“Entrepreneur is not a title but a mindset. It requires a good dose of madness for an incredibly rewarding life” said Vincenzo Carrara, CEO of Todd & Marlon LLC. The successful entrepreneurs have an Entrepreneurial Spirit which is generally defined as the attitude to pro-actively seeks out change and challenges the status quo. However, the entrepreneurial spirit is only one of the many characteristics of the entrepreneurs. So what are the most common traits of an entrepreneur? And is the entrepreneurial spirit ‘condicio sine qua non’ for becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Often entrepreneurs believe they are wired differently from other business people. They believe their way to think and function is totally different and that entrepreneurs are born with this mindset. They recognize many characteristics that confederate the entrepreneurs under the same umbrella – some traits are common to other business people but the combination of all those characteristics is what sets the entrepreneurs apart. In the following section we underline the top ten traits.
The belief that entrepreneurs are hard-working is a cliché. They are generally defined as the ones who decide not to work forty hours per week in order to work eighty hours per week. This is very true especially for the people that have just started their journey but remain valid also for the successful and well oiled entrepreneurs. It is not just a myth but the road to success always goes through the hard-working route. “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work” - Stephen King. In fact, entrepreneurs work long hours but time is never enough for them to bring to life their vision and the lack of time to address everything has been identified as the number one challenge.
There is no way to be an entrepreneur without loving competition. Entrepreneurs need to face competition either from day one (if entering an existing market) or from the day after (if creating a new market/industry). Competition will always be there and if entrepreneurs don’t compete they will not survive. This is even more important when the product or service offered by the entrepreneurs does not have a cutting edge - as Ben Horowitz puts it “to succeed at selling a losing product, you must develop seriously superior sales techniques. In addition, you have to be massively competitive and incredibly hungry to survive in that environment”.
Jumping into the entrepreneurial world is not easy especially from an emotional perspective. Becoming an entrepreneur requires putting self and own image at stake. Family, friends, ex-colleagues are looking and emotional pressure is high. Sometimes there is also quite some financial pressure. It is difficult to be profitable from day one and starting up might require funding not always readily available. Depending on the peculiar situation both the emotional and financial barriers might be too high for some people. Only the very confident people will make the first move and start the journey.
Once the journey starts, it is important to keep nurturing self-confidence. In this context big and small achievements can help - “doing projects really gives people self-confidence. Nothing is better than taking the pie out of the oven. What it does for you personally, and for your family's idea of you, is something you can't buy” - Martha Stewart. Confidence, however, does not refer only to the entrepreneur (self-confidence) but also to the company personnel confidence. “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it's amazing what they can accomplish” - Sam Walton
Any entrepreneur acknowledges that there are numerous problems to overcome. Whether about finding the best vendors or personnel, securing enough funding, or facing the competition there is always a problem to solve. In many cases problem solving is seen as a continue struggle: “we experience problem-solving sessions as war zones, we view competing ideas as enemies, and we use problems as weapons to blame and defeat opposition forces. No wonder we can't come up with real lasting solutions!” - Margaret J. Wheatley. However, the most successful entrepreneurs see problem-solving as a stimulating exercise that can bring to new opportunities and ultimately to achieving the company goal.
Starting up a business is not like doing a sprint but rather a marathon! Entrepreneurs have to withstand any kind of adversity and uncertainty for long periods of time. Failure is indeed part of the game and being determined helps seeing failure as a lesson rather than as an ending point. Sir Winston Churchill once said: “success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm” because only determination will ultimately lead to success. The ability to persevere when times get tough has been identified as the number two “must-have” for entrepreneurs to be successful. Determination is driven by self-motivation and ultimately drives action; action that keeps the company moving toward the ultimate goal: “if I don't feel confident about my body, I'm not going to sit at home and feel sorry for myself and not do something about it. It's all about taking action and not being lazy. So you do the work, whether it's fitness or whatever. It's about getting up, motivating yourself and just doing it” - Kim Kardashian.
