Wonder what it takes to be successful as a startup? Here, business experts share the traits of top entrepreneurs.
Fashion yourself an entrepreneur? Join the club. A recent report from the Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurial activity, shows that new business creation in the U.S. in 2015 had the largest increase of any year of the past two decades.
And, the rise in entrepreneurship is more of a choice for new business owners, rather than a necessity caused by unemployment. Kansas City-based Kauffman tracks why people start businesses, and in 2014, about 80% were driven by opportunities as opposed to necessity. That’s back to about the level seen in the decade prior to the recession.
“There is a broader return to normalcy in the economy,” said E.J. Reedy, director of research and policy at Kauffman. “People are following opportunities more. They are slightly less risk averse. During the height of the last recession, the run-up was more in people forced into entrepreneurship.’’
Count promotional products distributors among the growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States today. But what really makes a successful entrepreneur? The key personality and professional traits that comprise today’s top impresarios can be wide ranging. Here, we talked to business experts to find out the habits and traits of successful entrepreneurs today.
They Swim Upstream
It’s no secret that groundbreaking ideologists rarely go with the flow. Think Steve Jobs ever had trouble defying convention? Successful entrepreneurs rarely follow the status quo, and most are constantly asking, “why?” says Rowan Gibson, founder and president of Imagination Bridge and cofounder of Innovation Excellence, both innovation consultancies based in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Interestingly, though they ask a lot of questions, many successful entrepreneurs don’t get mired down in the details, experts say. Instead they focus on the big picture and goals. But that doesn’t mean they don’t make the questions they do ask count.
“If someone brings them information they’ll say, ‘why is that so? What evidence do you have? Why does this apply to my business?’” says Joellyn Sargent, CEO of Claravon Consulting Group, a business growth consultancy based in Milton, GA. Blindly accepting a new trend or notion is never something a successful entrepreneur would do.
Certainly, most great inventions (think iPhone or electric car) challenge the norm, Gibson says. Similarly successful entrepreneurs “challenge conventional wisdom, assumptions and the normal way things are done and come up with radical new ways of doing things,” he says.
For promotional product distributors, that sort of industry shake-up often comes in the form of groundbreaking products, yes, but more often by way of how a product is delivered, presented or leveraged to better spread a client’s message.
They Take (Calculated) Risks
No business leader can make progress if she doesn’t take a leap of faith periodically. For many executives, however, doing so can be a nerve-wracking experience. For most successful entrepreneurs, stepping off the ledge is to be expected and doing so causes less stress than the average business person. Why? While entrepreneurs realize risk-taking is a necessary part of business, they often take risks that are more strategic and calculated than they appear on the surface. That’s often due in part to the fact that entrepreneurs recognize what they’re good at and take risks in areas that play to their knowledge base or know how, experts say.
“Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
“Risk more than others think is safe. Dream more than others think is practical.” Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks.
When launching a company, “one of the key strengths in the initial startup phase is that successful entrepreneurs choose an entrepreneurial path that will play to their natural strengths,” says Britt Schroeter, vice president of franchise development for SYNERGY HomeCare, based in Phoenix.
Whether it’s the entrepreneur’s industry focus, his knack for sales or accounting, or his ability to recognize market shifts and trends, the risks he takes are often done within a comfort zone of expertise, even if the risks themselves are still a bit uncomfortable. What’s more, they rarely second guess themselves once a risk is taken.
They Favor Freedom
True entrepreneurs have trouble being chained to a desk and a conventional 9 to 5 workday. And while that doesn’t mean they only thrive in a dot-com culture, it often does mean that entrepreneurs enjoy the flexibility of unusual office hours, a strong work/life balance, and the ability to call their own shots.
“Successful entrepreneurs aren’t wishing they were in an office punching a time clock and collecting a paycheck. They thrive in an environment where they are in charge and embrace the challenge of choosing their destiny,” says Jim Judy, a consultant for FranChoice, an entrepreneurial and business consultancy based in Raleigh, NC.
That may seem appealing to many professionals, but Judy says that wanting to be your own boss and feeling comfortable in that position are often two entirely different propositions for most Americans, even those who dream of starting their own company.
“I do speaking engagements where 100 people are in the room, and I ask, ‘who would like to be your own boss?’ Certainly 99% of them will raise their hands,” Judy says. “It’s when you ask them to come to the front of the room and sign paperwork to get the process started or talk further about entrepreneurial opportunities that the number dwindles.”
They Have Corporate Conviction
Bill Gates never doubted that he would revolutionize the world by bringing personal computing to nearly every individual on the planet. His idea might have seemed ludicrous to some when he first announced it, but he would have been impervious to their doubts.
