What Does It Take To Be An Entrepreneur?
Scott D. Clary | Mental Models, Performance, Business & Entrepreneurship
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What Does It Take To Be An Entrepreneur?
As you'll know by now, I write on all sorts of entrepreneurial topics. The newsletter has covered everything from consumer perception to imposter syndrome; we've talked breaking industry rules, finding your product market fit, and what it means to be an effective leader. And I've loved it.
But this is what I know to be true about entrepreneurship: it starts with the person. Before you get down to the gritty stuff – like finding your market and building a product – you have to first ask yourself: are you, as a person, ready for the life that comes with being an entrepreneur?
This is a topic I haven't really touched on, or not as much as I'd like. So, let's talk about it.
A Quick Intro
Many of us are obsessed with the idea of creating something cool and being our own boss; so obsessed, though, that we often forget to ask ourselves the tough questions. Do I suit the role of an entrepreneur? Have I done the groundwork (and inner work) to be ready for this?
And please, don't misread me here. I do believe that any one of us can create something and become the boss of it. But are we all ready for the entrepreneurial lifestyle, just as we are? Without any self-assessment and preparation, I'm not so sure.
Jared Yellin is my inspo for today's newsletter, and for good reason. He's a non-technical tech founder who found a way to scale his original tech company with zero dollars invested to over 40,000 paying users from around the world.
After exiting his first venture, he partnered with Grant Cardone to launch the 10X Incubator, with the goal of building, scaling, and selling 10,000 tech companies in 10 years. The 10X Incubator, he believes, will democratize the tech industry by creating an even playing field for all.
Since Jared's in the business of identifying entrepreneurs that have real potential, I figured he's one of the best guys to grill on the topic of entrepreneurial preparedness. What does he look for? What traits should we exhibit?
I hope you'll find his responses useful – I certainly did. Let's dive in!
Why Can't We All Be Entrepreneurs?
I'll get to Jared's awesome insights in just a minute. First, though, let's talk about this. Why can't we all be entrepreneurs? And what's so special about the people who can make it happen?
It's important to note – as I've noted in many of my newsletters now – that most entrepreneurs fail. That's just the facts of the industry. Ten percent fail in their first year, and 70 percent fail between years two and five. So no, we can't all be entrepreneurs (even though we might try).
But here's the light at the end of the tunnel. Pretty much everything that makes an entrepreneur successful – the characteristics and traits that allow them to reach that success – can be learned and honed. Entrepreneurs aren't always born.
What Makes An Entrepreneur?
So then, what are the traits that successful entrepreneurs need to possess? Looking online for resources pertaining to this subject is pretty interesting. I started with a questionnaire written way back in 2010; according to its author, Daniel Isenberg, agreeing with many of the following statements indicates a high chance of entrepreneurial readiness:
- I don’t like being told what to do by people who are less capable than I am.
- I like challenging myself.
- I like to win.
- I like being my own boss.
- I always look for new and better ways to do things.
- I like to question conventional wisdom.
- I like to get people together in order to get things done.
- People get excited by my ideas.
- I am rarely satisfied or complacent.
- I can’t sit still.
- I can usually work my way out of a difficult situation.
- I would rather fail at my own thing than succeed at someone else’s.
- Whenever there is a problem, I am ready to jump right in.
- I think old dogs can learn — even invent — new tricks.
- Members of my family run their own businesses.
- I have friends who run their own businesses.
- I worked after school and during vacations when I was growing up.
- I get an adrenaline rush from selling things.
- I am exhilarated by achieving results.
- I could have written a better test than Isenberg (and here is what I would change ….)
Now, keep in mind that this test is easy to answer 'yes' to if you're overly enthusiastic. "Yeah, I can be my own boss!" "I'm totally a problem solver." "I never sit still, that's so true!"
If you answer them honestly, though, a few of these statements are actually quite revealing and insightful – especially that last one. When you read through the list, did you find yourself thinking of ways to make it better? Did you feel confident in the changes you'd make?
Because confidence is really half of the battle. You've got to be confident under high risk circumstances, you've got to be confident in your abilities – and if you fail at first, you've gotta be confident enough to get back up.
Jared's Description of a Winning Entrepreneur
It was super fascinating to hear from Jared's perspective – someone who works extremely closely with some of the smartest, most driven individuals in tech – what it takes to be one of their successful entrepreneurs.
According to Jared, your business idea is somewhat important. You need to have something moderately worth investing time, money, and resources into before his incubator is willing to consider working with you. But that's not the end-all, be-all; your personality and attitude are the real tells.
"We actually have had a number of situations where the idea is mediocre, but [the person] is so right, and we still move forward. Because we know that with an extraordinary person, we can make a mediocre idea extraordinary."
This was very interesting to me, especially since the focus is so often on the product or innovative idea, rather than on its inventor. But no – his incubator is looking for entrepreneurs first, ideas second. And he's got a very clear idea of the qualities said entrepreneurs should have.
Confident and Ready to Pitch
“We need someone who can handle the spotlight. You have to handle the fact that you're gonna get tons of press, you're gonna get invited to be on podcasts that would never have reached out to you, you're gonna handle the meetings are going to be set up with your ideal candidates to structure joint ventures," Jared explained.
Now, I'm aware that not all entrepreneurs will have the 'incubator' experience, per se. You might be a solopreneur, bootstrapping it from the get-go. That won't require so much spotlight time – but I think it's still important to be ready for attention.
Jared makes an excellent point that many up-and-comers tend to overlook: you're going to be wearing many, many hats. You might be a software developer, but someone needs to run numbers, and set up meetings, and take care of admin. That person will be you. Prepare to do – well – anything and everything.