“Most businesses think that product is the most important thing, but without great leadership, mission and a team that deliver results at a high level, even the best product won't make a company successful” - Robert Kiyosaki. It does all start from a great leader but a leader is nothing without a team. The team and the way the entrepreneur leads the team can really make the difference and sets successful company apart from the rest. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” - Lao Tzu. In fact, the capability to hire, manage and develop good people has been identified as the number three “must-have” for entrepreneurs to be successful. “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership” - Colin Powell
“There are really two kinds of optimism. There's the complacent, Pollyanna optimism that says, 'Don't worry - everything will be just fine,' and that allows one to just lay back and do nothing about the problems around you. Then there's what we call dynamic optimism. That's an optimism based on action” - Ramez Naam. The most successful entrepreneurs strive for the best balance between being optimist while at the same time avoid being naive. It has been scientifically proven that expecting for the best will ultimately lead to the best results (Pygmalion effect or Rosenthal effect). Some entrepreneurs take this to an extreme “the minute you have a back-up plan, you’ve admitted you’re not going to succeed” – Elizabeth Holmes. There is quite a debate on where the best balance lies but the point is that being optimist is a must though things should not be taken lightly (i.e. there is also a limit to Pollyanna optimism).
“Living with fear stops us taking risks, and if you don't go out on the branch, you're never going to get the best fruit” - Sarah Parish. There is no doubt that most of the entrepreneurs believe that risk-taking is a fundamental trait. In fact, risk-taking is the one single trait that sets entrepreneurs apart from managers and other business people in general. Just the fact of becoming an entrepreneur inherently relates to risk-taking but it goes much further. “The biggest risk is not taking any risk... In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks” - Mark Zuckerberg. Entrepreneurs most of the time start small and the only way to get noticed is via taking risks.
Entrepreneurs are defined as such because they are going to commercialize a product of service. No matter how good the product or service is, it is always instrumental for the successful entrepreneur to have great persuasion skills. Once persuasion was a lot about character: “persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.” – Aristotle. Nowadays persuasion is more about story-telling and in particular about innovative ways to tell stories: “A lot of people think that persuasion is all about values and aligning values. I largely disagree. I think persuasion generally, and political persuasion more particularly, has much more to do with explaining in new ways and connecting dots in new ways than just invoking emotions and values” - Nick Hanauer. Persuasion is important to sell the product and/or service but it is also instrumental to sell the company vision to all key stakeholders from investors to employees to ultimately shoppers and consumers.
Often entrepreneurs are driven by the desire to create wealth or control their own destiny. However, most of the time entrepreneurs are fueled by the passion for their product or service, by the opportunity to solve a problem and make life better. Passion is the ultimate entrepreneur engine! Especially during the first years, entrepreneurs work more and gain less than most 9-to-5 employees hence why doing that if not for passion? Passion is the starting point because it triggers many other key characteristics of a successful entrepreneur: “passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you're passionate about something, then you're more willing to take risks” - Yo-Yo Ma.
The above characteristics are not that different from the traits of a successful manager or business person in general. The only two differences are the fact that an entrepreneur needs to master all of them at the same time and especially the fact that a business person is generally paid to manage risks while an entrepreneur becomes successful only via jumping into risks.
We want to underline the “generally” because also a manager can have an entrepreneurial spirit without necessarily being an entrepreneur. If the manager is willing to take risks in order to change the status quo AND does take action then he/she has an entrepreneurial spirit.
In other words, a risk-taker might have an entrepreneurial spirit though to become an entrepreneur he/she needs to master all the ten essential traits at the same time. Hence where do you stand? Do you have the top ten traits of an entrepreneur?
Whether you have them or not always remember the quote by the character Adrian Cronauer (interpreted by Robin Williams) in the movie Good Morning Vietnam: “You know, Eddie, sometimes you got to specifically go out of your way to get into trouble. It's called fun. What's that? Come on. Take some chances once in a while, Edward. That's what life's all about.”