Extremely successful entrepreneurs not only have complete conviction in their corporate vision, but are often immune to the criticism they may hear along the way, because of that conviction. Myopic? Sure, a little. But, they’re also laser-focused on their goals and they know what they want to accomplish.
Not only that, Judy says, but they have a strong vision for where their career and company are headed. “They think about what their business will look like, how many units they will own, the state of their industry and succession plans for their companies,” Judy says.
Employees, on the other hand, often have fewer and more short-term goals. “Looking to survive the day-to-day grind,” they might have their eye on a promotion in the next few months or a year, Judy adds, but rarely map out long-term, five- and 10-year goals specifically.
They are Lifelong Learners Willing to Share
Entrepreneurs are nothing if not competitive, says Shawn Casemore, president of Toronto-based business consultancy Casemore and Co., Inc. “If you go golfing with an entrepreneur, it will be a pretty intense golf game,” Casemore says.
But that makes sense, as good entrepreneurs always believe – every day they go to the office or call on a new client or create a new service – that they’re in a competition. It’s in their DNA and they thrive on that kind of competitive environment. “If you’re going to have multiple business ventures, competition is in your blood,” he says. “That level of competition is hard to turn off” and can be something that carries over into many entrepreneurs’ personal lives as well.
Yet, though they’re confident in their skillset and company’s service or product offerings, as well as competitive in nature, entrepreneurs are rarely proprietary to the point of keeping everything they know top secret. In fact, most are eager to share what they’ve learned so that they can learn from others as well, and experts say that top business owners often see ongoing professional development and education as vital to their success.
The key, however, says Casemore, is that successful entrepreneurs seek learning from other successful entrepreneurs. “They surround themselves with others of like mindset and desires, seeking new ideas and support in bringing their ideas” to fruition, he says.
5 Daily Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs
By Elaine Pofeldt, for American Express OPEN Forum
Have you ever noticed that when you get things right in your business, other opportunities start arriving, with almost no effort on your part? It’s all about momentum. Other people – potential employees, prospects, vendors – naturally want to be part of a good thing, so they flock when your business is growing.
In interviewing many successful entrepreneurs over the years, it’s apparent that they often rely on small daily habits and routines – both in business and their personal lives that keep the needle on their business moving in the right direction. These disciplines aren’t complicated but they pay big dividends.
Plan tomorrow’s agenda today
Scott Cullather, CEO of inVNT, a live events agency in New York, meets with his key support team before the close of business to go over what’s coming up the next day. “We review and forecast what tomorrow is going to look like and how we’re going to get through that,” he says. “It gives us an opportunity to re-prioritize. It also allows us to go to bed at night. Your mind does a lot of work for you while you’re sleeping. You get there the next day and are much more efficient and productive.” This focused approach has helped growth, he says. The company expects sales to rise from $20 million last year to at least $25 million this year.
Put your meetings on a diet
Ask entrepreneurs who left corporate America what they don’t miss and they’ll tell you it’s those endless, often unproductive gatherings around the conference room table drawn out by flabby agendas and presentation technology that takes forever to get set up. Many fast-growth companies keep meetings short, so employees have time to get projects done. For instance, Cullather limits his afternoon huddle to about 15 minutes.
Find a way to manage email that works for you
The key is to avoid getting sucked into constantly responding to and sending emails, which delays you from finishing projects on time.
Many business owners like the system suggested by David Allen, the well-known author of Getting Things Done. He suggests putting emails you need to act on – and those you don’t – in separate places in your inbox.
Another strategy that many use: Find ways to reduce the number of useless messages you view, so you have more time to work on what matters. OtherInbox, for instance, is a service that pulls emails from various senders into folders you’ve designated and even unsubscribes you from e-newsletters you no longer want. You can use it for functions such as filing all of your emails from a particular client in one folder. It’s available on AOL and Yahoo! mail. Some enterprise systems offer filing systems, too – so if you use one, make sure you set aside an hour to master it.
Never stop selling
You’ll lose productive days if you wait until you’re almost done with your current projects to pitch new business. Projects can get dropped, clients can run short of cash and other things can can cause customers to pull back the purchasing reins.
The smartest entrepreneurs know that they always have to be cultivating new business, so they can quickly plug holes that open in their schedule. Often, it’s a matter of sending in a project with a quick note saying, “Anything else I can help you with?” at the end. They are, of course, prepared to bring on temporary help in case they get overbooked as a result – even if it’s simply through an arrangement with a reliable freelance colleague.
Cullather puts on his running shoes by 6 a.m. daily, and then hits the streets. “It’s amazing to me how many creative ideas have come to me during these long runs in creative solitude,” he says. “Not only does it give you the physical endurance to work 18 or 20 hours a day and travel around the world but it helps stimulate your mind and your thinking.”
