There are multiple paths to success. The secret is choosing one, and sticking to it. I firmly believe:
“You can become anything, but you can’t be everything” –Click to Tweet It!
I think there is a misconception about who entrepreneurs are. Some people imagine an entrepreneur as some super-hero being with know-it-all do-it-all super-powers that can propel them to pull off the unthinkable.
That isn’t true.
In listening to interviews with successful entrepreneurs (like Drew Houston of Dropbox), I’ve found more often than not, the founders of a company feel clueless (to start).
While there is no shortage of cluelessness in the entrepreneurial world, what separates successful entrepreneurs (who were clueless), from failed entrepreneurs (who are still clueless)?
As a Forbes article reported:
“Gallup research found that the personality of the entrepreneur affects his/her ability to develop strategies and manifest behaviors that lead to business growth.”
The following ten traits have been put together to fill in the blanks. I gathered the traits from multiple sources ranging from leadership theory by Warren Bennis, to interviews with entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Duh), and Drew Houston (Dropbox).
Here is what I discovered.
If you don’t know who you are with absolute conviction, you’ll consistently be persuaded by marketers and experts promoting the next “big” thing. When I asked Severin Hacker, co-founder of Duolingo, “What causes most entrepreneurs to fail?” His response was:
Discovering who you are means you know you better than anyone. The latest fads, and the gurus, DON’T know who you are and what is important to you. They don’t understand your skills, and they don’t know your weaknesses. Self-creation is the opposite of following the pack. It is being who you are in a world that is constantly trying to persuade you to become something else.
2. Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses
You can’t do it all and no one expects you to do it all. We all have strengths and weaknesses.
“Ignoring your weaknesses only amplifies your weaknesses.” – Click to Tweet It!
On the flip side, we all have strengths. Playing to our strengths is like stacking the deck.
Understanding your strengths and weaknesses is a result of self-creation. It allows you to put together the team you need to achieve what you want.
Quick note: I hear “I’m above average at a lot, but not great at anything” all the time. If someone thinks they’re average at a lot, they should look at what stuff gets them excited. What are they excited to do? What sparks their passion? These are the early signs of an expertise that can be developed. Being average at a lot is a result of the development path you chose. It is NOT the sign of some unchangeable talent that has you chained to mediocrity.
3. Be Passionate About Your Purpose
Presumably your business solves a problem (if it doesn’t, start over). Deep down, at your core, that problem should be something you’re passionate about solving.
This is exactly why so many founders build massive businesses around solving problems they themselves have. Its because they’ve experienced the agonizing pain and anguish of having the problem. This type of 1st hand experience ignites an unstoppable passion to end the problem once and for all.
As Mark Zuckerberg put it in a 2011 talk at BYU:
“I think it’s important if you’re going to take on any big challenge, that you just love and really have faith in what you’re doing. That I think is the most important advice I would say, more than any specific technical thing about how to build a company.”
4. Have a Vision
I used to think “having a vision” meant “knowing what you’re going to do every step of the way.”
From my experience, I found that to be false.
Having a vision means you can see where you want to end up. The purpose of a vision is to initiate action, then guide action. When your destination is clear, your next step will clearly appear as you continue to take action.
5. Be Comfortable With Ambiguity
Another misconception is that every successful entrepreneur had it all figured out. Believing that might lead to freak-out-mode when its time to make a tough decision, and the best choice isn’t clear.
This is where some entrepreneurs get hung up. I’ve been there.
They’re faced with ambiguity, and they need to make a decision. This leads to the fear of making a costly mistake, which subsequently leads to no decision being made, and the venture is dead.
Instead, embrace ambiguity. It is an opportunity to birth a creative solution.
Ambiguity is an opportunity to create something unique. It’s an opportunity to set yourself apart. Recognize it. Love it. Then overcome it.
6. Embrace Error
Entrepreneurs learn from them. They are not afraid of error.
Fear of error squashes creativity. Leaders and entrepreneurs reflect on their experiences, they recognize what worked and how they might do it better the next time (if there needs to be a next time).
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, talks about how NOT trying something is far more costly than trying and failing:
“People overemphasize their failures when trying something new. Actually failure is not that expensive and it’s part of work.”
7. Ability to Evolve Around an Idea
The evolution of your idea is purely influenced by the decisions you make.
Having the ability to deal with the inevitable evolution of your idea is essential.
Most people simply call this trait creativity.
8. Think Long-Term
It. Takes. Time. Have patience.
9. Be Optimistic, Hopeful, and Have Faith
This one is a no-brainier to talented entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship includes doing a lot of stuff for the first time. There needs to be a strong dose of optimism in your attitude to be able to face that challenge, and still take action.
10. Seek Alliances, Partnerships, and Relationships
An ecosystem in business works exactly like it does in nature.
In nature, an ecosystem is a community of living organisms and nonliving components that interact to develop a thriving system. An ecosystem in business is a community of interconnected businesses that create win-win relationships.
Entrepreneurs understand they can’t do it on their own. They get out of the building, and they develop relationships with like minded professionals.
Bonus Trait: A Lust For Experience
Based on my observation I’ve found a trait that separates those who just “know” this stuff from those who ACTUALLY LIVE this stuff.
Those who live it have a lust for experience. It isn’t enough to just read this stuff and be entertained. They crave the real life experience of stepping outside of their comfort zone and doing things they’ve never done before.
Successful entrepreneurs might call it living, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.