What is an entrepreneur, and what mindset is required for a successful one to accomplish what they set out to do amidst a sea of competition, troubles, and turbulent business environments? The initial question seems simple enough, given the definition of an entrepreneur:
Entrepreneur: someone who fills an unmet demand within the marketplace.
That tells us what the entrepreneur does, but not much about what they are, or the willpower and mindset required to succeed in their goals. As with Captain Ahab chasing his white whale in the infamous Moby Dick, an entrepreneur must possess the fortitude and temerity to push forward despite all odds stacked against them.
Whether they begin with a massive amount of cash from investors or are working a full-time job as they bootstrap their startup into existence, there is a multitude of difficulties that any entrepreneur must expect to face before their product or service hits the market – and an entirely new suite of problems to expect once it does.
So who is the man or woman that has a passion, an idea that burns so brightly within their soul that they are willing to “hang out their own shingle” and wade into the tumultuous business environment to make that idea a reality?
Let’s dig into that question.
What is an Entrepreneur?
To decipher the mindset needed for an entrepreneur to succeed, let’s set the “table stakes” and determine exactly what an entrepreneur is. There are certain requirements that an entrepreneur must meet above all else. We each bring our own requisite skill sets and experience to the table, but these are an absolute must-have for anyone who plans on evolving an idea from the narrows of their mind into the competitive marketplace.
An entrepreneur is someone who:
- Sees an opportunity and is willing to take action
- Is confident in their abilities and willing to take ultimate responsibility for the results of their decision (whether good, bad, or indifferent)
- Is a true leader with vision, is skilled at communicating bold, broad ideas in a way that anyone can understand, and can influence others to see their vision of the future
- Can think through problems in a “wholistic” way (not only holistic). They must be comprehensive thinkers, innovators, and creative problem solvers
- Must be able to accomplish an objective without the resources at their disposal that another, established company or person would potentially have or need
- Is a resource gatherer, a “fixer” or networker, able to leverage relationships and motivate people to get things done no matter what
There are many types of people in the world who have entrepreneurial characteristics but have no desire to be entrepreneurs. The average person enjoys the comfort of their trappings and prefers the stability of a 9-5 job with benefits, a steady paycheck, and a daily routine with clear requirements and expectations. They have the luxury of a team to fall back on and leverage when things get tough, or if they need to step away to take a vacation. Entrepreneurship is a risk and it’s not for everyone…and that’s ok.
An entrepreneur is willing to sacrifice all of these things, at least in the beginning, to bring their vision to life. These curses of the familiar and safety net are what prevent many who have entrepreneurial characteristics or even a vision that they want to bring to life from actually taking the step towards doing it.
A true entrepreneur has something that they see and believe in so deeply that they are willing to cast all of these things aside to bring it to life. If an entrepreneur does not believe in their vision deep down into their bones, they will not be able to convince a team to join their cause to make it a reality.
And without a good team behind them, an entrepreneur cannot succeed.
Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs
We should start off by noting that the average successful entrepreneur takes at least 3 attempts to find success. 99.9% of businesses in the USA are small businesses (500 or fewer employees) according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), and 20% of those will fail within the first year.
A true entrepreneur will not give up when they miss an objective, or even if their business fails. The old adage of being knocked down but dusting yourself off and getting up again is a prerequisite for the entrepreneur’s mindset, as we have to know that there are many forces against us that we must triumph over.
As Thomas Edison famously responded about his missteps, “I’ve not failed 10,000 times, I’ve merely found 10,000 ways that didn’t work!”
Besides a passionate heart and steely resolve, there are other characteristics that can be found in successful entrepreneurs:
- Good health (startup hours are long, and you must begin in the best health possible)
- A basic need to control and direct (an active rather than passive leader)
- Self-confidence (to inspire others, you must first believe in yourself)
- A never-ending sense of urgency (there is always a competitor looking to unseat any successful business)
- Comprehensive awareness (you must be able to understand what is going on from multiple angles)
- Empathy & Emotional Intelligence (to lead a team, you must be able to empathize with their needs)
- Realistic (you must know when to forge ahead, and when to pivot to a new direction)
- Superior conceptual ability (you must be able to conceptualize abstract ideas, and know before anyone else what the outcome or direction will be)
- A low need for status (success is not found by those who need a pat on the back to continue forward)
- Sufficient emotional stability (you must keep your cool when the building is on fire – your team will take their queues from your demeanor)
- Attraction to challenges, not risks (know the difference between being a risk taker and a risk mitigator)
What Makes an Entrepreneur “Tick?”