When Cullather is traveling, he hits the gym – often a great chance to spend time with clients or network informally. “When we’re working with Fortune 500 companies, their senior executives are there at 5:30 or 6, before the conference begins,” he says. Shouldn’t you be there, too?
They Know Their Best Companions
The most successful entrepreneurs have an uncanny knack for surrounding themselves with staff who complement them in personality and professional skillsets. “Successful entrepreneurs seem to have an ability to find people who can complement them, who have skills or outlooks that are different from theirs, yet who buy into their vision and who have the ability to tell them when they’re wrong,” says Don Mazzella, COO and editorial director of Information Strategies Inc., a media and marketing management firm based in Ridgefield, NJ.
It might seem likely that entrepreneurs would choose to form a company with others just like them as coworkers. But successful entrepreneurs realize that picking employees who are different – in personality and professional ability – is the key to building a stronger, more comprehensive workforce and company.
Really great entrepreneurs have a lot of “social intelligence,” says Molly Owens, CEO of Truity, a San Francisco-based website that offers personal and professional assessments. “You have to be aware of yourself and know your own strengths and weaknesses. The most successful don’t hire people who are just like themselves.”
They Cause Climate Shifts
The most successful entrepreneurs often seek out new product or market trends, even leveraging new resources to make those trends happen. That also means entrepreneurs are often keenly aware of what clients’ latest wants and needs are, even anticipating them before they happen. After all, it doesn’t make sense to push forth a new market trend that will be poorly received. That makes them market leaders and creates customer loyalists.
“As entrepreneurs they are constantly able to adjust their strategy to incorporate the latest trends, data and customer insights in order to deliver the product that their audience wants,” says Owens.
A recent survey by Truity of 25,000 individuals showed that entrepreneurs are often exceptionally intuitive and “abstract, forward thinking” people, Owens says. “They focus more on ideas and abstract concepts,” she says, “as opposed to someone who focuses on facts.” They also tend to focus on the future as opposed to the present.
They Don’t Go It Alone
Market leaders like Richard Branson and Larry Ellison may seem like iconic rebels, but successful entrepreneurs rarely act in isolation. Most of them are surrounded by trusted office confidantes – if not an advisory board – who they can turn to for strategy and corporate development.
“It’s important to have the right support network,” says Rob Biederman, cofounder of HourlyNerd, a business consultancy based in Boston. More to the point, they have a support network. The idea of the solo entrepreneur steamrolling a new idea for a product or service into the marketplace with great success is rarely the reality.
“My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had – every day I’m learning something new.” Richard Branson, founder of Virgin
“Chase the vision, not the money. The money will end up following you.” Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
In fact, the 2015 State of the Startup Survey, conducted by SAGE, a technology and consulting company for small businesses, found that 59% of top-level startups were founded by partners, rather than a single person.
“That not only allows an entrepreneur to share the challenges and day-to-day tasks” of running a startup, “but also allows them to augment their skills,” says Connie Certusi, executive vice president, general manager of SAGE North America, based in Lawrenceville, GA.
One of the reasons successful entrepreneurs may be able to endure risk-taking more than other business owners is that they often recover from failure faster and with greater positivity for what’s ahead. Losing a deal or a job opportunity for a “non-entrepreneurial person…can be devastating,” says Casemore. “An entrepreneur can start a business, see it flop, have to let everyone go and they say, ‘what’s next?’”
Barbara Corcoran, a real estate entrepreneur who is a also a judge on ABC’s television show Shark Tank, believes this is in fact the number-one predictor of entrepreneurial success. “Show me somebody who can get up quickly after they get knocked down and I’ll show you somebody who will be successful in business,” she told Counselor in a recent exclusive interview. “You have to simply be immune to rejection and obstacles. The best entrepreneurs look at rejection and laugh. They just move onto the next opportunity as quickly as humanly possible.”
In fact, entrepreneurs who launch successful startups reported a more positive corporate outlook faster, according to SAGE’s 2015 survey. “Over half of the top-tier startups had achieved profitability” within nine months of launching, says SAGE’s Certusi. “That’s very unusual when you think about the challenges small businesses go through when they first start up.”
In addition, Certusi says, more than half (60%) expected to receive a paycheck by the end of the first year. More to the point, great entrepreneurs have a “determination to recreate something” in the face of failure, says Mark Stevens, CEO of MSCO, a marketing consultancy based in Rye Brook, NY. “Humility doesn’t mean they’re not brash or confident,” says Sargent. The key to successful entrepreneurship, says Sargent, is “to know that you don’t know everything.”
Ultimately, truly successful entrepreneurs realize that their company is not about them, says Casemore. The business world for them is not “to have a job and make money. It’s to create something bigger than themselves.”– Email: email@example.com