What’s the ‘right stuff’ for entrepreneurial success?
August 28, 2014
Rod Jorgensen calls it a checkup from the neck up.
People who think they have the right stuff to become successful entrepreneurs too often rush into business before they've taken a good and honest look at themselves.
"It's the crux, the absolute crux," said Jorgensen, director of counseling at the Nevada Small Business Development Center. "But very few go through a self-assessment."
The psychology of a successful entrepreneur is a complicated thing.
Counselors who help northern Nevada startups move from conception to reality say that their success stories often involve people who combine tenacious belief in their product with the seemingly contradictory ability to walk away quickly if there's no market demand.
And they say that successful entrepreneurs have the ability to honestly assess their own skills, understand what they don't know and seek the help of experts.
"The very best ones respect expertise," said Kathy Carrico, state training director for the Nevada Small Business Development Center and its NxLevel courses. "They know that the more help you get, the straighter your path will be."
Tenacity also is key.
Matt Westfield, co-founder of Entrepreneurs Assembly, a nonprofit that educates and assists entrepreneurs, said owners of successful startups need to have the mental strength to defend their idea from naysayers.
Most believe deeply in their idea as something more than a money-making proposition.
"We are pollyannnas," said Westfield. "We believe that the things we are going to make are going to make a difference."
Adds Jorgensen: "It's hardly ever about the money. It almost goes back to something that the entrepreneur is passionate about. They want to create value."
But that passion and tenacity, Westfield said, also carries the root of spectacular failure.
The needs of the market — not the beliefs of the entrepreneur — determine whether a startup will be successful.
That brings another critical skill — the ability to listen — into focus.
"Really good entrepreneurs are really good listeners," said Carrico. "They seek the advice of other entrepreneurs. They listen. They observe."
Said Westfield, "People like to assume that they know it all. Successful entrepreneurs assume that they know little. They listen to their customers."
Entrepreneurs who persist despite the indifference of their markets end up with garages filled with unsold product. Their successful counterparts listened to the market, shrugged their shoulders when they realized that the idea wasn't going to work and moved on.
"It's tougher to walk away from a great idea than it is to come up with a great idea," said Westfield. "Don't get so hung up in your own ego that you can't pivot."
People who launch successful startups also have the ability to see a step-by-step approach to bring their idea to reality.
In fact, Carrico said, patience — the sort of patience that can devote years to creation of a solid business plan — is one of the hallmarks of folks who successfully launch startups.
"Impatience is a killer," she said. "A startup is a process of planning."
But Jorgensen and Carrico said the goal of planning should be good-enough, not perfection.
"If you want for perfection to launch, you will never launch," said Jorgensen. "Know when the plan is good enough."
An important part of a would-be entrepreneur's self-assessment is an honest appraisal of the appetite for risk.
The ages from 27 to 35 are generally considered the prime years for people to start businesses, Jorgensen said.
People in that age group have a bit of experience, youthful energy and generally don't have the larger responsibilities that come with growing families and homeownership. Just as important, they have time to recover if they lose it all.
Entrepreneurs in their 50s often bring the wisdom of experience to a startup, Jorgensen said, but they also are less willing to bet everything.
Know, too, whether you are happiest as a manager — someone thrives within the rules established by someone else.
If that's the case, Jorgensen said, you might be happier as the owner of a franchise rather than a freewheeling and creative entrepreneur taking greater risks.
But whatever the would-be entrepreneur learns in doing a self-appraisal, the process itself is critically important.
"Be honest with yourself about what you are good at," said Westfield. "Be more honest about what you are not good at."