- Successful entrepreneurs often strike a balance between managerial and industry-specific skills.
- Networking prowess, perseverance, and the ability to wear multiple hats are hallmarks of successful entrepreneurship.
- Less desirable entrepreneurial traits include inflexibility, lack of organization, and being a know-it-all.
- This article is for would-be entrepreneurs and anyone curious about the traits and characteristics many successful entrepreneurs possess.
What cocktail of characteristics makes for a successful entrepreneur? It’s a question many aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners – and the investors sizing them up – have pondered. While some traits, such as resiliency, seem obvious, others are more nuanced.
We’ll look at traits and characteristics that are hallmarks of successful entrepreneurs and highlight some less-desirable personality challenges that others face.
The primary reason entrepreneurs start businesses is to be their own boss and create something from the ground up.
Characteristics of successful entrepreneurs
There’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for successful entrepreneurs. Outliers and innovative thinkers, along with more steady, measured types, can launch successful ventures. However, some characteristic patterns tend to emerge when looking at founders who achieve business success.
1. Successful entrepreneurs balance managerial experience and industry knowledge.
Starting a business often involves a trade-off between managerial prowess and industry-specific skills – but the balance isn’t always equal. Many new companies are founded by someone with unique industry knowledge who has identified room for improvement; others use their managerial experience as a springboard into entrepreneurship. Finding someone with both attributes is tricky at best.
The entrepreneurial opportunity dictates whether or not a founder needs specific industry knowledge or managerial experience.
- High-risk ventures need managerial experience. In high-risk ventures, being a good manager takes priority. This may be because high risk can lead to fast growth – in which case a good orchestrator is imperative. It’s advisable to seek industry experts for guidance. “Management skills are more important as the business grows,” said John Holloway, co-founder of NoExam.com, a digital life insurance brokerage. “As the business changes, so will the demands placed on them, and being able to adapt to change is important to keep growing.”
- Low-risk ventures benefit from industry experience. For founders of low-risk ventures, industry experience is a better success indicator than managerial experience. In a low-risk but saturated market, those familiar with industry trends have a competitive advantage.
The good news is that while there may be a correlation between managerial experience and high-risk venture success, it’s not a death sentence for inexperienced professionals with risky business ideas. If the idea is powerful enough, the entrepreneur’s managerial shortcomings matter less.
2. Good entrepreneurs are tenacious networkers.
While familial ties and advantageous contacts assist some entrepreneurs, tenacious networking is a more durable indicator of successful entrepreneurship. Research shows 78% of startups attribute their success to networking.
Benjamin Walker, founder and CEO of Ditto Transcripts (formerly Transcription Outsourcing), agrees with this assessment. “[Entrepreneurs] network like crazy … they go to conferences, retreats, breakfasts, happy hours, and any other get-together and make true connections,” Walker said. “Most don’t ever lead to anything. The few that do, though, will be earth-shattering once they start to bear fruit.”
Networking allows entrepreneurs to gather support, create more robust teams, and find valuable connections.
User your college alumni network to foster entrepreneurial success. Your alma mater likely has resources, connections, and mentorship options to support your endeavor.
3. Being a “jacks-of-all-trades” can indicate entrepreneurial success.
Most entrepreneurs must wear many hats before they can afford to hire a team and delegate responsibility. While entrepreneurs often have unique specialties, a smattering of knowledge in multiple areas can be valuable.
A Journal of Labor Economics research paper examined the careers of a class of Stanford MBA grads. It found that those who studied varied subjects and went on to have varied careers were more likely to eventually start their own businesses.
“Although not necessarily superb at anything, entrepreneurs have to be sufficiently skilled in a variety of areas to put together the many ingredients required to create a successful business,” the study concluded.
Parents may foster entrepreneurship in their kids. Having an entrepreneur as a parent can be a significant factor in driving the entrepreneurialism of future generations.
4. Successful entrepreneurs persevere through rough times.
Starting and running a business isn’t for the faint of heart. Entrepreneurs need a certain level of grit to overcome myriad challenges.
“It’s really, really hard to start and grow a business, and most people give up early in the process,” said David Jackson, CEO of FullStack Labs. “Starting a business means dealing with rejection, failure, and disappointment on a daily basis.” According to Jackson, this means focusing less on the fun stuff, like designing the app no one uses yet, and more on the uncomfortable stuff, like cold-calling customers.
