What are the 5 qualities of a successful entrepreneur?
My name is Lam Tran and I’m the co-founder and CEO of WisePass. This is an article based on my personal experience and observations made from my end over the past 5 years as an entrepreneur. It is aiming at sharing some essential traits that helped me to survive during this journey with WisePass. I hope it can be helpful for many other entrepreneurs in Vietnam and the rest of the world.
I’m an underdog. I don’t have a rich family, the network of my family as Vietnamese refugees in France was pretty limited and I don’t have a super degree from an Ivy League school.
I believe that it was also a blessing. Since I had to fight to get anything, I also had to experience failures more often. That’s the difference from the people that wouldn’t have to go through to that process. In other words, experiencing failure leads you to acquire the ability to become resilient and become accustomed to failure as an intrinsic part of the learning process.
Usually, people that are not used to fail will have a harder time to recover from their failures. That is hard for them as they would take thing personally and waste their time processing sometimes the shame as it hits the ego as well. When you get rid of (almost) all that, you’re free to get back to your initial state of mind and you’re ready to stand up to fight again.
To be honest, the concept of resilience is just that you get back to your initial shape. I believe in the power of super resilience. It means that whenever you fail at doing something, you get back to your initial shape and adapt to the situation by re-shaping yourself quickly to make it work, which leads me to talk about learning ability.
As an entrepreneur, you’re going out to build a product or service that no one has ever done before. You’re not supposed to know everything. Hence, your learning ability is determining your ability to collect data and process it so you can become successful at what you’re doing.
Usually, it does come in different shape and form. From inside the company or outside the company. I’ll make it simple in this article and limit that by using the concept of market fit as an example.
At WisePass, we’ve truly started on October 31st, 2014. We struggled for 2 years as people were not willing to download the app and use it. There were many reasons for that. I’ll give 3.
The first reason was the value proposition. During the first couple of years, we were having an app using the transactional model and people had a hard time to understand the difference with any other companies doing transactional as well. They would use the analogy and ask if we’re like this or like that company that already existed. In other words, we were not able to come up with a clear value proposition due and we couldn’t come up with a different business model that would set us apart from the rest. That’s when we thought of building up a membership where people would pay a flat fee monthly and get a bottle every night.
To sum it up, we learned how to build an interesting value proposition by starting with a clear niche.
The second reason was that we realized our redemption system simply sucked. We were initially having a long tedious process to track redemption. The end user would have to first generate a code on the app. After the code was generated it would take a couple of steps on the app to retrieve the code and give it to the staff. After the staff would receive the code, the staff would need to get on a website and log in. Assuming they remember or kept the login and password they would then be able to type the code and eventually redeem it. The process took like 15 minutes on average to redeem an item. It takes less than 5 seconds today with a QR code. What we learn was that the F&B industry needs something, simple, fast and secure to ensure the redemption would be efficient for them to partner with WisePass.
To sum it up, we learned how to understand the pain point of our partners and build a solution that could solve their problem from end to end.
The third reason was my own mindset. I was stubborn building this platform for advertisers so we could drive traffic to the stores. All my thoughts were mostly focused on brands that would end up spending money on our platform because it could bring some traffic and sales for them. In the process of thinking like this, I neglected the merchants and the end users. That slowed down the process of moving forward and improving things as I wanted to solve the problem and thought that everything would work smoothly just because I assumed that merchants and users would magically download WisePass and use it every day.
What I learned along the way is to truly understand the problems of each stakeholder I’m solving. By neglecting our existing merchants and users we kept having poor performance and the best move was to embrace their problems with some innovative solutions and forgot brands. That was the hardest thing for me. Today I just focus on getting the best user experience only. As I got happier users, brands will just come and ask to join WisePass. The learning process is critical and is interconnected with problem-solving.
We’re solving problems every day. The startup is definitely filled with problems in various size and shape. The question is if people can solve problems fast enough to jump on the next ones to get the startup going.
Problem-solving is a critical skill that I learned years ago while I was in Korea from some people from McKinsey. The class truly engaged me and made me discovered new ways of seeing the world. What I remembered was how to prioritize a set of actions based on a couple of dimensions ( ease of implementation and impact ). Today I’m using that and use multiple dimensions for WisePass and see which actions can be generating the biggest impact on the business and solve problems early on to avoid potential issues that I can think of now.
One of the core skills required to be an entrepreneur would be the ability to challenge the status quo by questioning it. Usually, the traits of individuals like these would be troublemakers. They don’t fit with the existing institutions and will always have a mind to break things out.
It is ironic for me to be on the other side as I used to be such a troublemaker when I was a child. In the old days, I remember I started growing up and kept that personality trait where I would be constantly looking at
The intellectual pleasure of deconstructing a business and looking at the design and its flaws always made me excited. Despite the fact that it might be complex, the whole idea is to look at how you can build something much more efficient. At the end of the day, that is what it’s all about for me when you build a startup. You should be coming up with a new product or service that offers a vastly superior value proposition for the end user.
Understanding why it is superior requires to understand multiple aspects of the business you’re in especially their driving forces. Testing the market responses and adjusting the value proposition would be one thing. Improving the app with new features with the user experience in mind. Monitoring other players in the market to understand the existing situation so you can build a new and unique value proposition is another one.
Imagine you’re on a rollercoaster for 5 years. Imagine the rollercoaster is breaking a little bit and you must fix quickly the wheel before it starts to go down. In the process of fixing the wheel, you realize that fixing that wheel will just avoid the rollercoaster to derail… assuming there are rails down there. I believe that the best analogy I could think to describe the type of experience you may get and I don’t think it’s for everybody.
The road to building something great means that you will face much resistance to change. From the customer side to the existing players in the market. People will simply not behave and sometimes give you an attitude. They will be usually focused on the short term as they will have their own agenda as well. In a world where instant gratification is king, it is usually quite hard to get people on your side until you have seriously proved you can bring something on the table.
I learned how to not take things personally and focus on identifying the legitimate (or not) reason why a deal couldn’t happen and spend more time thinking about how I could make it happen. It was easier to see it that way as my energy was channeled on thinking creatively rather than despising people and keep negative thoughts inside of me. By not involving any personal feelings you can get things done quickly. Controlling yourself and focus your energy on what’s more important is easier than controlling other people.
That is definitely the most challenging skill to fully master and to be honest, I’m still working on it.