Is it their appetite for risk-taking? Are they more ambitious or determined? What traits can be adopted by individuals to make them more entrepreneurial?
We’ve crowdsourced the answer to this question through Quora, the global question and answer network. By finding the top 58 answers, attracting thousands of upvotes – or “likes” – we’ve isolated the 12 character traits and behaviours that characterise the quintessential entrepreneur.
1. Spend money to make money
“All money is a means of making more,” says Oliver Emberton, founder of software firm Silktide, whose answer attracted 2,900 upvotes. “As a sophomore Warren Buffett and a friend bought a used pinball machine for $25; within months they had expanded several-fold into a regular income. How many kids think like that?”
Instead of using their income to acquire “stuff”, he explains, entrepreneurs use it to buy money-making assets. The trick is to stop thinking about your income as a way to have fun, buy food, and move away from the “utility” mindset.
2. Overwhelming self belief
Jason Lemkin, a partner at Storm Ventures, which invests in hot start-ups, says that entrepreneurs are blessed with an unshakable belief in their own abilities. “In my first start-up, I had to sign a $750,000 personal, full-recourse note to get the company started,” he says. “Start-up times were tough in 2002. If we hadn’t gotten our first customer shortly thereafter, I would have lost my house, my car, my savings, everything I had. Was this a smart move? No. Not in any sane world. I didn’t even tell my wife about this promissory note.
“But it was a good idea, a low-risk idea, because I could clearly see the other side. Everyone else said it was a terrible idea, impossible but 13 months later we sold the company for $50m to the same company that refused to buy us 13 months earlier for $50,000.”
3. Show financial restraint
“The budding entrepreneur delays their own gratification to maximise return,” says Silktide’s Emberton. “If you want to see a failed wannabe entrepreneur, look for one who’s spending frivolously – my own co-founder famously wanted to buy us both company cars in our first month of business; I declined. Well after they’ve made a fortune, most self-made wealthy people remain comparatively frugal; their lifestyles may be lavish, but they’re almost always spending much less than they earn.”
4. Spot solutions not problems
Entrepreneurs are never put off by obstacles, even ones that seem insurmountable, according to Andrei Kolodovski, a serial entrepreneur living in Silicon Valley. “True entrepreneurs look for ways to make ideas work, while regular people focus on why they won’t work. If entrepreneurs hit an obstacle, they mobilise and seek ways to overcome it. Regular people see it as an excuse to give up.”
5. Learn skills that are worth money in the real world
“Entrepreneurs think of their own skills as an investment; whatever time they put in should have the greatest possible return,” says Emberton. “For example: creating software, leading others, spotting future trends. They are typically self-taught, and diligently so. They work to make themselves the type of person who would be wealthy.”
6. They eat uncertainty for breakfast
Entrepreneurs have no problem with unanswered questions, according to Quora poster, William Franceschine. “What kind of health insurance will I have? What if the competition just copies my idea? How will I raise money? What if somebody already has a patent for this? These kinds of unanswered questions would cause most people not to create Facebook even if they were given a time machine and flown back to 2003. They don’t bother successful entrepreneurs. They have confidence they’ll be able to figure things out and they are at peace with the fact that what they are doing is inherently risky.”
7. A sense of urgency
“Successful entrepreneurs are usually out of time,” says Kolodovski. “Presented with a task, they seek the most efficient, fastest path to complete it and move on, keeping an eye on a big picture. Regular people tend to dwell on minor details and get stuck in the woods.”
8. Hang on to as much equity as possible
There are countless horror stories about people who have a great idea, but sell their company or intellectual property too soon to make any real money out of it.
“Smart entrepreneurs hang on to every precious percent of ownership as if it were their last breath,” says Emberton. “Own assets that compound. The sweat of your own brow will rarely make you rich. As entrepreneurs soon realise, the most efficient vehicle is generally ownership of a company.”
9. Understand cost versus value
“Entrepreneurs understand the idea of value,” says Kolodovski. “Whatever they do, they make sure the value created is larger than the cost of resources used. Regular people tend to focus on expenses. Remember those driving around parking lots for 30 minutes just to save five minutes of walking?”
10. Time and attention are two of your greatest assets
“Time and our attention are the only truly finite constraints – incalculably precious and easily squandered,” says Emberton. “Successful entrepreneurs are absurdly conscious of the fact, and tend to become highly organised, intolerant of inefficiency and laser-focused. Many famous figures famously wear the same outfit every day (Zuckerberg, Jobs) claiming that anything else is an unnecessary waste of their attention.”
11. Authenticity is key
Gerard Danford, from the London Business School, believes that entrepreneurs are usually authentic, preferring to work for themselves rather than a faceless company without a mission or social purpose. “They want the company they work for to reflect their values, personality and principles,” he says. “They do not want to have to check-in their values at the front door every time they go to work.”
12. Be a positive realist
“To make smart gambles – and that’s what becoming rich entails – you need an honest appreciation of odds that few possess,” according to Emberton. “Many of life’s truths are uncomfortable, complicated, or counter-intuitive, and it takes real effort to discern otherwise. But in the absence of perfect information, it helps to see the world in a positive light. Pessimists make poor entrepreneurs.”