Being an “entrepreneur” today has become a trendy term- but unfortunately, it seems to have lost a lot of its meaning, and is most often misunderstood.
The status quo has changed so much that anyone who creates a Facebook page or posts a few pictures on Instagram can classify themselves as entrepreneurs.
The media often glistens with stories of how entrepreneurs build something overnight and then sell it for a considerable sum a few months later. But this is the case for only the rare few individuals – those who had the right combination of talent, timing as well as a little luck. The real truth is the so-called “overnight success” can often take years to accomplish.
It is no wonder that there is a new generation of individuals who do not have a solid concept of what entrepreneurship entails. They continually talk about their ideas – but never actually make any progressive steps to accomplishing their entrepreneurial vision. These individuals are commonly referred to as “wantrepreneurs”.
Many key characteristics can separate entrepreneurs from wantrepreneurs, but from my experiences, I’ve realized there are five common traits.
1) Entrepreneurs are risk-takers who believe in themselves
There are numerous definitions of an entrepreneur, but maybe my favourite version is someone who jumps off a cliff and attempts to build a plane as they are free-falling towards the ground. Either they make that plane, or they fail miserably.
Entrepreneurs often make decisions that may not make sense and tend to go against the grain. If 99 people are walking one direction, for whatever reason they decide to walk in the opposite direction. You need to have thick skin and confidence in yourself because often you will be criticised for your decisions and thinking “different”. Your parents and friends may not necessarily understand or support what you are doing. You have to only rely on your mental strength and belief in yourself and your vision.
Take Elon Musk for example, who is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of today. In 2008, two of the companies he had created (SpaceX and Tesla) were experiencing financial difficulties; both were going bankrupt. So instead of letting them fail, Elon Musk went all-in and put his entire fortune (his $180M from selling Paypal back in 2002) on the line to save both companies.
In his interviews, Musk shares that 2008 was the worst year of his life. It was during this time he was drowning in debt, and he found himself in divorce proceedings and living off loans from friends. But he pressed forward with the inner belief that he could change the circumstances and it eventually paid off despite the odds. As of 2019, both SpaceX and Tesla are now worth around $33.3B and $32.8B respectively.
2) Entrepreneurs are passionate and driven
The most successful entrepreneurs I’ve met are often very passionate and driven about what they are doing. While this is not a guaranteed recipe for success – it is a commonality amongst the more successful entrepreneurs of our time. Entrepreneurs like Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and Gary Vee all had a fundamental belief and excitement for what they are doing other than just for money, fame or power.
Entrepreneurs are continually finding ways around roadblocks. They do not let small issues stop them from reaching their vision. They have an internal drive that motivates them from the inside – to achieve more from themselves every day. They do not need validations from external parties to keep them going.
Creating a company from an idea and growing this into a successful venture is no easy undertaking. You have to be able to convince others to believe in you and your vision. You have to persuade employees to join you, potential investors for capital and even show your customers that your product is superior to your competitors. If you are not passionate, and 100% convinced of your vision, how can you convince others of the same?
3) Entrepreneurs continually execute
A few years ago, I can remember doing a joint venture with a group of friends on a product that could have possibly disrupted the pop culture industry. We had a unique idea, we had the potential distribution channels, and most of all we had the right marketing timing with no dominate competitors at the time.
But as the days and weeks went by, tasks and milestones were stagnating. We would meet up to talk about all the action items we would do – but the next week these same items were there. Despite the best efforts to encourage them otherwise – they eventually gave up and just walked away.
It seems they were more interested in the idea of being an entrepreneur than being an entrepreneur in itself. They were always keen to message people on social media about their new innovative product – but they did not want to put in the hard work required to make their vision come to fruition.
The mark of a good entrepreneur will always be progressive action – they take active steps each day to better themselves and their goals.
4) Entrepreneurs hold themselves accountable
I remember mentoring an aspiring business owner who wanted to be a social media influencer. I could tell she had a deep desire to do something she felt passionate about in her life. However, each time we talked, she would always complain about her life. She was upset about how her boss treated her and was fed up about how opportunities kept passing her by.
She failed to realise she was always in full control of her life. She could change her circumstances in a heartbeat if she wanted to – but for whatever reason chose to remain as a powerless victim within her mind. Her only outlet was to complain about her situation in futility.
You are not able to control all circumstances life throws at you. But entrepreneurs understand that they are accountable for how they deal with those situations and are responsible for the action required to keep pressing forward.
Whether it is a job that you hate or a relationship that is going pear-shaped – nothing is stopping you from taking action and removing yourself from those situations. Only then can you chase an outcome you really desire.
5) Entrepreneurs can endure pain and sacrifice for long periods
Entrepreneurs appreciate the sheer effort and sacrifice that is required to create value. And creating value is the key to any sustainable and long term venture.
There could be many years of being dedicated to working long hours without proper remunerations. Sometimes you may live on frugally so you can keep your business alive. You may need to hustle with vendors and clients and even your investors. Then there is time spent away from your family and friends.
You can experience extreme highs, because everything may be going your way – but in a matter of minutes, this can change, and you are left picking up the pieces. When things go down-hill, you will have no boss to escalate to, nothing to fall back on. Sometimes you may feel like your in a hole so deep you cannot get yourself out.
Entrepreneurs understand this risk and embrace it. Instead of running away or procrastinating on a problem, they find ways to solve this. They realise entrepreneurship is not easy and that success has to be earned. They do not easily get discouraged when things do not go their way. Nor do they quickly fall for the social media allure of how you can make it big overnight without any real sacrifice or pain.
Whether it be one failure or multiple failures, an entrepreneur has a mindset to keep moving. They have an I win, or I learn mentality. They understand that it takes only one successful venture and are willing to keep going regardless of the odds.
In this article, I’ve highlighted the qualities of a true entrepreneur. Does that fit your idea of an entrepreneur? If so, congrats! Go out there and make a difference today! I am always open to conversation, so feel free to reach out to me to chat about anything and everything.
See you on the other side!
– Jeff Chin