They say that entrepreneurs are a rare breed, that if everyone could be one then everyone would be one.
I understand why people would believe this to be true but I believe that entrepreneurship can actually be taught instead of just inherited like a magic gene or something else as equally cosmic.
In fact, besides mentoring and coaching existing entrepreneurs and walking with them through their current projects and ventures I’ve been spending time helping others fully embrace their inner-entrepreneur and teaching them the mechanics of building their own futures and products.
But that doesn’t mean it is easy by any stretch of the imagination – like any good challenge it is, by definition, a challenge and most people will eventually quit before the inflection point. This, if anything else, is the natural vetting process rather than DNA. I suppose I’m much more of a nurture than nature in this argument, if that model helps at all.
Many people, yes, people just like you, dream of having their own business; one that they can call their own. They find that being salaried at a 9-to-5 job isn’t satisfying enough and hope that one day they can strike out on their own.
But the benefits of having a paycheck on your doorstep every other week, health insurance, a 401k, and other such things can stop even the bravest of us.
Working with many of them though I have identified 5 strong characteristics that will also be the foundation for your own personal education as how you can one day become a fully-fledged entrepreneur, if you want to be that is.
There seems to be an overwhelming sense of optimism in the entrepreneur – they believe that the impossible may, in fact, be possible. They believe that problems only exist because they haven’t solved them yet and that they are on their way.
They keep their head up high, despite the long hours and tough time and stay positive through even the worst of times. They don’t disregard reality and see the existing challenges with 20/20 vision, but they choose to move forward instead of let those challenges stop them.
Let’s be honest: Discipline is very hard. It’s hard for everyone, period. Some appear to have a better time with it than others but that’s because, in some part, they have worked hard to create those systems over time and are so good at keeping them now that it’s fluid.
And yes, there are some people who think so systematically that their behavior, as we understand it, is a natural off-shoot of what we perceive as positive discipline. But even they struggle too.
Discipline for the entrepreneur isn’t a one-size fits all type model – they simply do three things really, really well:
- Avoid distractions, whatever they may be.
- Meet or exceed deadlines.
- Create boundaries that work, for their health and sanity.
All the rest of the details can be worked out on a personal basis.
The most popular entrepreneurs and the one’s that we laud, respect, and attempt to copy are generally very good public communicators. This is more about their “stage presence” than anything else and it doesn’t mean they are more successful entrepreneurs than others. They are simply better public communicators.
But all successful entrepreneurs are good at communicating simply because they have to be able to communicate not just their idea but the how and why this idea is worth anyone else’s attention. Whether it’s to a crowded room of angel or venture capitalists or whether it’s to their small creative team of a few, quantity is less of a factor.
All entrepreneurs can learn and be equipped to become better communicators but they are all generally gifted in communication.
You are confident that the problem that you’re tackling and the solution that you’re creating is one that is worth not just your time but other people’s time as well. Not just your future customers or clients but also the team of people that you have working with you to help build it.
Successful entrepreneurs have a quiet and deep level of self-confidence, even if they are and can be anxious about the future. The reality is that building a startup is really tough work but facing the daily challenges of leading a growing organization has less to do with their level of confidence and more about their ability to execute the functional needs of the personel and business.
They can still be confident and have that self-confidence and be a terrible manager – they just need to hire someone or partner with someone who is naturally gifted in management.
5. Team Player
Among the top characteristics of successful entrepreneurs is the fact that they aren’t solo acts – they may start out that way but anything worth doing and that may eventually change the course of human history is done in the context of a team and not just one individual.
Even if you aren’t spiritual, the model of Jesus Christ (God Himself) had a team that helped him accomplish his mission. Aside from that god-sized (pun intended) example, just think of all the major inventions or applications or organizations that you respect today – they were built by teams of people, a group of entrepreneurs that came together to do great things corporately.
