What makes a truly successful entrepreneur?

Here are the 10 most relevant founders traits, I observed by working with some of the top CEOs and over 1,000 startups.  Each of the traits are not ‘sort of having a little bit of that too’ – instead are especially standing out as extremely developed trait. If any one is missing or weak – it seriously weakens the entrepreneurial profile. You may also notice an important interconnection between these traits – again missing one cripples the complete concept.

1) fearless
Absolutely does not fear anybody or anything. There is no higher up person for an entrepreneur. There is no rule that is respected and no definition that is taken just as that.

2) creative / compositive
The ability to be creativity means finding a gazillion bits and pieces in your brain and composing it in no time to a new picture. Creativity requires maximum inputs, from travel, discussions, reading… Being compositive is the ability to very quickly identify opportunities and turning them into business cases or even innovation. They experiment fearless no matter what the outcome maybe. (See 1 Fearless)

3) determined
Determination is a mindset. Doing anything, whatever it takes to make something happen. No irritation from others, no distraction, no uncertainty. (See 2 creative / compositive)

4) curious/open
Wide open mind. Wanting to really know in detail how things work, how people do things, how we live, what the barriers are, where the limits maybe if any. Listening to others very carefully, without constructing an argument half way through. (see 1 fearless)

5) independent
There is nothing and nobody that prevents the entrepreneur do their things. No friend, no family, no lack of money, no rules, no legislation can get into their way. Societal rules, conformism and alike fences are respected but do not apply to entrepreneurs. (See 1 fearless, 3 determined)

6) confident
Once an idea is manifested, true entrepreneurs have no doubt that it will work. They just know it will. The extraordinary confidence comes from a ‘brain defect’ that spills emotional knowledge from the right brain half into the brain without consulting the rational part of the brain. (See 1 fearless, 3 determined, 5 independent)

7) connected
True entrepreneurs are always highly connected. Connected with their market, connected with the player, connected with customers or targeted customer, connected with investors, influencers, industry associations and so forth. Entrepreneurs have no issues to connect to anybody. (See 1 fearless, 4 curious, 6) confident)

8) communicative
Communication is the most important skill humans developed. It’s our way to communicate with words, text, pictures that set us apart from any living being. Some animals also developed complex communication schemas, yet no animal can tell another that their great grand father experienced this or that. And they cannot create scenarios that actually do not exist. True entrepreneurs are masters in communication with others, drawing an imaginary world that they are seeing in the future and attract others. At the same time they can sit and truly listen for an hour and construct the situation they hear into a solution and opportunity (see 1 fearless, 2 compositive, 4 curious, 7 connected)

9) involving
Entrepreneurs are very involving. Involving their team, their market, their investors to actively participate in their undertaking. Entrepreneurial involvement of others go way past the concept of delegation but truly inspire others. (See 2 creative, 3 determined, 6 confident, 8 communicative)

10) intelligent
While we may debate what intelligence is, here is our definition: “Intelligence is the ability to comprehend a never before experienced situation, abstract the essence and developing a solution by simply thinking through as many as reasonable options”. In that sense, true entrepreneurs are intelligent and involve others to solve the problem. (See 1 fearless, 2 creative, 3 determined, 4 curious, 8 communicative, 9 involving)

It sounds like a very demanding profile – it is. And only 0.007% of humans are actually successful entrepreneurs.

It’s one of the very often asked questions at startup events. One of the unique skills of an entrepreneur is to create something with nothing. If you would have capital you would probably become an investor, not an entrepreneur.

One day a young entrepreneur asked me: “But I have to live and eat and I have no savings”. I asked him if he has a car. After answering, yes, an old BMW. I asked him to sell it. He looked at me like I’m from a different planet…. I told him that I sold my drums – which is much harder. He just walked away shaking his head. Recently somebody was much more appreciative. So here is my response:

  1. Create a sound plan about your product or service
  2. Look for customers who would want to buy it if you already had it
  3. Verify your idea based on their feedback
  4. Create a website with your plans and describe what you are going to offer
  5. Invite people to review and make sure any ordinary customer would
    a) understand, b) get excited and c) wants to buy it when you have it
  6. Start a crowdfunding campaign to ‘pre-sell’ your solution
  7. You got your first revenue so you can now build what you promised to provide.
  8. Do more of what worked well

Obviously there are quite some things to do during the process. I.e. to start with, find a co-founder, register the business and so forth. But I guess you get the idea.