Passion and Willingness
“You have to want it. You have to be willing to learn.”
These two points are so incredibly underrated, in my opinion. You've got to want the entrepreneur's life and everything that comes with it. Like, really want it. Enough to withstand sleepless nights, months of stagnation, and countless rejections, if that's what it comes to.
And of course, willingness goes hand-in-hand with that passion – but I especially like that Jared adds in the need for continuous learning. The world of business is ever-evolving, and you can't afford to stand still. Those of us who decide we're done with learning after college or some other arbitrary milestone are doomed to fail.
Ready To Be Wrong
“Outside of handling the spotlight, it's about opening your mind to the fact that you might be right with your idea, and you might not be.”
After spending all of your savings, investing in a workspace and team, and dedicating yourself to a single project for who knows how long, it can be tough to hear that we might have been wrong all along. But that's the reality of entrepreneurship. We might be wrong.
Jared was explaining here that most of the time, the ideas coming into his incubator are changed quite drastically from their original concept. Only three ideas have ever gone through his company relatively unchanged. As an entrepreneur, prepare for people to tell you that you're wrong – and prepare for some of those people to be right.
It doesn't mean you're done for. It doesn't mean you can't continue. But if the idea of being wrong genuinely scares you, there's probably a bit of work to do before you're ready to take the plunge.
Signs To Take A Step Back
To close out the article, I thought it might be valuable to talk about a few red flags. I know that anyone can start their own business. I did it. Jared did it. You can do it. But that doesn't mean everyone's always ready for it.
So, what are the indications that you might have a bit more inner work to do before you embark on an entrepreneurial quest? I spent some time thinking and researching on this, and came up with four key signs.
1. You're a comfort-zone dweller.
Nothing about being an entrepreneur enables you to remain in the comfort zone. From the get-go, you are stepping into the great unknown. You are doing something that involves risk, vulnerability, and a willingness to put it all on the line.
For some of us, the comfort zone comes naturally. It's all we've needed to know for many years. If nothing has prompted you to step out and feel uncomfortable or challenged, I'd highly recommend taking a few personal challenges before starting your business.
For instance, you might:
- Join a Toastmasters club or take a public speaking class.
- Take up running and sign up for your first half marathon.
- Take a course in something you always thought you sucked at.
The point here is to practice feeling uncomfortable. The more you lower your sensitivity to discomfort and challenge, the better primed you'll be for entrepreneurship.
2. You're money-hungry.
It's easy to look at the success stories of famous entrepreneurs and want to follow in their footsteps. After all, they're sitting on billions. They are set for life. Who wouldn't want that?
The reason those people are so successful, though, is not because they set out to make money. Money doesn't lead, it follows – so if you start a business in pursuit of money, you're likely to be disappointed.
I'm not entirely sure how you overcome this if it's your primary motivator. The problem is this: most entrepreneurs take a loooong time to see any significant return on their investment. And if money is your only driver, you'll likely give up before you see any real results.
If you've got a bangin' idea, try to grow your passion for the idea itself. Think about the positive impacts you could have on the world. What exciting new ground will you be breaking? What cool experiences might you have along the way?
3. You lack discipline.
Remember that amazing book by Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? A commonality we can often find between the world's most successful people is discipline and productive habits.
These aren't people who let a daily sleep-in keep them from their goals. These aren't people who hit the snooze button ten times and spend an hour on Instagram before getting started for the day.
As entrepreneurs, we absolutely need discipline. And not just in our wake time schedules; we need it in our mindsets, too. This means being able to push through fear, doubt, and insecurity. It means continuing on in the face of setbacks.
Discipline is key to seeing any goal through – whether it's losing weight, learning a language, or starting your own business.
4. You've got a fixed mindset.
I've spoken about fixed vs. growth mindsets before, but I just love this corner of psychology so much. It's fascinating.
If you grew up being told that you're naturally gifted, unreasonably talented, or anything of that ilk, you likely have a fixed mindset. You've been conditioned to think that you were born possessing all the skills you'll ever have. You can't gain skills with practice, and you can't lose them with neglect.
The problem here is pretty evident. With a fixed mindset, you'll never really stretch yourself. You'll never truly test your abilities or take risks. Worse still, you'll find it a devastating blow to be criticized or to fail; if you're already at your best, where can you go from failure?
On the other hand, people with growth mindsets see challenge and failure as a means to learning and growing. They understand that they need to put in effort to get better at things, and that they can always improve given the right conditions.
Thankfully, Carol Dweck (the psychologist who coined these two mindsets) believes you can 100 percent learn how to use a growth mindset. Practice rewarding yourself for the actions you take, rather than their outcomes.
For instance, perhaps you decide to work on Number 1 and practice going out of your comfort zone. You sign up for a marathon, train relentlessly for a few months, and end up coming in third place. Don't say 'Wow, amazing! I scored third place!' Instead, say, 'I did something that was uncomfortable for me, and I grew because of it.'
If you can relate to any of these four points, please don't feel discouraged. It doesn't mean you can't start your own business – it just means that there are a few things you'll need to work on first. And we've all been in a situation where there's inner work to be done.
Remember that there's nothing wrong with learning as you go, too. If you're already head-first into a new business launch, don't panic – you've just crossed off the first red flag by stepping out of your comfort zone. Keep working on the rest as you go!
I hope this has provided some value for those of you interested in entrepreneurship, or those of you who are just starting out. If you're interested in hearing more from Jared Yellin, you'll love the conversation we had over on my Success Story YouTube channel. Check it out for more information about his incubator, as well as in-depth advice for entrepreneurs.
As always, thank you for reading!
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