Think You Are An Entrepreneur? The 9 Characteristics
I’ve been working with humans in my capacity as a Chief People Officer in growing tech companies for a long time. For someone who fancies herself as a “startup junkie”, one of the reasons I’ve chosen to stay at Rapid7 for almost a decade is because of the amount of positive change in my role that happens every single year. Truth be told, at the start of 2020, I had begun to consider the next steps in my career journey. While I was (and continue to be) very happy where I am, I wanted to begin the thought process of the next phase of my life. Do I want to invest my time and energy in just one more start up? Perhaps do something completely different? And just as I was beginning to get my head around it, the world imploded in March.
Over the last several months, one thing has become crystal clear: no matter what role or company I’m in, I’m an entrepreneur to the core. The core mindsets and skills needed to thrive in the world of building companies from scratch and aiding them in scaling is part of my DNA. The last few months have proven to me that to embody that entrepreneurial mindset, you don’t necessarily have to immerse your time and energy in a tiny, struggling company. You just need to be in the right one.
Without question, 2020 has been an exceptional year that wouldn’t have been predicted in even the most un-put-down-able NY Times bestselling thriller. For me personally, I’ve invested much of my time connecting with nearly 1,000 people from both inside and outside of my company. I’m no researcher, but through these broad array of conversations, I’ve zeroed in on a number of significant observations. One of the most notable are the two major camps people fall into. And while a gross generalization by grouping our population this way, let me share the idea.
There are those who consider 2020 a dumpster fire. I think of this camp of people as the survivors. Then there is the other camp of people who consider 2020 a gift. I call these people the thrivers. And while there is, of course, no scientific evidence to back up my observation, I’d suggest that from the multitude of people I have connected with both inside and outside of my company during the last three+ months, those “thrivers” who have approached the COVID epidemic, self-quarateening, down economy, working from home, etc. with the “this time is a gift” mentality might just be our entrepreneurs of the future.
I’m not suggesting that this period of time hasn’t been challenging. Arguably, even with the molotov cocktail of a global pandemic, an economic meltdown, and significant social unrest, there have been an abundance of people who have leaned into this unique point in our lives and have been able to find the opportunity through the chaos. These are the people who aren’t looking to others for answers. They are saying, “I see a challenge. What can I do to make the most of it?” They are not sitting back and saying, “What is going to be done about X?” Rather, they are rolling up their sleeves even more, and running straight into the fire. Why? Because if not them, who? If not now, when? They believe this period of time is almost purpose-built for innovation and creativity.
I have a handful of people in my life I turn to when I am conjuring up these ideas and observations. I’ve been playing my role in hypergrowth companies for so long, I’ve narrowed down my crew to one that is interestingly, and yet not at all surprisingly, diverse. If I was to gather us at a party, no one would guess, “oh, yes...I see the connection.” That’s likely because I could care less about background, age, gender, or race. I DO care a whole lot about how the people I choose to spend time with navigate the world. And while I have a healthy respect for different approaches, I connect most with the “thrivers.” As a result, from the boards I’m on, to the people I’ve built the strongest partnerships with at work, to the connections I build in my personal life, I seek to surround myself with people who are actively looking to make the most of an opportunity.
In today’s world, the term “entrepreneur” is used so often, I believe it’s lost a little of its magic. However, at its core, an entrepreneur isn’t just a creative mind who conjures up an idea and catapults it into action. It’s the person who focuses on the opportunity rather than the risk. Think you might have the makings of one? Check yourself against these characteristics.
- You are creative. It doesn’t mean you have to be channeling Picasso, but it does mean you are constantly dreaming up new and better ways of doing things. Status quo is blasphemous, and best practices are just a starting point.
- You are passionate. Often an overused word, but it’s arguably one of the most critical characteristics of entrepreneurship. At its core, it describes both the confidence and relentlessness one must embody to move their company forward.
- You persevere. Steve Jobs famously said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneur from the non-successful one is pure perseverance.” Agreed.
- You are motivated. Call it work ethic, or “all in,” but this is all about putting in the long hours and hard work to bring your idea to life. There’s no one telling you to do this. You are driven to operate this way because of all of the characteristics listed above, combined with an understanding that to pull those off, this is just plain what it takes.
- You are an optimist. You see the opportunity, and the glass is always half full. Rather than focus on what’s wrong, you focus on what’s possible.
- You have a vision. Entrepreneurs aren’t just focused on what they can achieve; you have a big picture vision of where you are trying to go, set audacious goals, and then act to accomplish them. Your vision serves as your north star.
- You can bring others along. Having a great idea is one thing, but being able to persuade others to listen and then buy-in is a true skill. Managing through skepticism and lack of initial belief in your idea doesn’t level you; it fuels you forward.
- You are adaptable. You appreciate that no journey is a straight line, and you are comfortable and ready to adapt when things don’t go according to plan. You’ll jump in, engage and change course as necessity dictates.
- You love the ride. If you see the world in black and white, or prefer to constantly be in control, this is likely not the journey you want to be on. There is a certain brand of crazy entrepreneurs share; one which enables them to risk it all in pursuit of their vision. And they thrive on this energy.
This is not to suggest that one camp is better than another; quite the opposite in fact. If this period in time has shown us anything, it’s the importance of seeking to understand each other, while applying a healthy dose of empathy to appreciate our different needs, stressors, etc. in order to work together effectively during a challenging time. And yet, for those among us who are seeing the abundance of opportunities that have surfaced during the last few months and have been inspired as a result, you just might have the makings of the next great entrepreneur.