It sounds not easy – but becoming a millionaire is simply speaking not easy. That’s why we have a growing gap between rich and poor. The number of people going for easy and enjoying a 360 degree social and live ensurance just have a hard time to get the extra mile hundred times a day.

 

You already started very very well – togetherness. Yet this is one of the biggest challenges of first time founders. Hence the long and detailed answer.

It takes teamwork to make a dream work.

People all to often simply focus on the act of “finding”. That doesn’t get you anywhere and you end up with nothing. Therefor my recommendation:

1) CO-FOUNDER

Make it very clear to yourself that you are actually looking for a co-founder, a partner for your entire business life. That co-founder should stay, no matter what. You will face rough times and need to get through together. The best way – by far – is to look for two co-founders, not one and share the equity of the company rather evenly 33, 33, 34%. You as the original idea giver earn the extra percent. But since the initial value of an idea is zero – don’t feel you should have more than that 1 extra percent. If you put in $34,000 the other two have to pony up $33,000 to participate. If they don’t want to give that much money (typically they claim they don’t have it), they are not worth being a partner in this venture. If they don’t have it, they can sell their car, their TV and so forth. Sounds radical and brutal – right? Unfortunately you all will have to make much more radical and brutal decisions in the next 10 years than that. Make sure everybody is “ALL IN”. Meaning they and you put all your eggs in one basket. If the company fails it hearts seriously and twice (financially and emotionally). Best founders are co-founders.

2) TRUST

With the above straightened out, forget trust. Period. Nobody can afford to let the company down. Every founder will be caring about one thing: Making this ventor work no matter what. Trust becomes a non issue.

3) TALENTS

Now make sure you look for exactly the talents you need and complement your talent. Start with making clear to yourself what you are really good at and what you love to do, day in and day out. Then write down what you just don’t like and hope to never do. Split the list of “don’t wants” and look for those talents. Assume you are an engineer do not look for another engineer no matter what. If you are an analyst, finance, production person look for the engineer and a visionary sales and marketing executer. Be very clear what you are looking for. Then go to LinkedIn and check if these talents actually exist :) If not – iterate.
Find the humanly best possible people.

Look for people who you could never – ever – afford to hire.

4) VISION

If your vision for the company’s future is not compelling and unclear – you would never attract top talents. Make sure you have a vision that compels others to look up to it. Your vision not only need to attract top talents, it need to attract customers, partners, investors, board members and so forth. No big vision, no big business, no good people.

5) SEARCH

After you went through the above exercise, your search will feel entirely different.
Promote your idea first. Instead of just searching for people to join, you will first promote your idea in your network. Give people the WOW. Let everybody know who you are looking for. Share the profiles of your ideal co-founder on your website, blog or something you can easily share with a link.
Adjust your LinkedIn profile. Put on your LinkedIn profile that you are looking for co-founders.
Go to meetups and conferences where you feel you find potential people and just talk to them. Business Cards may be out of date a bit but have them. Put your vision on the back of the card. Maybe hand written (of course printed). Share the card with everybody you like to hire and note their email address.
Directly contact people on LinkedIn. Connect and NEVER forget to send a comment with the connect request. Let them know what you are looking for and ask them if they know somebody in their network. I found some of my greatest talents that way.
Throw a party. You want to start a business. This is exciting enough to give a party. Rent a space in a fun and and inexpensive restaurant and just offer beer and sodas for everybody. It’s not that expensive but real fun. I did that once in Palo Alto and it is still remembered by many people. When you great everybody in a very short speech. Let them know that you can only do a follow on party when you have your co-founders. And once that is the case everybody is invited again. It worked wonders.
Advertise yourself. Buy yourself a banner for $100 and mount it on a small truck that you can rent for another $100. Drive and park around 11am at a university nearby, move on and hang out for a few minutes at around 12:00 in front of your biggest competitor. MOve on after just 5 to 10 minutes before they kick you out to the next. In the afternoon hang out at a train station and so forth.

