal about their product is one of the biggest pitfalls of today’s entrepreneurs. Sure, building a selfie app seems to pay dividends nowadays, but is that really something you care about? If so, by all means, make our selfie game stronger. If you’re only doing it for the money, though, there are plenty of other gaps in the market to consider. One of them is sure to light your own entrepreneurial fire.
2. Immunity to stress
Running a startup is not for the faint of heart. With so many things that can potentially go wrong at any given moment, keeping it together takes some unique problem-solving skills, along with an abnormally high-stress threshold.
In a nutshell, being an entrepreneur means living with growing uncertainties. You’ve spent all of your savings on building a product – but what if nobody wants to buy it? What if your competitor beats you to the market? How will you pay your employees next month? What if you run out of money? What if the customers are unhappy with the design?
Needless to say, operating your own business requires a special kind of mental tenacity. But it is this exceptional ability to manage your fears that separates the Facebooks from the Myspaces of this world.
By nature, startups are a high-risk, high-reward type of venture. Remaining your composure while your burn rate skyrockets is not an easy task. It is, however, one that most founders have had to face at one point or another. Deep breaths.
3. Stubborn persistence
Like it or not, your startup will not be an overnight success story. If anything, you will probably be turned down countless times each step of the way – from the low-key app reviewer to multi-million VC funds. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine.
Rejection is a way of life for most entrepreneurs. The most successful founders today are those hardly phased by people constantly telling them ‘no’. That is not to say they keep doing the same thing expecting it to work. Instead, they see every denial as a chance to gain invaluable feedback about their product.
The worst thing you can do is take rejections personally. If you want to make it as an entrepreneur, you’re going to have to check your ego at the company door. Learn to love your failures instead – you’ll be able to learn from them quicker if you do.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. To succeed, you must first fail. It’s not how hard you get knocked down, it’s… you get the point. Perseverance is central to any startup’s success. If you’re looking for a quick way to get rich, you’re probably better off trying the lottery.
It’s dangerous to go alone! (Come on, no Zelda fans?) An entrepreneur is only as strong as his team. Remember that Gallup poll from a moment ago? If you’re unable to cultivate mutual trust and motivate the people you work with, it will soon become impossible to get anything done on time.
Team disharmony is repeatedly quoted as one of the biggest causes of startup failure. As such, the best way to build quality relationships with your employees is by enforcing and encouraging transparent communication at all times.
Most startups can’t afford a resident HR department early on, so it’s the CEO that has to ensure everyone feels excited about the work they’re doing. That’s why empathy is such a hot commodity among founders: it’s on them to identify each employee’s primary drivers, and sense when their needs aren’t being met.
An entrepreneur also has to be able to ‘sell’ his company vision not only to his employees, but to his customers, partners, and even prospective investors. A little charisma goes a long way, and being a master storyteller is pretty much in the job description.
5. Cash flow management
Startup bankruptcies are often the result of poor financial oversight, rather than the innate lack of demand for your service. Handling money is just as important as making money, and too many founders seem reluctant to brush up on their math.
This is where you should let your inner Scrooge McDuck shine. In its essence, cash flow represents the movement of funds in and out of your company. On one side, there’s the money pouring in from your clients, which translates to income. On the other is the amount you spend paying for tools, supplies and workers, otherwise known as expenses.
An entrepreneur still in business a year in knows his exact cash balance at any given moment. He knows his cost of customer acquisition or cost per unit like the back of his tired hand. He has identified and quickly gotten rid off all unnecessary expenses related to his business. Becoming paranoid about your money is the first step to never having to worry about it again.
6. Perpetual Adaptability
To keep your business afloat, you’ll often have to be more flexible than an Olympic gymnast. Being able to quickly adapt to shifts in the market means revisiting the drawing board every now and again, and making significant changes to your design, features or even the entire business model. If your final product looks almost nothing like what you initially started with, you’re probably doing it right.
Many founders are far too slow or too hesitant when it comes to adapting to market’s demands. A lot of times, this unwillingness to change comes down to nothing but ego. Being flexible means accepting that you were plain wrong in the past. It also means acknowledging that what you’re doing just isn’t working, over and over again. Constantly doubting yourself can be hard to reconcile with having a strong sense of self, which is also imperative to making it in business.
There is a sweet spot somewhere between complete insecurity in your decisions and a grossly-inflated self-confidence. Find it, and you’re already ahead of 90% of entrepreneurs.
7. Endless Curiosity
In the world of startups, if you stop learning, you die. Most of what today’s founders are doing has yet to be taught in schools, so it’s on you to find the information you need on your own. As an entrepreneur, you often need to find a gap in the market first and get familiar with the market second. You couldn’t find a sitter for your dog and complained to your friend. He’s had the same problem, so you thought to yourself: ’what if I started a community of dog sitters all around the country?’
At this point, you probably have no clue what the market actually looks like. You don’t know how big it is if there’s any competition, and what dog-specific regulations are in place. What you do have, however, is an idea. Making it a reality requires rigorous testing and becoming a bonafide expert in everything dog sitting, from interviewing distressed owners to actual product development.
This learning process never stops. There will always be new features and business venues to explore, and fresh obstacles to overcome. Knowing your industry inside out requires a genuine interest in what you do, and a desire to always be one step in front of the competition.
Related: What is entrepreneurship?