The message I hear publicly from most entrepreneurs is that you have to think outside the box and take big risks to ever beat the odds and be among the less than ten percent that experience real success. But privately, as a mentor to many entrepreneurs, I see mindsets and attributes that may be equally critical to success, but are not readily admitted, for fear of being too wacky.
Here is a summary of some key insights I have gathered over the years from talking to and reading about serious entrepreneurs, including some of the “movers and shakers” today who have built multi-billion dollar enterprises, and really changed our world:
- The magic is in only pursuing smart risks. All risks are not the same. Great entrepreneurs pride themselves on their ability to isolate opportunities that have minimal risk, by virtue of their trusted relationships, their own expertise, and access to resources. They also have supreme confidence in their ability to overcome risk issues.
- Ignore passion as a key opportunity driver. They know there is nothing wrong with having passion for a new idea, but they don’t let it influence business decisions. As an investor, when I hear or see too much passion and soft financials, I will wish you the best of luck and walk away. I want to hear facts and data that can support a business success.
- Don’t look to customers for breakthrough ideas. Steve Jobs and Henry Ford are famous for their assertion that, contrary to popular belief, the customer isn't always right about what they want next. You need to listen to customers on how to tune existing products, but most existing customers actually fear change and avoid new technologies.
- My new business comes before my personal life. Serious entrepreneurs will privately admit the business is first, and the family second. It dominates your thoughts and actions 24 hours a day, and you really believe that your personal well-being is dependent on the success of the business, more than friends and family. There will be time for friends later.
- Academic degrees can sometimes slow you down. At some stage of your education, you realize that you can learn faster, and get more satisfaction, in the real world than in a academic environment. Thus you drop out of school to start the business of your dreams, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Advanced degrees won’t help you run your startup.
- Being the boss is a big burden and not much fun. If you are looking forward to enjoying your own decisions, prepare to be disappointed. You now have many bosses, including partners, investors, and customers. Most entrepreneurs feel loneliness and pain from that part of their job, but have the discipline and negotiation skills to make it work.
- You relish being an outlier in the business world. Many of the best entrepreneurs secretly enjoy their role as controversial, maybe even borderline crazy. They love to communicate with minimal filters, and be remembered for unusual assertions and predictions. Making the impossible happen brings their greatest satisfaction.
- Relationships are seen as expendable or short-term. Many successful entrepreneurs are quick to break up with partners and advisors who no longer can help them, or are no longer supportive. They also are not hesitant to fire customers with unreasonable demands, or don’t fit their strategy. In other words, they don’t try to please everyone.
It’s true, the entrepreneur role and mindset are not for everyone, and successful entrepreneurs generally have their detractors, as well as loyal followers. The role is a demanding one, and compromise is usually not a winning option. While others like to minimize risks of all sorts, and bend an existing market, real success comes from defining a new market and new customers.
I have learned to highly respect that mindset, and hope to see more of it. I encourage you to take a hard look at your own drivers, and trust your own insights. Today’s world will continue to evolve. Your options are to lead, follow, or get out of the way. Now is the time to decide which is the most fun for you.