In this, the second installment of my series (first installment here) on what makes people great entrepreneurs, we begin analyzing the nine key personality traits that increase your chances of success. As a reminder, I believe the nine traits are: big dreamer, natural leader and decision maker, obsessive passion and drive, macro-manager, rational optimist, healthy fear of failure, little fear of risk, controlling but not freakish, and disciplined personal life.
Let’s start with what may be the single most important characteristic of great business impresarios: being a big dreamer. Here, I always think of the great 1950s TV show, The Honeymooners. Always downtrodden bus driver Ralph Kramden (he is based on the Madison Avenue route) kept looking for that one idea or project that would take him and his wife Alice to Easy Street. “This is the big one, honey,” he would scream. Of course, each time his hopes were dashed, but he realized what really mattered in his life was his good friend Norton and his great wife.
Great entrepreneurs have that same excitement, though hopefully with greater success than poor Ralph. The key is figuring out something you can do differently or better than everyone else out there. Or finding something that’s never been done. Note that innovation, by itself, is only the beginning. Someone has not only to come up with it but also know how to take it to the market; and it has to satisfy some unmet need that exists. After all, some of us remember great innovations like the Sony Betamax and Quadrophonic stereo--and more of us don't, because they bombed spectacularly.
There are plenty of great big ideas that aren't as dramatic as a true breakthrough. For example, I started my own law firm doing something very few, if any, others starting law firms did. I centered the strategy on basic marketing concepts. I asked myself, what are the two things that clients complain about the most when dissatisfied with their lawyer? Assuming the lawyer is basically competent, the two main things are: he or she charges too much, and he or she doesn’t get back to me quickly enough. You can be a great lawyer, but if you overcharge or are inaccessible, you are basically worthless to the client.
So what did I do? I immediately established an absolute four-hour telephone callback rule for clients. When they call any lawyer in our shop, they will for sure receive a call back within four business hours. Of course, in most cases response time is even shorter. Would any firm say they seek to do the same? Of course. Do they all do it? No. Do any of them make it formal policy? No others that I know of. Differentiation. I may not have invented the iPhone (or Betamax), but this was a marked and marketable innovation that I used to advance my business.
In the area of fees: while I did not invent flat fees, we embraced them for corporate transactional work over 15 years ago, when it was quite controversial indeed. I believe billing by the hour is a conflict of interest between me and my client, and even when you bill honorably, many clients still suspect that you are not. The flat fee removes that concern. It also helps bring an uncertain potential client through the threshold by eliminating one major uncertainty in a new relationship. While some firms have begun to use flat fees, most are doing so reluctantly. We do so enthusiastically. Differentiation.
Does any of this compare with, say, Bill Gates’ brilliant marketing of software for personal computers or Richard Branson’s service-based Virgin brand? Obviously not. But it shows the power of thinking big--which really means thinking of old things in new ways even if you are not thinking up something entirely new.
Gates did not invent the PC. He just helped develop software to make it run, and many other companies also did that. His brilliance took the form of a simple big idea--he was the first to license the software to any PC manufacturers that wanted to use it. And what did Apple do--Apple, whose software many feel was (and is) better? Apple sought to control distribution of their operating software by allowing it only on their machines. That is why, critical buzz aside, Microsoft continues to eclipse Apple’s success dramatically. "Think Different" may be Apple's slogan, but Microsoft put it to work with even greater success.
Richard Branson did not invent airlines or good service: his own style and focus on customers made people want to be part of his universe. Because he thought and dreamed big.
The infamous Soup Nazi provides a small lesson. For years, an apparent urban legend about a small stand with incomparable soup but an incorrigible owner swept New York City. Turns out it was true: the stand known as Soup Kitchen International on 55th Street. Proprietor Al Yeganeh dished out great soup with bad attitude. A classic Seinfeld episode where the term Soup Nazi was used in referring to him gave Yeganeh instant infame. An earlier reference, in the classic movie Sleepless in Seattle, provides the lesson. In that movie is delivered the great line, “It’s not just about the soup.”
When you think big remember: the market need drives the product or service, not the other way around. And also remember that it’s not just about the soup.
Next we find out if you are a natural leader and decision maker. 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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