As an angel investor and a mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs, I’m always disappointed to see founders who seem stressed out most of the time, and more annoyed than energized by the abundance of challenges they see in building their startup. The entrepreneurial lifestyle is a tough one under the best of circumstances, and it’s one you have to love in order to succeed.
Obviously, it’s not that simple, but making the right first impression is critical for an entrepreneur, not just with investors, but also with partners, customers and even yourself. Even though I’ve been working with entrepreneurs for many years, I’m sure I’m not the only person who can quickly spot the ones whose mentality for the role is suspect.
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We would all prefer that aspiring entrepreneurs take a hard look in the mirror early, before they assume they can step easily into the role of a Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson or Bill Gates. Here are some key mentality attributes to look for, which I believe are essential for every entrepreneur to see in themselves:
1. You relish the role of leading the charge. Being a visionary or an idea person is not enough, you have to be anxious to jump in and get your hands dirty. Most success stories in business are not about envisioning the next big thing, but about making that change happen. Investors and strategic partners look for entrepreneurs who can execute.
2. Ability to balance right-brain and left-brain activities. Most technical entrepreneurs are left-brain logical thinkers, even perfectionists. Yet every business today needs a focus on visualization, creativity, relationships and collaboration, which are normally in the domain of right-brainers. Successful and happy entrepreneurs have that rare whole-brain focus.
3. Enjoy being outside your comfort zone. New businesses are an adventure into the unknown. You need to be mentally prepared to enjoy the roller coaster ride, rather than face it holding your breath with your teeth gritted at every turn. Only then can you enjoy the thrill of victory when you survive a major turn, and be energized for the next one.
4. Proactively seek input, but make your own decisions. Great entrepreneurs seek out critical customers and industry experts, and actively listen, but are not afraid to trust their own judgment as well. Ultimately they accept the responsibility of “the buck stops here,” meaning they live by their own decisions, and never make excuses.
5. Willing and able to do a little bit of everything. Technology experts tend to have a very deep level of knowledge, but not very wide. If your real interests are not very broad, then building a business will likely be frustrating and expensive. Startups have limited resources, so the founders have to enjoy trying things and learning from their mistakes.
6. Viewed by others as a successful problem solver. The best ideas for a new business are solutions to a real customer problem, rather than great ideas looking for a market. Creating a new business means tackling one difficult problem after another, until success suddenly appears. Entrepreneurs see problems as milestones to success, not barriers.
7. Don’t demand or expect immediate gratification. Seth Godin once said, “The average overnight success in business takes six years.” He is an optimist. For some entrepreneurs that success is financial. For others it is a legacy of good deeds. Because it takes so long to get there, it is important to be happy with the journey.
I’m not suggesting that you need to fit every aspect of my view of an entrepreneur’s mentality for success. Certainly there are winning businesses run by people from every background and personal style. But if you are looking for investors, team members and demanding customers, it helps to understand what their biases might be in committing to and helping the ideal partner.
I do believe that if every aspiring entrepreneur spent at least as much effort looking inward, understanding their own drivers and preparing as they do in working outward by building solutions, seeking investors and writing business plans, the startup success rate would go up.
Overall, the entrepreneur mentality is a state of mind that enjoys the activities and requirements of starting a business. Happiness is more likely to lead to success, than success leads to happiness. Are you certain that your desire and expectations of being an entrepreneur are being driven by the right perceptions?
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