Can Entrepreneurs Be Made?
What are the unique characteristics of entrepreneurs? It is a subject that I think about from time to time. Over the years, I identified a few patterns and I use such patterns in judging whether someone can be an entrepreneur or not.
Here are the patterns that I identified and use:
- Strong will power: Someone who is persistent in his/her pursuit and won’t give up easily, whatever the pursuit might be. It is not entirely accidental that a lot of entrepreneurs are avid long distance runners because long distance running like marathon is more about having a strong mind than anything else.
- Relentlessly resourceful: Someone who is able to figure out how to make things happen against all the odds. Someone who would try from many different angles and perspectives in order to achieve a goal and take failed attempts as input for finding better ways.
- Passion. Starting a new business is hard, and you’d better love it for what it is. Having the passion for solving a particular problem and being compelled by the vision of how better the world would be if the business succeeds are the key reasons that one would get up every morning and fight against all the odds to make it happen.
- Intelligence. Someone who is highly intelligent. Intelligence is the basic foundation upon which everything else is built. Passion without intelligence is called romance. And it is a good idea to stay away from those with strong will power but without the smarts.
Interesting that post from Vivek Wadhwa on TechCrunch about “Can Entrepreneurs Be Made”. I would disagree with Vivek. No, you cannot teach someone to have passion for something. You can not teach strong will power, intelligence or being relentlessly resourceful. I hear about “pattern recognition” from VCs and other people a lot as well. I have never seem anyone use “gene” as part of the pattern recognition. Nobody judges an entrepreneur by whether his father or mother started a business before or not. On this regard, Vivek’s study is flawed as his article is based on survey results related to family genes as evidence to dispute against pattern recognition.
On the other side, is there value to teach entrepreneurship and is there value for programs like Kauffman Labs as Vivek mentioned in his article? Yes, absolutely. There are millions of people who do have the intelligence, are resourceful, have strong minds and have passion for a certain things, but just haven’t made the jump yet. Surrounding them with other entrepreneurs, mentors and a startup atmosphere is the best way to light up their inner fire. For many reasons (not the least that Wall Street and Google hire tons of smart people to golden hand cuffs), only a tiny percentage of “qualified people” (those who have the ingredients to be entrepreneurs) would become an entrepreneur. So there is a large pool of people (in the order of millions) that entrepreneurship programs, ranging from MIT Sloan Entrepreneurship Center to Kauffman Foundation to TechStars, can make a big difference for.
Fred Wilson has a post on this subject as well: Nature vs Nurture and Entrepreneurship. He listed five attributes for entrepreneurs:
- A stubborn belief in one’s self
- A confidence bordering on arrogance
- A desire to accept risk and ambiguity, and the ability to live with them
- An ability to construct a vision and sell it to many others
- A magnet for talent
These attributes are very much along the similar lines as mine, though I would disagree with the “stubborn” and “arrogance” thing. Vivek rightfully pointed out “Silicon Valley investors often have a picture in their heads of the type of person who is worthy of funding: young, brash, stubborn, and arrogant”. No. There are plenty of successful entrepreneurs who are very humble and very flexible. It is not about being stubborn. It is about having the strong will power to make something happen. In doing so, many entrepreneurs are perfectly happy for being the opposite of “stubborn” about a lot of other things. It is not about being “arrogant”. Arrogant people are those who haven’t seem enough yet. Good entrepreneurs are confident but also have keen ears and eyes to learn from other people.