There are certain elements that exist within an entrepreneur’s life that may indicate they are likely to one day set off on their own to shape the world into the way they see it. Most entrepreneurs have worked for others during their lives – some even keep their full-time jobs while building their businesses to bootstrap and maintain a safety net just in case the business fails.
A common trait found in successful entrepreneurs is that they would typically find themselves at odds with their employers and the way that things were done. Entrepreneurs have an inherent understanding of the way things should work, and often in hindsight discovered that they were rankled by inefficiencies or needless “double work” that they had to do in previous professions. In fact, fixing those inefficiencies and pain points is often a driver for an entrepreneur setting out on their own to fill an unmet demand within the marketplace.
Don’t Let Them See You Sweat
Becoming an entrepreneur takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It can be tough at times, but the most successful entrepreneurs learn to take it all in stride. They know that obstacles are just part of the journey.
As an entrepreneur, it is important to be a leader and to have emotional intelligence. Your team will take their cues from you and will be more or less motivated and persistent based on how they interpret your mood. There are potential partners, customers, and backers who will only provide support to those who they feel will be able to succeed (and pay them back). Therefore, it is crucial to give off the right impression and come across as confident and capable.
As the founder and CEO, you will be under a lot of pressure. Whenever an issue arises that could threaten the company, employees will look to you for guidance. Similarly, when a competitor launches a new product that could potentially dethrone your current market leader, they will also look to you for reassurance.
As a startup founder, it’s important to be able to keep your cool under pressure. This is especially true when you’re working with a team of people who are only being paid in “sweat equity” rather than actual wages. Some people love working in startups but don’t want to be entrepreneurs themselves. They understand that it’s a high-risk, high-reward game and that not all of the equity they receive will pay off. But even with this mindset, things can still get heated when difficult problems arise.
As the founder, it’s your job to keep the team calm and focused so that you can reach your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and get to market successfully.
How is the Entrepreneur’s Mindset Different?
Most people will have one or several novel ideas throughout their lifetime, and we’ve all seen it happen.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if….”
“What if this did that instead?
“Wouldn’t this work so much better if this piece were…”
99% of the population will have that “spark” of an idea at some point in their life, but what happens next is the difference between an entrepreneur and someone else. For them, the spark may stay lit for a few hours, days, or weeks, but it eventually dies out.
For entrepreneurs, however, the spark ignites a flame that refuses to go out until we either:
- Bring the idea into reality
- Fail or realize that it is not a viable idea (and only after a lot of hard work and/or research)
As the spark dies out in the average person’s mind, it steadily grows in our souls, with different things that we encounter or learn adding fuel to the fire. Perhaps we make a new acquaintance who has something that could help make that idea happen.
Perhaps we learn about a technology, product, or service that we didn’t know existed previously but could significantly benefit this dream that we have. Or perhaps we just come across the resources that we didn’t previously have that would allow us to build, or at least work towards building our company.
Everyone in the world has dreams.
It’s what you do with those dreams that mark the difference between an entrepreneur and an employee.
What makes you tick? What ignites your passions, brings you joy, or makes you excited? Are you the type of person who loves helping people, fixing things, or making things better?
At our core, most successful entrepreneurs are motivated by something other than money, fame, and accolades.
It’s the possibilities that drive us.
The money is something to (hopefully) look forward to if you find success. However, Nikkola Tesla was arguably one of the most brilliant people and most prolific inventors in human history, yet he died penniless in a New York City hotel. George Washington Carver created innovations that still impact agriculture today…yet, the first thing that came to your mind was likely peanut butter.
Our core source code, the thing deep inside of us that moves us forward and makes us happy, is built differently than most people. Sure, we may have a unique skill set, additional education that others don’t have, or something that gives us subject matter expertise that allows us to understand something that others don’t. Maybe we just know how to make something better, more efficient, or to build it at a lower cost than others can.
But an entrepreneur isn’t motivated by those things alone. An entrepreneur sees a problem, a pain point, or an unmet demand sometimes for something that people don’t even know that they have to have yet (see: Steve Jobs and Apple laptops/iPhones/iPads/Air Pods, etc).
Serial entrepreneurs love building and leading teams around their ideas, creating their own little families and communities centered around the core idea of this thing that they want to bring into the marketplace.
And while documentaries and flashy exposes on the new college dropout-turned-tech billionaire or unicorn startup may make it seem like all the stars aligned and their experience was a walk in the park, it is always – every single time – a difficult process.
The key difference between a true entrepreneur and a person who has an idea but lets it die on the vine?
We know it will be difficult, but the passion that resides inside of us to bring our idea to life is worth more to us than the hardships the process will cause, regardless of whether we strike it rich or not. For us, it’s about the process and the possibilities.