And on it goes – get creative – get crazy… get into the mood of the greatest startup in 2019. :)

@AxelS

Too less traction, no marketing budget, slow growth… the biggest challenges for every entrepreneur. Now, all together we can change that. And here is how we are going to do that.

AS AN ENTREPRENEUR

As founder of an innovative business you cannot get enough traction. Even for well connected people it remains to be a challenge – our planet is simply too big. Getting help from friends, existing customers, supporter…. is a big deal. Every comment counts. This is why we developed a very simple tool called BUZZ. You simply provide a catchy image, a good text for your friends to post – obviously they can change the text any way they want – and simply share it with their network. A good Buzz can easily add several thousands even some million incremental reach.

 

AS A SUPPORTER

In today’s digital world, most of us are well connected. “Having connection” is no longer a privilege but a standard. And now getting some news from innovative companies is something most of us enjoy getting. Connecting the dots: share what you find is interesting with your connections help your connections to be up to speed in terms of innovation and helps the innovative companies to get the word out faster.

With a tool called BUZZ, all you have to do is push a few buttons to share things that YOU think are interesting with your network via LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Not every day but simply when it is interesting.

For supporter all it takes is to get to a URL like this: and start sharing. Soon we will provide buzz campaigns for the most innovative startups from around the world so we all can help them get some additional traction.

I’ve worked with over 100 startups in the past years and ran 5 businesses myself.

My experience – in this order: 

No. 1) Weak execution

Most failing startups could just not execute in a timely manner and/or showed a huge lack of judgment. They worked too hard on product features, too little with the market. They built too many “nice to have” features. They did not launch in time and did not work hard enough to build a use/customer base. Didn’t manage expenditures well enough. Failed to identify opportunities, failing to build strategic connection…

No. 2) No long term vision

It’s hard to convince a customer that your young startup is the right business if you just focus on your present product features. It’s hard to convince investors, partners, top talents if you can’t express where you want to take the company. 

As a result you won’t get enough traction and most likely fail.

No. 3) Superficial market/customer research

Lack of product-market fit. Very often startups develop products for themselves instead of for a large market. They keep their development too close to their chest instead of involving test customers very early on – even before they create their first prototype. The result is often to too far off from what the market needs. 

No. 4) Team weakness

No sense of urgency. Not fit enough on the technology side, not fit enough on the marketing side, not fit enough on the finance side, not fit enough on the operational side. 

5) Lack of connection power

Startup teams all too often underestimate the importance of building their own network of influential connections. Connections to influential users, influential industry groups, influential analysts, influential media, influential business alliances… Or they hope to find investors and mentors that provide those connections. In reality it’s just not working that way.

Re- money 

Many comments are made that money is one the problems. In all the cases and startups I’ve seen, lack of money never brought a startup down. Lack of funding is a function of one of the above issues – not a problem in itself. There is more money available than ever before – but the above weaknesses prevent startups to raise funding.

You have only 24 hours a day minus 10 to sleep, eat and recharge makes it 14 hours.
I assume you are tackling a large market and want to conquer the world. I also assume you want to have about 30% market share of whatever billion dollar market with roughly 20 Million potential customers.

This post was inspired by a question on Quora: As CEO and non-tech co-founder, what should I be doing before we launch while my tech. co-founder is coding?

The 14 hour day of a startup CEO

1) List building 1 hour
Start spending an hour a day to extend the list of potential customers who should test, use and buy your product once it is ready. Make the list a simple spreadsheet with first name, last name, company (if B2B), linkedIn profile, twitter name, location, interest (B2C) or title (B2B). Try to get 50 names a day (so work fast).

