What makes a great entrepreneur? I’ll take an extremely subjective view on this – a view shaped by five years of bootstrapping.
… and three more things:
Discipline, Discipline, and Discipline!
Screw motivation and inspiration – those can be had for the asking. But they don’t last. Sure, an inspired half-day can get you far, far ahead – but if you rely on a friendly muse to stop by and kiss you in times of need, I’m afraid it won’t get you very far. Muses are fickle, unreliable creatures; there is absolutely nothing that beats hard work. And in order to work hard every single day for months and months – even years – on end, what you need is the type of discipline that would make a drill sergeant faint.
However I believe there is also one crucial mindset every entrepreneur needs to have on top of all of the above: it’s being willing and able to work on yourself.
Funnily enough, I was hesitant about writing this down at first, as I felt too obvious – but after five years in the game I still keep meeting wannabe entrepreneurs who believe that their genius puts them above the rest of the world, and that if they fail, it is because the world has conspired against them.
I believe that these people are delusional, and deluding yourself is not going to get you very far in starting up your own company. Many of the brick walls you run into are of your own making. In fact, those will be the hardest to climb.
The market is not picking up your product? You invent a different one. You run into financial problems? You talk someone into lending you some. You find an investor; you join an incubator programme; you start working part-time… External issues can be dealt with if you want it enough.
But recognising your faults and weaknesses and learning to overcome them – that’s the hardest part. We always exercise our strongest muscles and shut our eyes to our weak spots.
Of course no-one is perfect, so it is inavoidable that you have your faults. We all do. But what are you going to do about it? If the fault lies within yourself and you are incapable of recognising it, how are you going to get better at what you’re doing? You have to learn to see your own faults and work on them.
There is nothing to prevent us from going wrong every now and then. However what you want to try and do is to minimise the number of times it happens. If your most important resource is faulty, you try and set it right. But in order to do that, you need to find out what’s actually wrong with it in the first place.
Self-reflexion. It sounds so simple, yet I’ve come across few skills that are harder to learn.
You are convinced you’re right, you’ve got all the facts lined up to back up your argument – but who can tell if you have interpreted those facts correctly? Raw data is a good place to start – but were there any assumptions included in the collecting of that data? And raw data about yourself is rather hard to come by.
The trickiest part is the need to keep questioning yourself to become aware of your faults – yet if you start doubting yourself, you might easily become discouraged, which can conjure up a new brick wall out of thin air in a split-second.
On the other hand, if you keep working on yourself you will learn a lot, and you will start becoming more and more confident about who you are. You will become more and more at ease, and you will find it a little easier to believe in yourself every day.
Why do I believe it’s such a crucial skill? Because when you start a business, you are your most important asset. This may shift a little over time, but you will still be the person taking decisions every day.
If you want something enough, if you are passionate enough about something, you will find it easy enough to be sufficiently disciplined, creative, hard-working and endlessly resourceful to make this thing happen. It’s this passion that makes you an entrepreneur in the first place. But passion may not be enough. It’s the good old “Fail. Fail again. Fail better.” – except this time it’s not about your ideas or skills. It’s about the person you are, which makes it a lot harder.
Dare to be opinionated. Have a hypothesis. Put it out there, and be prepared to learn that it might (and most likely will be) wrong – and that there is nothing wrong with that. Rinse and repeat.
Every time we are proven wrong, we learn something new.