Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs

Key traits of successful entrepreneurs predict the success of your business and screen for if you should be an entrepreneur. The legacy of our careers echoes in our retirement. It always informs our experience of life. Occasionally we share specific stories or lessons from our working life. Lori was a real estate construction manager. So, Lori shares design and construction insights. Like, “Good design doesn’t have to be more expensive than bad design.” Dan founded and ran a venture capital fund and coached hundreds of business owners. So, Dan shares lessons from business and entrepreneurship. Like, “Entrepreneurship is leadership.” We have in common that design and business are both, at their core, forms of problem-solving. May the best solution and the best problem-solvers win. As consumers? We appreciate great design and outstanding business leadership. We love the problem-solvers. So here are five traits of successful entrepreneurs. Make that six.

As a Successful Entrepreneur:

1. You spot patterns, understand changing numbers, and focus on the significant —

Pattern recognition is the entrepreneur’s core problem-solving skill. Pattern recognition enables repeatable and scalable solutions by seeing the underlying cause in various guises. The trick of asking, “Why?” five times is routine. You are compelled to discover the root cause. And use that insight to solve problems and delight customers. What’s the customer’s real problem? Why do customers buy? Aging With Freedom’s Emotional Pattern Recognition: Understanding your customer’s why. Why are we struggling with quality or scheduling? In looking for answers? Trends matter more than snapshots in time. And you’re good at understanding numbers that change over time, picking out the key metrics that matter in your business. Every business has significant metrics that drive all the other numbers. These are your levers of control. And you don’t get caught up in the minutia of insignificant things. Problem-solving through pattern recognition is the threshold trait of successful entrepreneurs.

2. You make strategic decisions based on limited or imperfect data —

You know you never have perfect information. So, speed and iterations matter more than perfection. Good enough and done is better than perfect and never done. It’s the Pareto Principle or 80/20 Rule in practice. You can pull the trigger with eighty percent (80%) of the information. You’ll learn faster, be faster, and be more accurate over time than most of the competition. This comfort with incomplete and imperfect data is essential to respond at the pace of the market while others are frozen by indecision. But you also know the trick of getting better data for the next time the question comes up. Because things change, many business questions repeat. Incomplete and imperfect data this time doesn’t stop you from collecting better and more complete data for the next time. But you don’t wait at the moment of decision for perfect information.

3. You learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others —

You take accountability for decisions and look forward to improvement rather than looking backward with recriminations. Solving problems is more important than fixing blame. You know there are two ways to learn. The hard way. Making every mistake yourself. And the easy way. Learning from others’ mistakes. You try to shorten the learning curve by using both ways. And avoid repeating mistakes. Taking accountability for your own mistakes? Frees others to share their own problems and mistakes rather than hiding them from you. Transparency is powerful.

4. You know your own strengths and weaknesses —

Know thyself. You know your strengths and your weaknesses. You know what you don’t know. And you cover your weaknesses with the strengths of your team and advisors. You seek out knowledge and expertise. And you don’t become the decision-making bottleneck because you delegate effectively. You give delegees both the responsibility and tools to be successful in that responsibility, providing accountability and principled guidance to your team. You explain the why not just the how. This assure’s your team’s alignment with the culture of your vision and mission. Business culture is the one thing that can’t be delegated. Culture by default is always bad.

5. You play well with others and lead —

Almost nothing truly important is a solo effort. So, working well with others, both on the team and outside the team, is a key skill that requires respect and trust. Many leaders can do any individual task solo and either or both better and faster than leaving that task to someone else. But the problem is you can’t do every task and get them all done. That means entrepreneurship is a game of cooperation and inspiration. You know your job as an entrepreneur is not to do everything, but to see that everything gets done. You can build, buy, or partner to get it done. But it’s never all you. There’s not much difference between great entrepreneurs and great leaders. Entrepreneurial success requires leadership. And leadership requires trust and respect. If traits of successful entrepreneurship start with problem-solving? They culminate with leadership.

Key Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs Inspiration

The list of five is inspired by a similar list by Walter G. Kortschak, former managing partner of Summit Partners — Growth Capital for Exceptional Companies. The inspiration is this 2007 article from Inc. magazine. Five Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs: Successful owners of dynamic small and midsize companies share these five essential traits. The supporting commentary — after the hyphens is all mine. I’ll add a sixth trait of successful entrepreneurs.

6. You focus on long-term value creation —

The win-win of repeat relationships is more valuable than the win-lose of beating others in a single transaction. Win-win requires a longer time horizon of deferred gratification. But the multiplier effect in relationships and value is large. This vision of benefitting others is part of the culture you create. You and your team serve something larger than self when driven by the win-win. Employees want meaning in their work and customers buy emotions. Therefore, value creation involves more than cold numbers. But when everyone feels the win-win the numbers follow. You remember the order of cause and effect. This perspective is a key trait of successful entrepreneurs.

Can you suggest more?

This list of traits of successful entrepreneurs is not exhaustive. Can you add more? So not five traits. Or even six traits. But at least six traits of successful entrepreneurs. Maybe share some examples of entrepreneurs you respect and how they embody one or more of these traits. We all need our heroes to emulate. Currently, I’m impressed with R.J. Scaringe, the founder at Rivian. Here’s a New York Times profile of R.J., Meet the Man Quietly Building the Tesla of Trucks, With Jeff Bezos Aboard.

Why this matters to a successful retirement?

In retirement, we’re still consumers searching for the best problem-solvers. The successful entrepreneurs. The great leaders. Knowing the traits that define them helps us find the best and weed out the rest.

4 Comments

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  1. Not being expected to do everything, but to make certain everything gets done strongly brings to mind my years of being the at-home partner in our seven-person household. It’s why former “housewives” often make wonderful entrepreneurs.

  2. Thanks for such a helpful article! I confess that my business has recently been cracked and I am in search of new solutions. Thanks to your not very big article, I learned a lot! Pinned!

    • Thanks, William. As consumers, we look for great problem-solvers. As business owners, we look for problems worth solving or passions worth serving. Business owners have to be good at change. Old saying, “The fastest way to fail in business is to just keep doing what made you successful.” Why? Because everything else is changing around you. The input prices change. The competition changes. The customers change. The customers’ tastes and preferences change. The technology changes and therefore the range of possible solutions. So staying ahead of change is the game.

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