Being an entrepreneur has never been cooler. Our culture has become obsessed with the idea of the person who strikes out on their own and does their own thing, getting incredible rich in the process. It’s a romantic idea driven home with every report of a Zuckerberg or Kalanick creating a global phenomenon or revolution in the way we live, move and communicate. Even though this will have the effect of having everyone thinking they can do the same, and even though a lot of people who have no business becoming entrepreneurs will take the plunge and be devastated. It is a good thing. With perpetual change and uncertainty in today’s world, we all have to be at least a little more entrepreneurial. We need to solve problems, re-imagine industries and meet new needs. We need more visionaries and entrepreneurs.
It’s tempting to think that entrepreneurs are born and not made. Certainly some people are born with the dispositions that make them restless, more comfortable with risk and incredibly driven. Some people have entrepreneurship in their DNA. But I believe that a lot of things in life are learnable. I believe that entrepreneurship is a learnable skill. Not necessarily teachable. But definitely learnable.
I grew up more of an artist and creator than a classic entrepreneur. Being creative has always been my natural strength. I wasn’t exposed to business at a very young age. I didn’t have a lemonade stand or a paper route. My parents did and still do run their own businesses so I suppose that made me very opposed to working for someone else. But by the end of my high school education, I decided that I would eventually start my own business. I knew that I probably didn’t have the mentality or characteristics that made for a good entrepreneur. So since then, I’ve spent time identifying and working closely with people more driven or daring than me, people who are creating fascinating things, the movers, the shakers.
I’ve seen that these ‘born’ entrepreneurs are bold and seemingly fearless. They take more risks, they think way bigger than I’m naturally comfortable with and they pursue their ideas relentlessly. Slowly these things have rubbed off on me. I may never be exactly like them because we are all coded differently. We have our own strengths and inclinations. But there are many flavors of entrepreneurship and I’m working hard at tapping into my flavor.
I’ve been fairly successful at being a solopreneur – owning my job so to speak. I work for myself, I’m engaged in a lot of interesting projects, I set my hours, I’m not starving, etc. I’m no Richard Branson but as I learn and push to grow my business to the next level and embark on new projects, I have identified 3 utterly basic characteristics you must have to even stand a chance at success as an entrepreneur.
- The ability to take initiative and get things done.
You will fail as an entrepreneur if you do not have the ability to finish what you start. It’s easy to finish things when there are external forces (like school or bosses) making sure certain things get done or providing consequences for unfinished work. It’s much harder to self-initiate a project and see it all the way to conclusion. Do you trust yourself to set a goal and achieve it? Are you able to execute your ideas? Execution is everything in life and entrepreneurship. If you can’t finish and ship it, you cannot have a business. Beyond just getting things done, you must be able to take initiative. Go the extra mile, see the loopholes, recognize the need and move to fill it.
- Self awareness / External awareness
Like I said earlier, there are many flavors of entrepreneurship. It is incredibly important to know yourself and play to your strengths. Be self aware enough to know what you do well and partner with people who can complement your strengths and cover your weaknesses. Be self aware enough to know what you don’t know. Pay critical attention to the ‘lay-of-the-land’, to the actual world out there, the one outside your head. Seek out feedback. Know the nuts and bolts of your chosen business, or at least build a team that will help you handle the details and make sure you have everything you need in place to make things happen.
Being an entrepreneur is choosing the long road. Be prepared to commit for the long haul. It’s a commitment to long hours and sacrifice. It’s a commitment to doing, learning, changing and doing until you reach your goal. Are you able to say to yourself ‘I’m working on this idea and I’ll push it all the way to end, I will give it 100%’. Or do you jump from idea to idea with minimal execution? This doesn’t mean you won’t ever quit a project if it isn’t working, or pivot. But if you cannot commit to your idea, your business, your end goal, you will never succeed.
So there you have it. There are a whole lot more characteristics and traits you must have as an entrepreneur, I’ve just highlighted these ones as the ones that resonate with me at the moment. What traits do you think are important for entrepreneurs to have to be successful?