10 Qualities of Successful Startup Founders & Entrepreneurs (Plus One More to Help Ensure Success) by Elisa Schmitz
As a serial entrepreneur, I often get asked the secrets of startup success. The truth is, there is no single secret to being a successful startup founder. It often comes down to a kind of “perfect storm” that includes elements such as having the right idea at the right time; the relevant skills, ability and attitude; the relentless work ethic, passion and focus; bolstered by the supportive resources and team members that are crucial to success.
Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, including founding two businesses, going through several startup accelerator programs (including Springboard, Blackbox and WiSTEM) and headquartering at the world’s leading startup incubator catering to tech entrepreneurs (1871 Chicago), I have been fortunate to cross paths with many incredible startup founders. Some of these entrepreneurs have had wildly successful exits while some are running thriving businesses while still others have pivoted and gone in different directions (or returned to corporate America).
From my observations, as well as knowing what has served me as a startup founder and CEO, I believe the following 11 qualities are key to launching and leading a successful startup and ringing the bell as an entrepreneur:
- Fearless – You know that pit you feel in your stomach when you’re about to do something risky? Entrepreneurs know that feeling well, and they embrace it. Startup founders overcome that feeling because they believe the benefits outweigh the risks. This does not mean that we do not feel fear. It means that in spite of our fears, we move forward. It’s OK to be afraid. Just don’t let it stop you from taking a calculated risk.
- Visionary – Successful entrepreneurs are creative thinkers with great vision. They may see opportunities before other people do, or in a different way, and move forward to capitalize on them. We look ahead and are able to see what’s around the corner, anticipating needs and using our creativity to find solutions that serve others.
- Instinctual – Entrepreneurs rely on their instincts when moving forward with an idea. If we feel strongly that it is something the market needs, it is very likely that we will trust our gut and go with it, no matter what the naysayers say. However...
- Analytical – The best entrepreneurs do not rely solely on gut instinct. We use data to prove that our instincts are correct and affirm what we believe to be true. Market research, testing, sampling, surveys – just a few of the tools we use to gather information about the market and the idea before we invest too heavily in the concept.
- Confident – The best entrepreneurs know themselves well – their strengths and weaknesses – and play to their strengths. Where there is weakness, they find others who excel and delegate tasks they are not as well suited for. This confidence allows them to make hundreds (thousands!) of decisions that ultimately affect the viability of the business, and enables them to lead their teams. However...
- Empathetic – The best entrepreneurial leaders display empathy and authenticity, allowing room for others’ thoughts, opinions and perspectives, even if they are different than their own. They are great networkers and promoters. Empathy allows them to hear and feel others, and by doing so, they fill in gaps in their own knowledge, gain insight from others’ views and build relationships with colleagues and clients that may help the business succeed.
- Passionate – Many entrepreneurs I know are driven by pure passion. Startup founders often start businesses in fields of their expertise or interest. We put our hearts into it, and this passion fuels the enormous energy that is required to start and run a business. When founders find their passion and pursue it with purpose and intention, chances are very good that they will succeed.
- Adaptable – If there’s one thing that is constant, it is change. Surprises (and not always the happy kind) are around every corner. Entrepreneurs can’t be surprised by surprises; they expect the unexpected. This enables them to keep calm in the chaos. The ability to be flexible and adapt to a constantly changing marketplace is key.
- Resilient – Resilience allows you to experience adversity and overcome it. Bouncing back from setbacks is perhaps the most vital skill to being a successful entrepreneur. We all experience failure; it is often the best way to learn. It’s what you do after the failure that makes all the difference in how you move forward and your ability to succeed in the future.
- Focused – Successful startup founders need to be laser-focused on their businesses in order to truly make them flourish. The pursuit of excellence is a full-time job, which is why having a startup as a side hustle is extra challenging. To make it really fly, we don’t allow distractions to take our eye off the ball. In addition to our time and money, we give our sweat, blood and tears in order to make our startups succeed.
- Persistent – Focus leads to persistence, and being persistent in the pursuit of entrepreneurial success is key. Even if you lack some of the qualities of the best entrepreneurs, if you have grit, it may tip the scales in your favor. There will be stumbling block after stumbling block as you build a business. Successful entrepreneurs are determined, maneuvering around obstacles and creating new paths as needed. They don’t give up, and that is why they succeed.
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. But for many startup founders who share these qualities, there is simply no other path that works for them. If this sounds like you, I salute you and wish you the best of success in your entrepreneurial journey!
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