I have often pondered what makes a great entrepreneur. Anyone can declare themselves independent, leave their boring jobs, and get that rush of excitement upon first de-shackling themselves from the corporate world. But even if they have the talent and ability in their industry, does that mean their make-up is such that they can handle the ups and downs, the stress, the dedication, and the passion that are also absolutely necessary to make a business succeed?
In my last series, called “The Entrepreneur’s Lament”, we covered just seven of the difficult challenges that most growth company founders face, and concluded that despite all of these burdens, most entrepreneurs would not trade what they are doing. Having satisfied ourselves that entrepreneurship is a worthwhile endeavor, the next logical question is: do you have what it takes?
There are tens of thousands of responses when you ask Google, “Are you an entrepreneur?” I looked it up after creating the list below, and was surprised both by how many folks agree with some of my own responses and how many I truly disagree with.
First, a couple premises. In this analysis, we are not talking about whether a schoolteacher should consider opening that Subway franchise. I am talking about people with a desire to build something, from scratch or near-scratch, that is substantial and significant. I also assume that you have the savvy and experience in your industry to break out on your own.
I believe there are nine key, distinct personality traits that increase your chances of being a successful entrepreneur if you possess them. Starting with the next column, we will go through each of these individually. But let’s start with a quick sentence or two on each.
Big Dreamer. You look at the way Microsoft and Home Depot started very small and believe you can do the same thing. You have, as my wife likes to say, that million-dollar idea.
Natural Leader and Decisionmaker. You are a great communicator and good listener, and people trust and follow you. You relish the opportunity to efficiently weigh important choices, and then roll the dice.
Obsessively Passionate and Driven. It is not possible to be a successful entrepreneur without having a major appetite to dive into what you are doing. You pop out of bed each morning excited for the day ahead. The clock is less important than completing your goals for the day; you simply will not rest until you are satisfied.
Macro-manager. I learned that I did not coin this phrase. It is, obviously, the opposite of being a micro-manager. The best entrepreneurs learn to delegate day-to-day tasks, leaving them to the important business of dreaming, planning, assisting with key hires, and helping solve the major problems that arise.
Rational Optimist. I admit that at times I fail on this one--at least the rational part. The best entrepreneurs plow ahead thinking that the best is right around the corner, but at the same time attempt to temper that enthusiasm with preparation for plausible difficulties ahead.
Healthy Fear of Failure. This follows directly from rational optimism. Part of what drives me every day is the ringing in my head of, “When are they going to take this all away?”
Little Fear of Risk. Entrepreneurs understand that the greatest rewards await those who risk the most.
Controlling, But Not Freakish. A true control freak will not make a great entrepreneur. But healthy skepticism of the talents and motivations of those around you is not a bad thing. As President Ronald Reagan said about the then-Soviet Union: “Trust, but verify.”
Disciplined Personal Life. Many entrepreneurs’ guides talk about the importance of being healthy. Yes, that’s important, but it's not the full story. but It's best to lead a fully disciplined life: getting enough sleep, balancing work and life, and realizing the importance of working smart rather than hard. Rare and valuable is the entrepreneur who has several of these other traits and this one as well: the necessary risk-taking mentality in particular too often goes together with other, less productive, risky behavior.
In the columns ahead we will tackle each of these in much more detail. I hope you stay tuned!
David N. Feldman, founding partner of Feldman Weinstein & Smith, is the author of Reverse Mergers and blogs at crisispoint.com and Reverse Merger & SPAC Blog. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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