By Rick Rapier
Poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” While Eliot lived before business innovators like Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Lori Greiner, and Daymond John, he might as well have been describing the modern entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs have learned firsthand that by taking risks, they can go quite far.
But surely there must be more to it than risk? Just ask people who take the risk of starting small businesses each year and who fail. Many are willing to take great risks – mortgaging their homes, cashing in retirement funds, and spending life savings to make a go of it. It is rarely for lack of risk-taking that such endeavors go by the boards. While intestinal fortitude is clearly a must, there must be a lot more to it than a willingness to risk.
So, what does it take for an entrepreneur to succeed? As author Tom Wolfe put it, do they also need “the right stuff?” Moreover, do you have the right stuff to be a successful entrepreneur?
No Silver Bullet
Truth be told, there isn’t just one characteristic that will determine whether you have what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. There are several. And everyone seems to have an opinion of what they are. Google the phrase “traits of successful entrepreneurs” and you’ll get nearly 500 thousand results.
Entrepreneur Magazine claims to have isolated seven traits. StartUpBros.com, an online advice column for business startups, examines six key characteristics. And finally, Inc. Magazine offers their readers five essential attributes that all successful entrepreneurs share.
Five Traits Distilled
Five characteristics were common among each of the aforementioned publications. These traits are considered essential characteristics shared by successful entrepreneurs:
Yale Law professor Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, asserts that an attitude of “I’m gonna show everybody” can produce incredible entrepreneurial drive in certain individuals.
For an entrepreneur to succeed, he or she must be intensely motivated. More than one source called this “passion.” Thomas Edison was so driven by his desire to invent that he slept only three or four hours a night. The same has been said of President John F. Kennedy who sacrificed sleep in his own effort to be more productive. Successful entrepreneurs will sacrifice all – sleep, relationships, and savings, whatever else it takes – to realize their vision.
2. Singular Vision
A single-minded focus is also evident in successful entrepreneurs. Will Mitchell of StartupBros called it “immunity to shiny objects.” Until a particular goal is achieved, the entrepreneur cannot be dissuaded by other, newer goals. In an effort to hold to their singular vision, entrepreneurs also write down their goals. According to Drew Hendricks of Inc., “Putting things in writing makes them more real and easier to remember and can help avoid confusion down the road.”
Entrepreneurs also must be willing to keep going - regardless of temporary failure and obstacles. They have an attitude of never taking no as the answer. This trait is also expressed as patience and persistence, with a willingness to fail. Lori Greiner, inventor-entrepreneur and star of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” proclaimed on her Facebook page in 2012 that, “Falling down is part of life – getting back up is living!”
4. Thinks Outside the Box
While it might come with a negative connotation, Entrepreneur Magazine asserts successful entrepreneurs are rule breakers. To reframe that as a positive, they must be innovative with a tolerance of ambiguity. If the rule is, “that can’t be done,” the entrepreneur will seek to find a way to prove that rule wrong. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, offers this outlook: “You don’t learn to walk by following rules.”
The four traits listed above are completely internal. But this last trait also involves something outside the individual: connections. Peer-to-peer connections give the entrepreneur a chance to bounce ideas off other experts at their own level and to build their organization with like-minded people.
While it takes a certain personality exhibited by many of the traits above, to succeed an entrepreneur also needs a network of relationships with money sources. Steve Martin famously taught his audiences “how to become a millionaire and pay no taxes.” His advice was, “First, get a million dollars.” While seemingly silly, according to the experts, it isn’t far off. If this sounds like something that would suit you and you want to get the right skills check out NCU's MBA program with a entrepreneurship specialization.
So, do you have the right stuff to be a successful entrepreneur? If you have a burning desire to find out, you just might!