Are entrepreneurs born or made?

The entrepreneurship DNA

What I have always enjoyed very much in my job, when meeting hundreds of entrepreneurs every year, is how different each of them can be: some are very introvert, calm and poised while others are extremely demonstrative and dynamic. Some are very pragmatic while others are rather idealistic. And some are very optimistic and confident, while others are pretty conservative.

And when you ask a VC what’s his number one criteria for investing in a company, you can be sure he will tell you that everything is about the team’s quality! As we are all looking for the best founders, I started to wonder: is there any common personality trait to all good founders? What if we could predict the success of a company, only looking at its founder’s profile?

I decided to have a look at some of Ventech successful portfolio companies and study their CEOs’ profiles. Here are the different categories I could identify.

1. The Visionary

Sebastien Fabre from VestiaireCollective, Denis Ladegaillerie from Believe Digital and Hervé Brunet & Gilles Chetelat from Ask these guys about what they think of “copy cats”, I’m pretty sure they will not even consider them as part of entrepreneurship!

For these founders, entrepreneurship goes with vision, market anticipation and new ideas. They care a lot about execution but what they are the best at, is feeling the trends, predicting the future and testing new ideas. Sometimes they are able to prove their theory: I remember Hervé demonstrating to me how programmatic would become the new standard in advertising (… and that was back in 2012!) and my colleague Alain Caffi can remember very well when, back in 2008, Denis explained to him why Compact disc would die and why people would finally buy digital music (instead of pirating it!). But they can also be exclusively driven by gut feelings and then, they just feel where to go… believe it or not!

2. The Audacious Go-getter

I have always been impressed by the go-getter but I am also very scared of him! His excess of optimism and confidence sometimes makes me feel he is unrealistic, or even very naïve. I often see him as a reckless dynamic! But I’m wrong. Because whatever the topic, whatever the challenge and whatever the deadline, this entrepreneur will always think that this is achievable… and he will always make it happen! Why? Because persistence and execution are his two keywords.

It makes me think of a recent discussion I had with my colleague Jean Bourcereau about Jean Canzoneri and Thomas Pasquet, the two great co-founders of Ogury.

Me: They are always managing projects in a “last minute” mode; that makes me so nervous! Shouldn’t we help them anticipate more?
Bourcereau: It’s not about managing projects. It’s about having the strongest possible sense of urgency. It’s about them seizing each good opportunity and making it done, even if it requires last minute management.

I got your point Jean, Canzoneri and Pasquet are audacious go-getters!

3. The Industry Expert

Before launching Withings in 2008, Eric Carreel and Cedric Hutchings already had 10 years of expertise in the wireless and telecom markets. Through their Inventel background, they had already pioneered the designing of wireless devices while creating the Livebox for France Telecom. No one could have been more appropriate for launching the European champion for smart devices: they saved precious time and money and created strong barriers to entry from their first-mover advantage. 
And this is the exact same reason which made Ventech invest in Webedia. After 10 years in the online advertising industry, Guillaume Multrier had the exact expertise for founding an extremely profitable online media company.

These types of entrepreneurs are not only very well positioned to feel what is needed in the market — as they understand it perfectly — but they are also usually pretty good at executing their business as they easily earn their customers’ and partners’ trust because of their credibility and legitimacy.

4. The Natural Leader

I am usually over-patriotic but I have to admit that the natural leader is rarely French. He embodies the type of good entrepreneurs that I have seen the less for now. And to be fully transparent, I only understood his power when meeting Robin van Lieshout, the CEO of inSided. This guy clearly has inborn leadership ability. This skill is a mix between communication, empathy (social intelligence, understanding the other) and inspiration. He is able to infuse spirit into the whole organization.

One of the main challenges for a founder is to attract the best talents. Make people want to work for you. Make people stick to your vision. That’s what a natural leader can do. Whatever the subject, during either growing or declining times, he will motivate teams and captivate the audience. Which is key in management and execution.

For sure, these four categories are just describing some specific traits of entrepreneurs’ nature. But one can also be a mix between two or three of these categories. However, understanding your predominant nature of entrepreneur can help you a lot selecting the team which is best suited to you. Because what all good entrepreneurs have in common is that they are not alone! Sebastien Fabre’s and Hervé Brunet’s vision are structured by the powerful duo that they have created with, respectively, Olivier Marcheteau and Gilles Chetelat. Jean Canzoneri’s take-no-prisoners attitude is remarkably balanced by his partner in crime Thomas Pasquet. And complementarity between Cedric Sire and Guillaume Multrier at Webedia was also key to set-up a new publishing model, both on the operational and commercial sides. We should never forget that this is diversity which enables groups to progress and entrepreneurship is no longer a one man show.

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