American Express Open Forum – 6 Characteristics of an Entrepreneur

October 2010

The personality and anatomy of an entrepreneur is a complex cluster of characteristics. No longer is the back-story of an entrepreneur merely the kid maverick who once ran a newspaper delivery route and manned a lemonade stand. Most entrepreneurs succeed and fail depending on their personality and experience.

I spoke to several entrepreneurs about what qualities they think make a solid self-starting and successful entrepreneur.

1.  Motivation.
Successful business types are doers who make ideas happen. They are highly motivated and have a burning desire to win.

Rakesh Agrwal, founder of SnapStream Media, created his business when he needed a new product in his own life.

“My co-founder and I had jobs that involved a lot of travel, and we wanted to be able to watch our TV shows while we were on the road.  That idea morphed into PC software for recording television — Beyond TV,” explains Agrwal.

2. Hard work.
Success does not come easy. You must persevere and be willing to contribute a lot of blood, sweet and tears. Most entrepreneurs are naturally hard workers; it is an innate quality that is apparent in all aspects of life.

“One thing I have learned is the importance of consistently pursuing what you believe in. So-called ‘overnight’ successes usually happen slowly over time, with a fair bit of trial and error,” says Agrwal. “It is important to be dynamic about what you do and be willing to change courses if that’s the right move.”

3. Focused passion.
Entrepreneurs have passion that drives the blood, sweat and tears.

E. Frank Hodal, founder of Little Calumet Holdings, defines passion as the ingredient that enables all the hours and hard work to make sense. He elaborates that passion must also be accompanied by direction. “The entrepreneur must remain flexible lest the passion become delusion. The entrepreneur will always be pulled in multiple directions. Staying focused takes work and experience, but it is crucial.”

4. Nonconformity.
Entrepreneurs are independent souls who set their own goals, avoid toeing the line, and prefer not to work for others.

“Entrepreneurs tend to be indefatigable, relentless and have somehow inoculated themselves against pessimists, naysayers and obstacle placers,” says Braxton Pope, a Los Angeles based film producer. “They also know how to sell, be it a service, a material good, or simply themselves.”

5. Leadership.
Successful entrepreneurs are people who battle through uncertainty and risk. He or she understands the balance between security and risk and pushes ahead without compulsively taking a gamble with the business.

Good leadership also requires careful product and market knowledge and selection, creative financing, good team building, and superb planning.

“The entrepreneur must be able to foresee what the collective unconscious will crave next and be able to work doggedly despite other’s lack of insight,” says Edward Paige, executive producer of Blank Paige Productions. “But those that are truly successful know how to build a team and channel each individual’s unique talents toward a single goal. Behind every great entrepreneur is a team of talented people that believed in him.”

6. Street smarts.
Some of the best entrepreneurs do not have a college education. Business leaders are inherently shrewd decision makers who know how to make the right moves. They use common sense and instinct.