I know that there is a lot out there about what it means to be an entrepreneur, including plenty of case studies and real-life examples. What I find most fascinating are the characteristics of people who excel as entrepreneurs. If you do some research, the word enterprise comes from the French word “entreprendre” or “to undertake,” dated as far back as 1852. The word defined means one who organizes, manages and assumes the risk of a business or enterprise—pretty true today. Each year, BusinessWeek publishes its list of “America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs of (insert year).” Each year I read these and think—if I had more time, it would be cool to track them and see if, long-term, they are successful.
As a relatively young entrepreneur starting my PR firm in 1996 (I am telling my age but I was 32 at the time with 10 years of corporate marketing under my belt) I have always considered myself a scrappy, resourceful, curious, strong and driven person. In my early career, it wasn’t uncommon for me to challenge status quo. A businessman who turned Harley-Davidson around by the name of Michael Kami supported that. He taught that in order to make change and money, you had to “risk your job every day.” What he meant was that if you had better ideas than your boss, you owed it to the company to present those. What I knew instinctively was this: it’s often good to challenge as long as you do so respectfully and with the right data/facts. It was also clear to me from an early age how important financials are and how a company drives revenue and more importantly, profitability. I studied the numbers, got to know the CFOs of the companies I worked for and listened. You can have the brightest marketing and PR program but if you don’t know how to drive revenue with it and you don’t understand the financial connection and return on the investment, you’re just another head they can cut. So, with that context in place, here’s a list of what I believe young entrepreneurs have in their DNA:
1. Insatiable quest for information and constantly curious: Most entrepreneurs I know wake up at night thinking of the things they don’t know or questions to ask. This insatiable quest applies across all boards: technology, world affairs, best practices, etc.
2. A good grasp on financials, venture capital and the global investment-banking world: Entrepreneurs know that they have to self-educate here. Many take classes and get degrees they know will simply help them down the road. Fortunately for me (although I didn’t know it at the time), my work for lawyers, bankers and CPAs was fertile ground for learning this stuff.
3. Complete and enviable drive and energy that can often drive other people crazy: It’s a blessing and sometimes a curse to possess this trait—mostly a blessing. It takes this drive and energy to be a risk taker, manager, creator, and leader. I would also bet that most entrepreneurs get up early, read everything and still have time to get to the gym. Medical evidence says that exercise is good for the brain. I’ve always been a big believer of this.
4. Passion: Perhaps the most important trait of any entrepreneur. Passion for the work is what sells to the VCs, the banks, and the boards. It is also contagious. I’ve had people tell me that they want to work with me because they want to love their job like I love mine. Big compliment but passion is not transferable. You either have it or you don’t—hence, the DNA.
5. Agility and flexibility: When one door closes, instead of hoping another will open, entrepreneurs see four or five that could open. Having a never ending “what if” and “why not” ability to be flexible and see around obstacles is a gift that I think one is born with. Entrepreneurs don’t like the word “no.” They are the kids in school who when the teacher says you can only go to your locker one time during the day, they figure out how to get a locker that goes everywhere with them.
6. Intolerance for mediocrity: This goes with point number three, but what I mean by this is that in addition to drive, entrepreneurs don’t like the mediocrity, status quo or wasting of time and resources. Further, they will challenge it or go around it to get the result they need. Employers, if you have an entrepreneur you want to keep, you should consider a different set of expectations and let them go to it (in other words, don’t make them conform to meetings & mediocrity).
7. Last on this list (but certainly not least) is the feeling like other people don’t get it: It is this deep down voice that says stay quiet while other people are talking and you don’t understand why. And by this, I mean in business. I have been in so many corporate meetings where mid-level managers are talking and literally, my inner voice is screaming to say, “What in the Sam Hill are you meaning to say?” Some call it red tape or bureaucracy but entrepreneurs have other words. I’d love to hear other examples like this!
Thanks for reading this and I’m sure I missed some DNA traits. I’d love for you to share yours.
Image Source: Entrepreneur Solo