Entrepreneurs are interesting creatures: we believe in the impossible, inspire others to follow our vision, and often have to overcome overwhelming odds to succeed. I spend a lot of time with other entrepreneurs and have noticed four key traits:
On the outside, it seems like success stories happen overnight. However, those on the inside know that these successes usually follow years of struggle, outright failure, and/or changing business models. In fact, VC backed startups with 10x exits take on average, eight to ten years to get those returns. That seems like an impossibly long time for an entrepreneur starting out- but true entrepreneurs are persistent and find ways to make their business grow. Whether it’s finding a new market for an existing product, raising funds from outside investors, or downsizing now for future growth, entrepreneurs find ways to keep their companies (and dreams alive). This persistence in the face of adversity is often what separate entrepreneurs from wantrepreneurs.
When bad things happen in a business, founders often take them very personally. Since a business feels like your baby, it’s hard to not feel personally attacked when potential customers, investors, or friends say your baby is ugly. However, entrepreneurs have a way of taking criticism and applying it to make their businesses better. They learn to take rejection as it is an inevitable and often extremely common occurrence in their daily lives. Take Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora- it was only on his 348th pitch that an investor finally believed in his vision enough to write a check. Now that’s resilience.
Despite all the rejection and hard work that inherent in the day to day of building companies, entrepreneurs somehow retain an air of optimism around their work. They have to- they’re the visionaries employees are following, and they deliver regular reports to investors detailing how money is being put to work. A sign of a true entrepreneur is the ability to see beyond even the lowest Trough of Sorrow to see the Wiggles of Hope coming ahead. Entrepreneurs know that it takes a long time to be successful and most people don’t have the stomach for it- their task is keeping people motivated by a larger vision even when it feels like it’s time to quit.
While being persistence, resilient and optimistic, entrepreneurs still have to be extremely flexible when it comes to seeing opportunities. Successful startups rarely start out with the product that becomes their bread and butter, it’s usually a careful process of learning, building, and measuring- Lean Startup Style. Along the way, other opportunities, called “pivots” may offer the ability to change certain things within a business to achieve a larger goal or be much bigger than originally envisioned. Here are some of the most successful pivots of all time. Entrepreneurs can’t be so focused that they can’t see an opportunity when it presents itself and is validated through testing.
Moral of the story: Entrepreneurship is a slog. Forget all the glamour stories of billion dollar valuations seemingly appearing overnight. For every successful outcome there are thousands of failures. If you’re thinking about starting a company, make sure you’re persistence in solving a problem. Be resilient in the face of adversity, maintaining a level of optimism about what you’re doing even in the darkest of moments. However, be flexible in recognizing opportunities that may be tangential from your original plan- this may offer a bigger, better outcome in the end.
Stella Fayman is a serial entrepreneur and CEO/cofounder of matchist, the best place to hire top freelance developers. She is also cofounder of Entrepreneurs Unpluggd and is a Forbes contributor. A Herman fellow, Stella is pursuing her MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She was recently named to Crain’s “20 In Their 20s” list.
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