The 5 critical skills you need for life as an entrepreneur

Avinash Raghava
Jun 20, 2019 · 6 min read

In my role at Accel, I meet a lot of founders.

If I include my earlier stints at NASSCOM and iSPIRT, I’ve probably met over nine thousand founders in my career. Amongst them, I enjoy a rewarding acquaintanceship with around five hundred entrepreneurs and even closer relationships with a smaller group of a hundred or so of them.

I always try to build meaningful relationships with founders and usually prefer meeting them one-on-one which allows me to have deeper conversations. This is exciting for me, and this means that I’ve had an opportunity to see entrepreneurial strengths and weaknesses both up close and from a distance.

Over the past decade, I’ve observed patterns in individuals who want to be entrepreneurs and learnt to spot the kind of co-founders who would fit each of them best. Many founders are strong in product/tech, but very few have a sales DNA or a customer-centric skill set. Many have the strong urge to start a business, but few have any idea about the market or how to tell a story or even who they’re solving a problem for.

For context about why I’m writing this post, I’d recently attended a session by my colleague Shekhar Kirani on Starting a Startup.

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Messy hands sculpting on a pottery wheel in motion — Photograph by @Quinoai Unsplash

Some of the things he talked about reminded me of founders who were brilliant in some particular aspect of the entrepreneurial journey.

I started thinking about this and decided there may be some value in attempting to highlight some of the essential skills an entrepreneur needs to succeed. Of course, these are by no means must-haves, but they definitely help build better businesses and scale faster.

If you are starting up or thinking about doing so, you might want to reflect on some of these skills. All of them are useful in any arena in life, but you will need to either possess or build some of them to be a successful entrepreneur. If you know you don’t possess these skills, the best way to fill those gaps is by finding a co-founder who does.

To illustrate this better, I’m taking as examples some founders I have observed and worked within the last couple of years.

Storytelling

This is a very unique skill, and arguably the most important. As a founder, you will have to articulate why you are doing many times when you are starting up. And each time you do it is as important as the first time

Our brain, in general, is ingrained to listening to stories — people want to listen to how you started, why you started, your story of getting the first customer, your first employee and so on. Your ability to weave stories around every episode is important. I remember great pitches till today, the boring ones I have forgotten long ago.

Decisiveness

The Indian middle-class is used to having most of its decisions made for it. This gives us a cushion that renders us a bit clueless in the workplace at times. And in today’s high-intensity workplace, we have to make our calls and own them.

Decision making is stressful, and because we haven’t been trained to make decisions based on data, we go with our gut. That doesn’t work all the time. The art and science of decision making are very important. You can always ask for advice, but a founder should be able to make good decisions based on data.

And most importantly, you must take decisions fast. In startup environments, dithering is almost always equivalent to not making a decision.

Persistence

Be prepared to get rejected in your startup journey. By customers, investors, potential employees, even family. And this will happen again and again. Your inner conviction that this is a good market, that you have good unit economics, that this is really a great idea and worth solving — all this is important. You should remain focussed, you should be able to argue with data, and should be able to persist. If you look at some of the successful founders today, they all got rejected in the early days of their startups. Starting up is hard; you have to rewire your brain, but the sooner you do it, the sooner you will shake rejections off and move on. And persevere.

Talent Spotting

One of the big challenges that a founder will face in the early stage is hiring. You will certainly meet lots of potential employees, but your ability to spot raw talent — where even the said individual doesn’t know their potential — is invaluable. You can also get that talent at a very inexpensive price, and that individual can scale with the company.

Openness to learn

The ability to learn continually is hugely important. The learnability index for entrepreneurs should be so high that they should be able to learn new things even as they unlearn things they already know. This is something I know Shekhar looks for in the founders he invests in.

This is a great marker of future success.

Before you go

Startup journeys are tough by their very nature. Sometimes, you may need to develop certain skills before you are ready to take the plunge. Do consider working at a startup first before starting up on your own.

The list above comes from what I know, and what I’m sharing here comes from the founders I understand. I’m sure there are many more who are really good at what they do and possess other skill sets I haven’t mentioned here.

I would love to hear more stories about such skills and the founders who wield them effectively to produce results.

Accel India Insights is now SeedToScale Insights

We have moved our blog to www.seedtoscale.com/insights

Avinash Raghava

Written by

Community Platform Evangelist @ Accel_India. Enthusiast @SaaSBOOMi, Eco-system Builder & Connector. Co-Founded @iSPIRT(@Product_Nation), @NASSCOM over 10 yrs…

Accel India Insights is now SeedToScale Insights

Accel India Insights follows the stories, lessons and journeys of our community of entrepreneurs. We back and support people and their companies from the earliest days through all phases of private company growth. Please note:We have moved our blog to www.seedtoscale.com/insights

Avinash Raghava

Written by

Community Platform Evangelist @ Accel_India. Enthusiast @SaaSBOOMi, Eco-system Builder & Connector. Co-Founded @iSPIRT(@Product_Nation), @NASSCOM over 10 yrs…

Accel India Insights is now SeedToScale Insights

Accel India Insights follows the stories, lessons and journeys of our community of entrepreneurs. We back and support people and their companies from the earliest days through all phases of private company growth. Please note:We have moved our blog to www.seedtoscale.com/insights

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