This isn’t just about one guy sitting at his desk hiding behind his blog and twitter building a small web app, although they may be very financially successful, but rather those seeking to do much greater work than padding their personal bank account. They are team players are seek companionship, camaraderie, and the ability to submit to the leadership of others.
The growing entrepreneur has a good sense of not just their functional boundaries as it relates to time but also a good sense of where their skills are the strongest and where those skills end.
In other words, they have a frank and honest approach to their unique value proposition and they aren’t ashamed of it nor are they shy about what they are incredibly good at. It can take time to learn what this is and it can take even greater time to isolate and refine, but the growing entrepreneur is on a quest to not only do great work but become a greater worker.
Boundaries is something they are familiar with, even if they break them from time to time. Even for myself as I reflected on 2012 on my own software skills and how I’ve been moving distinctly in the direction of putting them aside in a serious way as a way of earning an income it can be hard to come to terms with. I’m still very much for side projects and have an active one currently, it’s not paying my mortgage.
This is myself practicing the fine art of boundaries.
The growing entrepreneur is also growing in integrity, as an individual, a team player, and even as a leader and communicator. Closely aligned with #1, the only way they can calmly and collectively ascertain their own boundaries is if they are brutally honest with themselves.
They are humble and honest, willing to get help when they need it and willing to stick their neck out when it might cost them dearly. But they are creating a whole person – a person who is the same behind closed doors and while out in public. They are creating a model of who they are for others to watch, observe, and even copy.
They are a person of integrity, not just moral fiber, but of skills, aptitudes, and qualifications. And they never stop growing. It’s hard to assess this at times, especially when I coach younger entrepreneurs, but you can nearly immediately tell whether or not the young person believes in what they are saying and believes in themself.
8. Business Sense
The pursuit of opportunity without regard to known resources is the hallmark of an entrepreneur but that doesn’t mean that they are unaware or ignorant of what it takes to grow a business.
In fact, a growing entrepreneur is training themselves up in the basics of good business practicum, learning what it means to balance a checkbook, not just personally but for a team that is counting on them as well as perhaps investors and financiers. They are learning how to make critical decisions based on logic and financial accountability rather than on just emotion and good will alone. They are even frugal.
They know where the money is going and it’s purpose – they understand the how to evaluate (e.g. identify and create explicit value for functions, roles, people) the workings of a startup, venture, and business and they know how to say “Yes” and “No” with clarity.
They are not MBA-trained nor do they have the makings of a CFO or financial leader – they don’t have to be, but they need to understand how to talk to their finance team and leadership without drawing a blank stare.
It’s fascinating to see how many startups fail because of fiscal management – not even mis-management, but rather the sheer basics of running a business. Even I can work on this more myself.
9. Forever a Student
Growing entrepreneurs are always students of their craft an they never stop learning. They are passionately curious about not only their field but also are looking for models and strategies from different industries and verticals so that they might also apply brilliant thinking into their own venture.
They have a positive stance on education and seek to understand more than execute. Entrepreneurs are dogmatic, arrogant, and incredible hard-headed by instinct and nature so it must be taught and worked into them that they must, at all times, continue to learn.
I’m so incredibly thankful for my teachers, my counselors, my mentors, and even my traditional educational training that has stoked the fire of education deep within my soul. I am a student of my craft and will always be. There is never enough time to learn all that there is, but the growing entrepreneur will try anyways.
10. Life Outside
Growing entrepreneurs have a life outside their explicit work although they may be thinking about their venture or business 24/7. They have hobbies, play video games, go cycling, spend time reading, or explore the fine art of brewing beer. They are in love with other activities and people.
This provides a sort of balance, a lifestyle that’s worth living, and gives them a breath of fresh air when they most need it. They also draw incredible inspiration from it. They live for their startups but they also find life in their activities outside of work.
It may not always been seen as balanced, but there is a quality of balance that exists in the growing entrepreneur as they, like all of us, understand what it is to be weary and fatigued. They live their lives full and they promote it wonderfully.