2) Reaching out to users 1 hour
Try to reach some of those people right away and ask them what they think about the solution you develop. Talk on the phone if possible or online otherwise, Do your very personal market research – but more importantly build connections.

3) Theoretic team building 1 hours
You will need a stellar team when going to market. Look for your best possible marketer, sales people, maybe operations, production…. Make a list, reach out get feedback more on what they think you may need and begin to be in the market. Go through groups, read news, find the top guys and make another list of those people so you can go hire them when the time is right and you don;t need to start looking when you have no more time.

4) Thought leadership building 1 hour
Craft blog posts and answer questions on Quora, write comments on other blogs and become known as a very smart person in your specific field. You may easily extend that to two hours if you have some room for it.

5) Content development 1 hour
You can do that in a few days but exhaust your creativity pretty quickly. Instead you may work a solid hour a day on content creation. Product description, video clips, website improvements, blog posts for the same, industry trends, social trends, product trends….. the sky is the limit – but you have only one hour a day.

6) Operations, processes, pricing
Think through the sales process from soup to nuts. From talking to new customers for the very first time, how they land at your business, what they need to do to buy something from you, how they pay, how you invoice, your pricing model, contracts, services, liabilities, terms of service, privacy, compliance….. an hour a day is only 7 hours a week or some 90 hours a quarter so if you are on top things you should be able to get it done.

7) Company evolution, 1 hour a day
It’s a bit limited but again, you have only so much time. So think through your product road map, bring it in alignment with your vision, weave in the feedback from the conversation with customers (see above), consider the evolution of your competition and think about how your market will evolve in general. Try to write a script book for your business scifi – what will your market, our society, your industry, the technology and your company look like in 10 years from now. Write it down, do a video clip. Solidify your vision.

8) Team building 1 hours
Spend time with your team, how they are doing, what they achieved how the product evolved and bring their work in alignment with your vision – every day. Make sure a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a indeed a MINIMUM Viable Product. Don’t allow yourself surprises “I thought you though that we thought we do this….” Know the progress. Have a chat at the water cooler too :)

9) Make yourself familiar with your market 1 hour
Read the news, be in online groups, understand who gets funded in your market, what they do, what new industry regulations may pop up, who gets quoted very often, meet the mover and shaker know exactly what is going on.

10) Prepping for alliance management – 1 hour
Create a list of potential alliance partners, No matter what you produce a new satellite, a mobile app, a new breed of avocados, new diapers or a new pizza shop – you never work in isolation so find out who are all the potential business alliances. Maybe service providers you can work with, interesting suppliers, industry organizations…. you get the point.

11) Finance & Investment – 1 hour daily
You will want to continuously work on your financials, model the future with everything you learned in the other 10 hours each day, “model and tune” it. Then start looking for investors. Make a list where you add at least one investor per day. The day you are starting to go fundraising you will appreciate that advice more than anything else – because it takes time.

12) Meet the industry 1 hour a day
Go to events, share your vision early on, be in the market talk to people. You may not do that every single day but at least twice a week. And as long as they don’t come to your office, you will need to allocate 2-3 hours for those events at least. And most likely you exceed your one hour budget per day very quickly.

13) Meditate, read a book – work out 1 hour a day
You know you will need to feed your mind by shutting completely down other than sleep – and one hour once a day is most likely just perfect.

14) Socialize one hour a day
Have breakfast, lunch, coffee, dinner with somebody from your business world once a day or every other day. Just be there and listen and learn, get feedback – or help and provide insights :)

Well – now there is a ton of other things that people do: taking an hour to read emails, organizing their day, scheduling the doctor and getting ready for the weekend. Oh not to forget movies – unfortunately and as you see above – no time for any of that. Sorry.

As a tough CEO you will not allow your team more than 6 month from start to MVP. You will need to hurry to get all the above done by the time the product can hit the market.

Enjoy the ride :)