E. Keller Fitzsimmons, serial entrepreneur and author of the book Lost in Startuplandia, evaluates founders based on a question: “Do they have the ability to ride out the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship? Resilience is the key, and it’s rare.”
However, a balanced perspective is also crucial. “I am not interested in investing in a founder who is so dedicated to their startup that they risk being hospitalized,” Keller Fitzsimmons noted. It’s about weathering failures and setbacks and staying in the game long enough for market conditions to become favorable.
While pulling the plug on a failing venture is sometimes a reality, those who can diligently stick with a project and see it through are the most likely to succeed as entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurial personality flaws
While troublemaker kids often make great entrepreneurs, some of their attributes may carry over into less-than-desirable personality traits. Left unchecked, these traits can actually hinder entrepreneurial success.
Here are a few traits self-aware leaders should try to recognize, acknowledge, and change.
1. Are you inflexible?
The business environment changes rapidly and continuously. Entrepreneurs must constantly find ways to shift their original plans amid industry pivots and trends. Flexibility in product development, marketing, staffing, and attitude is crucial to success.
Inflexible personalities tend to block out other people’s ideas even though fresh input may solve a problem. Inflexible entrepreneurs create inflexible businesses, hurting productivity and growth. In contrast, cultivating adaptability makes your venture more resilient.
Perfectionism goes hand-in-hand with inflexibility. Perfectionists often become bottlenecks, stymying progress and growth. Too many entrepreneurs erect inflexibility and perfectionism as guardrails against failure. But in a new venture, failures are inevitable, no matter how rigid you are. Good leaders must be flexible enough to accept failures, learn from them, and move forward.
Other personality traits that help when starting a business include persuasiveness, a high energy level, optimism, and creativity.
2. Are you a know-it-all?
For entrepreneurs, being a know-it-all isn’t just annoying – it can sink the ship. Know-it-alls have poor listening skills, refuse to hear others’ ideas, and make themselves the center of attention. In reality, the venture should be the center of attention.
Know-it-alls tend to lack confidence deep down. They can’t admit mistakes and failures and will blame others at all costs. They won’t delegate because they’re afraid to let go of even the smallest tasks.
In contrast, successful business owners with vast knowledge and experience actually welcome others’ ideas and recognize when outside input can help the venture. They understand that true leaders respect their teams – and they know enough to know they don’t know it all.
3. Are you disorganized?
Despite the myth of the genius buried under piles of paper, disorganization is not a positive entrepreneurial quality. Disorganization will consume everyone’s time, including the entrepreneur, clients, staff, and investors.
Even the greatest idea will go down in flames if it’s not well-executed, and solid execution requires a plan – usually multiple and ever-evolving plans.
Successful entrepreneurs must think several steps ahead to identify potential roadblocks and how to handle them. They’ll create business plans, prioritize tasks, delegate, and set deadlines – especially for themselves.
You don’t have to be a born organizer to create order in your startup venture. Goal-tracking tools, to-do lists, calendar apps, and myriad other tools and techniques can help anyone get and stay organized.
Check out small business organization apps like LivePlan for custom business plans, Goods Order Inventory for inventory tracking, and Gusto for managing payroll.
4. Do you lack self-motivation?
An entrepreneur is usually their own boss and must be a self-starter. They can’t afford to await direction; they must provide it to themselves and their teams.
An entrepreneur who misses deadlines, is late for meetings, or drops the ball on commitments will lose credibility – and damage the company’s reputation. Leaders must follow through on tasks and promises.
If you’re an entrepreneur with a procrastination problem, take measures immediately to address the issue by becoming more self-aware, consciously delegating, and proactively pursuing productivity.
There’s no one-size-fits-all in successful entrepreneurship
Excellent entrepreneurs generally have a blend of acquired characteristics and longtime personality traits. Much of what constitutes a good leader can be cultivated, such as a solid network and managerial experience. With self-awareness, entrepreneurs can even work around seemingly inherent traits to become more flexible or self-motivated over time.
Having the necessary pieces in place before launching into leadership is vital for entrepreneurship. The time to nurture skills and personality gaps is before taking the wheel.
Siri Hedreen contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.