Those of you who read last week’s post and thought that I had finished with my thoughts on entrepreneurship were wrong. I apologize for not being explicit about my intention to finish my thoughts in a second post. The good news is that I believe that I left the best for last. The attributes and activities that are characteristic of successful entrepreneurs that I described in my last post are important. They are by and large rules that any businessperson, entrepreneur or not should follow. I would argue that these last four (the ones outlined in this post) differentiate a good businessperson from a person who has the capabilities and character to be a successful entrepreneur.
- Having a deep understanding of the business area you are about to enter— It is much less likely that a person with a shallow understanding of the business environment that they are proposing to enter will succeed. That isn’t mean that people don’t get lucky, but your chances of succeeding are directly and positively correlated to the entrepreneurs’ understanding of their clients.
Neither Pat Allin (one of the other co-founders of Textura) or I walked into our experience with Textura knowing much about construction, but by the time we decided to commit to the business we were pretty much experts—we spent several months 5 days a week making sure that we knew the industry inside and out. And, the fact that our solution fit the needs of our customers so well is evidence of the time we took to understand what we were doing before we launched. And, even with that level of preparation we got things wrong, so you should be looking for perfection, but the better you understand the need you are trying to fill…
- Unshakable faith in your mission—Starting a business will test any person’s faith in the idea that they are trying to get off the ground. And, if you have any doubt about your idea, it will likely become a force that will push you off track and end your attempt to get your business off of the ground. Doubt shows through to your employees, (potential) investors and your clients. It kills their enthusiasm and support for your nascent enterprise. Pat Allin was the person with the unshakable faith in Textura. Had he wavered in his support for the initiative it never would have happened. And, let me assure you it was his energy and faith in the business that made it succeed as it does for most successful new ventures.
- Tenacity—You can’t be a person who gives up easily. Everyone (from the people who are your potential customers to those you approach to fund the enterprise) you interact with will tell you why your idea is not a good one. There will be stretches where a normal person might think that we are done for, we won’t make it any further. That happened to me (but not Pat) with Textura. And, for those of you who know me, I am recognized for my tenacity. It failed me at Textura. If the process of raising funding doesn’t get you, the interactions with skeptical pilot clients will. And you must be willing to slog on—based on your unshakeable faith in your mission. It is a special person who have the stick-to-itiveness to make a startup successful.
- Risk preferring—This is a term that economists use to describe someone who is comfortable taking risks. I refer to this as having nerves of steel because, lets face it, the risks associated with starting a new business are many and the chances of succeeding are small. Even if you have a good idea and the right skills to make a new business idea succeed, the chances of success are vanishingly small. The tension (if you feel it) associated with dealing with the risk can make you sick. So, being one of those individuals who develops a good idea and understands the risks of bringing it to market and can soldier on anyway is the kind of person who will be a good entrepreneur.
I realize that these last four attributes are interrelated and overlap. I chose to list them separately because, details would have gotten lost had I decided to condense them into fewer categories, i.e. it was better to be (somewhat) repetitively redundant than to lose resolution in the picture that I wanted to paint.
Finally, my expertise (and ability to identify this profile) is defined by my shortcomings rather than strengths in these areas. I have been pretty good, over the course of my career, of seeing my shortcomings and figuring out how to address them. This (the combination of the two posts) is my current list of things that I need to improve related to entrepreneurship.
Copyright 2018 Howard Niden
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