Successful startups are the result of highly effective entrepreneurs.
Angels, VCs, and investors betting on these little diamonds in the rough need to know what a winning entrepreneur looks like. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs want to know if they have what it takes to get their ideas into the big leagues.
In my humble opinion, backed by a fair bit of experience as an entrepreneur, founder, and investor it is a tight mix of these five characteristics…
1. Curiosity to fuel innovation
Rarely do great products emerge from anything more complex than a personal itch or curiosity. Consequently, the best entrepreneurs have a super range of interests and curiosities.
It isn’t happenstance that the best startups are littered with people that are as comfortable riffing on a guitar, sketching in a notebook, making killer imagery, or debating the finer points of Hunter S. Thompson’s absurd adventure to Las Vegas as they are coding a revolution in social interaction on the Web, cloud-based storage, or engineering a whole new way to use a cell phone.
Successful entrepreneurs are always jumping across the artificial boundaries of industry, genre, discipline, even time and space.
2. Initiative (Confidence) to run ahead of the pack
There is nothing more cancerous than a mushroom in an organization or on a team. A mushroom, by my definition, is a person that sits around, waits for other people to shovel shit onto their plate, and expects to grow. Entrepreneurs that make an impact never–yes, I said never–are waiting around for something to do. They never suffer from boredom and are rarely seen idle (this sometimes works against them).
Initiative is a critical characteristic of successful entrepreneurs. It propels them to the front of the pack, allowing them to create and invent things ahead of any obvious opportunity. As these initiated folks crash forward, they clear paths towards no appreciable trend; blowing through barriers that are unknowingly blocking where people want to go and things people want to do.
As these trailblazers crash through these barriers and create easy onramps and wide roads, people flow in mass. And (often) tons of money is made.
3. Abstract thinking to imagine the world differently
Sure there’s money to be made making a better mousetrap. But that’s generally the work of academics and corporate-types. Entrepreneurs are in the business of changing the world and that requires the capacity to imagine the world operating differently.
It’s no surprise that the geekiest of websites–Reddit, Hacker News, Slashdot–are littered with oblique references to science fiction. These books and movies are the trail maps, early visionary sparks, of entrepreneurial brilliance.
4. Hustle to get it done and hack growth at all costs
There’s a growing appreciation for the power of hustle. The epiphanies of the Lean Startup and Growth Hacking as proven methodologies for gaining the traction necessary to achieve exit velocity are bringing on a new appreciation for hustle. Startups need to be run and fueled by people that are willing to get it done, at all cost, with little regard with how it’s supposed to be done.
We’ve pretty clearly established that a entrepreneur has to blaze trails and clear paths, but that’s going to naturally lead you to encounter immovable mountains, unnavigable waterways, uncrossable chasms. That’s when you need to accept the challenge and convince others to help you overcome them.
Yes, the greatest of entrepreneurs are frustrated and challenged. The differentiating moment is when they figure out how to convince the expert mountaineer, captain, or paraglider to get help him across, often for free, in exchange for the vision of how amazing it will be to join him on the other side.
5. Salesmanship to make others believe in their unique vision
This is one characteristic I rarely see on others’ lists of important entrepreneurial traits, yet it is one of the most critical components of success.
Assuming you’re out in front, few people are going to see or understand your vision. If you’re really lucky, no one else sees the trend line you’re tracking. The advantage is that you have a head start, a lead on the innovation and the profits. The disadvantage is you’re going to need to simply the vision for clarity and then sell the heck out it.
Few innovative new products sell themselves, because few people are looking for a change. So, you’re going to have to get sells and tell everyone that will stand still for five minutes why you have the next best thing. It will be uncomfortable at first, but if you truly believe in the power of your product or service and you begin to see it yield results for customers, you won’t be able to contain your sales pitch.
How’s Your Entrepreneurship?
Well what do you think? Are you cut-out to be an entrepreneur? Do these characteristics fit you and your startup dreams?
Honestly, you won’t know until you try and it probably best to go at entrepreneurship with a little naive. When you’re blazing a new trail I think it’s best not to know or understand too many of the perils ahead, it creates paralyzing fear.
So, if your curious enough and confident enough to change the world, or at least your little slice of it, jump in with both feet–you’ll be just fine.