America’s first President George Washington is often also considered the country’s first successful entrepreneur. Interestingly, he was the first to breed horses with donkeys to produce the American mule, he exported flour to Europe in sacks with a “G. Washington” stamp making it one of the first branded food products, he was also one of the largest American whiskey producers of the era. But why am I suddenly telling you about Washington? People like Washington are proof that entrepreneurship is never a destination; it’s always a journey. The seeds of entrepreneurship are almost always present in a leader. Maybe that’s why Washington’s lesser-known entrepreneurial ventures changed the face of America’s consumer industry forever. Young innovators have a lot to learn from his story in how someone coming from a military background could influence a country’s business ecosystem and later go on to become one of the greatest global leaders.
Nobody is a born entrepreneur, but the mark of a true leader lies in his/her core character. It comes from within. The difference between a successful and failed venture is that very character and the intent with which an entrepreneur approaches his venture. It’s a gamble that sees more failures and only a few hard-earned successes often because people tend to bite off more than they can chew. Everyone is a potential candidate for embarking on this journey provided he/she is willing to take the plunge. There is an innate need for an honest self-assessment to judge whether they’re cut out for it or not. That being said, it’s not just these common characteristics that define a good entrepreneur because his/her unique personality is often at the core of their success or failure. But there are some common qualities most entrepreneurs swear by. An entrepreneur needs to be a visionary, passionate about addressing a pain-point, add value to people’s life, be courageous, be a risk-taker, should know how to prioritise, take corrective actions when required and be a role model.
Before taking that giant leap, one needs to make a checklist of some qualities that makes for a successful entrepreneur and an effective leader.
Nobody is a born entrepreneur, but the mark of a true leader lies in his/her core character. It comes from within.
Can you imagine life without Google today? Two decades ago, Larry Page and Sergey Brinwrote a computer Larry Page and Sergey Brinwrote a computer program which was able to do backlink analysis and determine a website’s relevance by taking into account the importance of the pages rather than how often a search term appeared on a webpage. Page and Brin were well-aware of the potential of their innovation. While choosing the name Google, they said, “We chose our system’s name, Google, because it is a common spelling of googol or 10100 and fits well with our goal of building very large-scale search engines.” This shows that they were not only visionaries who had a clear mission and vision of becoming the world’s largest search engine but also sought to bring in change using their skillset.
There is no entrepreneurship without having a clear vision of where they want to take the company. A number of people who call themselves entrepreneurs today don’t want to add value or change the traditional way of working. They just want to grab a part of the pie somehow. This is one of the worst attitudes while thinking about becoming a good entrepreneur. If someone can’t make things better using innovation in either products or services, he/she cannot hope to be a successful entrepreneur in the long run. If someone has an intention to innovate and make things better for either his own company, himself or the society at large, only then he will find himself facing the game. This is one of the first questions an amateur entrepreneur must ask oneself, what is the change that he/she seeks? What is the idea behind the venture and why is this idea relevant? Answers to these questions will take one closer to starting their entrepreneurial journey.
Taking cue from being a visionary and being an innovator at one’s core, another important factor that a successful entrepreneur must possess is the ability to solve a problem, a pain point in a manner that nobody else has tried before. This is what will make one stand out from the crowd and establish trust amongst its audience. There are many start-ups, especially in India, that have managed to do this well. Addressing a pain point requires a lot of market research, and an intricate awareness about issues very specific to that particular audience. That’s why, a company that’s successful, say in the US, might not do so well in the Indian market unless it gets a hang of the local market and its very specific needs and pain points.
For example, renting a home has never been easy in this country, especially if you’re single or a minority. But who would have thought that there lies a business opportunity in this problem? It is this very pain point that got four alumni of National Institute of Technology, Karnataka together to start NestAway in 2015. NestAway is probably not the first company nor will it be the last to be born out of trying to address a pain point. The company was started after one of the founders himself experienced the problem of finding a good house. The company that started out of a mere pursuit of solving a problem is today operational across 13 cities in the country and has raised $94.2 million in venture capital from investors such as Ratan Tata, Goldman Sachs, and Tiger Global. Similarly, start-ups like Urban Clap, Urban ladder, Nykaa, etc. have all born out of an innate need to address the pain point of the customer.
If an entrepreneur chooses to do something new and out-of-the-box, there is bound to be a fair chance of risks but that also gives one an opportunity to try something entirely untested and fail freely. That is the best place an entrepreneur can be at and freely execute his/her right to fail. This will only happen if one if passionate about the problem being addressed.
The problem solver
Think about the apps that you use the most on your phone. For me, it’s Uber, Amazon, Netflix, Swiggy, GooglePay. Ever thought what’s common between them? You need a ride, groceries, entertainment, food delivery, money transfer? It’s all there at the click of a button. All these apps were conceived to make your life easier.
Being a visionary does not always guarantee that one will turn out to be a successful entrepreneur until people validate your efforts and your idea. A good idea will only be successful if it brings about a change in their lives and adds value to their day-to-day activities. From an entrepreneurial perspective, it’s the next step of ‘addressing the pain point’. As soon as one identifies a pain point and sets out to solve a problem, he/she needs to make sure that there is a constant value addition in their lives. It is said that the customer never knows what it wants. You solve a problem for them, they would expect better quality of the solution each time. Their thirst for bigger and better will never stop growing. Hence, the key is to keep reinventing oneself and in order to give them a product or a service they deem worthy of paying for. That’s what Uber, Amazon, Netflix, Swiggy and GooglePay are constantly trying to achieve. They had a good idea that worked, they effectively addressed a pain point but at the core of their innovation today is to make their customers’ lives better by not only seeking to solve a problem but also seducing them with better products and services that they cannot refuse.
