I work with entrepreneurs every day and they are truly extraordinary people. Their ability to identify opportunities, innovate, overcome adversity and build brands is enviable. They bring vision, confidence and resilience to business and from time-to-time they build the biggest companies in the world. We need more of them!
Great entrepreneurs are rare and precious
Many individuals are intrigued by the ‘idea’ of being an entrepreneur, but few have the characteristics to be successful in this endeavour. I am not suggesting that everyone should aspire to be an entrepreneur, but I strongly believe that our economic and social future will be significantly impacted by new ventures that are created by the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders.
Successful entrepreneurs think big. They have vision and clear purpose. They are motivated and passionate individuals that have a zeal for what they do. Entrepreneurs are ‘ideas people’ is a misnomer. While creativity is an important trait, this is not a characteristic that makes for a great entrepreneur. The skill that differentiates ‘good from great’ is execution. Great entrepreneurs are execution champions; they get stuff done!
Entrepreneurs welcome change, they imagine new ways to solve problems and they thrive on the pressure of implementing new solutions for customers. They are resourceful, inquisitive and have a hunger to learn and grow. Entrepreneurs have the courage to commit to a contrarian view. They see the bigger picture and are unafraid to take calculated risks in the pursuit of potentially huge opportunity.
The best entrepreneurs are laser focused — this is one of the most critical attributes to be a successful entrepreneur. They are truly committed 24–7 to their ventures and customers. All ambitious individuals want to accomplish things, but successful entrepreneurs know when and how to simplify their lives. This means saying no to the endless list of ‘less important’ things in order to remain focused on saying yes to the few things that truly matter.
As Steve Jobs said, more than twenty years ago: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
Entrepreneurship is a learnt skill, science as much as it is art
Entrepreneurs are life-long learners. Most are university educated, however this is certainly not a prerequisite. As many know, both Bill Gates (Microsoft’s renowned founder) and Mark Zuckerberg (the millennial founder of social media juggernaut, Facebook) were Harvard dropouts. Computer science professor Harry Lewis, who had taught both, said that does not mean university education is unnecessary. He stressed that both Gates and Zuckerberg have unique traits that contributed to their success.
Gates wasn’t a good student in the traditional sense of the word, but he was not bounded in his thinking. He challenged what he was told and was endlessly curious. He was willing to spend time to create something new that led to the founding of Microsoft.
Zuckerberg saw an intersection of two subjects; he traversed the departments of psychology and computer science as he refined the idea that would become Facebook.
The success of both Microsoft and Facebook was not coincidental, as they both recognized the significance of new things to which the faculty was not giving much respect or attention.
The founder of PayPal, Telsa, SpaceX and Solar City, Elon Musk, is a legendary reader and has been his entire life. When launching SpaceX, Musk literally taught himself rocket science by reading textbooks and speaking to industry experts.
Entrepreneurship itself is a skill that can be learned, through reading and conversation. By its very nature entrepreneurship is a dynamic science, constantly changing at the leading edge of the economy and society itself. Universities have an important role to play — they house much of the science and technology knowledge in the nation — however, they must be supportive and open environments that let students explore new things and learn from their mistakes. Professors can create a good learning environment by encouraging students to experiment with new ideas and master new skills through practice.
The principles that define entrepreneurial leaders
I have worked closely with more than 100 entrepreneurs over the past decade. These individuals come from all backgrounds, all cultures and they all think differently, in one way or another. They are all passionate and courageous and the best of them share certain characteristics that define them as entrepreneurial leaders.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is an iconic business leader and is responsible for a set of leadership principles that underpin Amazon’s culture. These principles represent a blueprint for all business leaders. I recommend that you read Amazon’s principles in full (https://www.amazon.jobs/principles); however, I have ‘appropriated’ five principles that, in my experience, are particularly relevant to successful entrepreneurial leaders:
1. Entrepreneurial leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust.
2. Entrepreneurial leaders think big. Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. They create and communicate a bold long-term direction that inspires results.
3. Entrepreneurial leaders act. They have conviction and are tenacious. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
4. Entrepreneurial leaders accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. They think differently thriving on innovation and invention and always finding ways to simplify.
5. Entrepreneurial leaders are never done learning. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them, always seeking to improve themselves.
If entrepreneurship is your path, read all you can and find any opportunity to converse with entrepreneurs, business leaders and industry experts. If you are committed and focused, you will do great things, and I look forward to meeting you!
Ben Heap is a founding partner at H2 Ventures investing in early stage founders through the H2 Accelerator (www.h2.vc/acclerator).