What does it take to be an Entrepreneur

Posted on 01 September 2009

Goal of an Entrepreneur

Goal of an Entrepreneur

I was recently reading an article entitled “What makes an entrepreneur?” and it got me to thinking, what does make an entrepreneur?  I see what Brandon is getting at in his article, but I would suggest that it really addresses, “what an entrepreneur makes”.  The seven points suggested would certainly be desired outcomes of starting a new venture, but what qualities, traits, or resources, does it take – or not take – to be an entrepreneur and actually start that new venture?

Entrepreneurs come in many shapes and sizes, but there is a stereotype that exists.  Some of these might include small business owner, risk taker, male, self-motivated, passionate, etc.  And ones stereotype might be influenced by the era that they grew up in.  I knew a kid growing up that was building websites in high school for local businesses, so in my mind he was an entrepreneur.  My father’s era might however think of entrepreneurs as Midwest farmers and ranchers, hardware store owners, or a gas station owner.

I’ll start by listing a few things that I believe entrepreneurs are not:

  • Risk Takers – While it could be argued that certain aspects of entrepreneurship is riskier than taking a job with a fortune 500 company from a financial or stability standpoint, entrepreneurs are no more likely to gamble or take a chance than anyone else.  Successful entrepreneurs do a lot of analysis, research, and many times have years of experience in the industry prior to engaging in a venture.
  • A Certain Gender – Male or female, there are no limits as an entrepreneur.
  • A Certain Education – Many of the most successful entrepreneurs have little formal post secondary education, see Gates, Dell, or Ellison.  But for every of those, there is a Page,  Buffett, or Bloomberg who have a great deal of education.
  • A Certain Age –  Again, there are no limits on age.  Warren Buffet got his start as a freshman in high school when he and a friend purchased a used pinball machine.  Sylvia Lieberman, on the other hand, got her start at the age of 90 when she had her first children’s book published.
  • Dreamers (in an of itself) – Having an idea or dream doesn’t make you an entrepreneur.  A dream without the ability to execute is worthless.

There are certain traits that many entrepreneurs do share – though I’m sure there are examples on the contrary:

  • Passion for their Product or Service – Many times the entrepreneurs that I see have a great deal of pride and passion for what they do.  This isn’t unique to entrepreneurs, but many times a trait linked to successful people.  They find and do what they are passionate about.
  • Hard Working – There are people that just knock it out of the park and the idea takes off by itself.  Word has it that PlentyofFish founder Markus Frind at times only had to dedicate a couple hours a day to his company as it grew – that said I’m by no means accusing him of not being a hard worker.  He put the community that he built to work, thus reducing his involvement once his product was built.  The vast majority of entrepreneurs don’t have A+ ideas and execution, and thus have to work hard at their new ventures.
  • Stick-to-itiveness – Most entrepreneurs face a few major hurdles (if not daily) on the way to building a successful company.  Herb Kelleher and Rollin King didn’t let a three year legal battle stop them from getting Southwest Airlines off the ground.   Most entrepreneurs are not easily deterred, in the vast majority of cases somebody else already has had your original idea, either they didn’t pursue it, or you need to find a way to do it better.
  • Smart – While I mentioned that entrepreneurs may have any wide array of education, in most cases they are very smart.  They have a great deal of common sense, domain knowledge, and are savvy enough to turn an idea into a dollar bill.
  • Eyes open to Possibility / Dream-weavers – Above I mentioned that entrepreneurs are not dreamers, but they are dream-weavers.  Maybe I’m being to literal, but I like to think that successful entrepreneurs are always thinking about and analyzing possibilities.  Those possibilities might include original ideas, the difference being that good entrepreneurs go after their ventures having properly planned and analyzed the opportunity.  Once they have a sustainable opportunity, they must develop the dream, and sell it to others.
  • The ability to sell – Quite possibly the most important saved for last.  An entrepreneur must have the ability to sell a concept, sell the dream, or sell the product.  Paraphrasing John Doggett, a legendary business lecturer at the University of Texas:

The ultimate goal of an entrepreneur is to get someone to open their wallet, take out hard-earned cash, and hand it over to you.

That is usually harder than it sounds, and without it, most ventures will not go far.

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