The off-beat one
Courage thy name is Apple and currently also the world’s most valuable company. The mark of a successful entrepreneur is how much he/she is willing to explore the road not taken. An entrepreneur would not only take that road but also make it their own. It takes courage to set your own rules and break them. Apple is known for revolutionising the way we imagined our screens. From iPod and iTunes that disrupted the music industry forever by letting people walk around with thousands of songs in their pockets to iPhone that changed the concept of smartphones and now to apple watch and apple TV that is again all set to disrupt newer markets, newer lifestyles and industries. Apple has the kind of clout it has because it started as a company that was willing to tread the “high-risk” path.
There are a lot of hidden lessons behind the success story of Apple for young, early-career entrepreneurs. It was never a company that was safe in the harbour but was willing to take the plunge head on. If an entrepreneur has a good idea and is also passionate about addressing the pain point of customers, it is courage that stops him/her to take that leap of faith more often than not. It is extremely important for someone who is looking to get into it for the long haul. Although, the traditional path may seem very tempting, easy and convenient but it is essential that an entrepreneur does not fall into the trap of “going with the flow”. Courage is not only a mark of a good entrepreneur but also a filter for a good leader and a future influencer.
Start-ups that are firsts to take risks not only have a competitive advantage but also have a better understanding of the market as they have already tested waters.
Successful entrepreneurship involves taking risks. Not even a single business owner will tell you that his/her journey was devoid of risks. This is what sets a good entrepreneur apart from other venture owners. Start-ups that are firsts to take risks not only have a competitive advantage but also have a better understanding of the market as they have already tested waters. The ability to take calculated risks is essential for running a business. There are many who want minimum risks to be associated with their venture and might as well like to rethink being a business owner for risks and entrepreneurship are two sides of the same coin.
Founder and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos once said, “I knew that when I was 80, I was not going to regret having tried this I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t regret that. I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. And I knew that would haunt me every day. “A truly passionate will hardly think about the consequences but would rather be concerned about the mere act of having tried what they believed in. For them, the regret of not trying is seemingly greater than the possible risk. Having said that, one should be willing to take a risk only after a risk benefit analysis which will lay down the comparison of the risk of a situation to its related benefits and give a clear picture of where the company is headed. But no company is risk-proof so to say. The risks may not pay off, but an optimistic risk-taker will find a way to look at failure as an opportunity to learn for the next time. You can only innovate if you try something new. They are not only more courageous after taking that leap of faith but also have the first-mover advantage.
The one who knows what to prioritise
A lot of entrepreneurs who choose to give themselves priority over the company often find themselves confused by the end of it. There are a lot of stakeholders of a company like the shareholders, investors, customers, employees, and the entrepreneur itself.
How does one decide what should be the order of priority for the leader? A good entrepreneur is the one who knows this distinction. He/she needs to give the foremost priority to the shareholders. After that, their commitment lies toward the customers because they are the ones ultimately using the product or the service. Followed by the customer, an entrepreneur owes allegiance to his/her employees for they are the ones who’ve shown trust in the company and have supported the efforts of their employer. And then at last, an entrepreneur should prioritise their own self. Many of them make the mistake of doing it the other way around. They prioritise themselves first and think about the employees or the customers later. This is the marker of a lifestyle business owner and certainly not a successful entrepreneur per se.
The responsible one
Many industry watchers had written Flipkart off in 2014 when the company at its peak at that time suffered a massive criticism over its annual Big Billion Day sale. Although the event generated a huge surge in traffic, helping the company sell US$100 million worth of goods in just 10 hours, there were incessant complaints over mismanagement of the event where the website kept crashing, due to overbooking of items and cancellation and customer service was at its worst display. Instead of shoving it under the carpet, its founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, chose to issue a public apology over the mess up. They categorically acknowledged that they failed to live up to the promises they made and would take corrective measures in the future. This case is considered to be one of the lessons in crisis management. Whenever faced with public criticism, most trustworthy companies choose to apologise and try to build a trustworthy relationship again.
Entrepreneurs are generally considered to be narcissistic because at the end of the day it’s about their idea, their company, their personality, their leadership qualities, you get the drill. The point being that entrepreneurship is an extremely self-driven field. One has to have blind faith in his/her idea and ways and means of running the company. But that does not in any way mean that one is allowed to be arrogant and self-centred at the time of crisis, especially when it has something to do with the company’s mess ups. An honest entrepreneur is always appreciated and has an opportunity to establish a greater connection with the customers who want to see their human side more than anything else. An acknowledgement of any wrongdoing and a promise to take corrective actions goes a long way in establishing the entrepreneur as someone who’s trustworthy, mature and dependable.
We have established through various arguments that a successful entrepreneur has a host of qualities like being a visionary, passionate about addressing a pain-point, able to add value to people’s life, be courageous, be a risk-taker, should know how to prioritise and take corrective actions when required. One of the key qualities that naturally makes him a good leader, too, is his/her ability to be a role model who people can look up to and take inspiration from. A good entrepreneur will always emit that kind of radiance because after having gone through so many ebbs and flows, one turns out to be wiser and more aspirational. An entrepreneur doesn’t need to be a larger-than-life role model but someone who genuinely cares for his/her stakeholders. This reminds me of Arne M. Sorenson’s, President and Chief Executive Officer of Marriott International speech where he took a stand and announced that he is forgoing his salary for the rest of the year and cutting it for his executive team by 50% in the wake of the raging coronavirus crisis. This is an important lesson in leadership. He not only leads from the front but also speaks to his audience in a lucid and transparent manner. He shows us that to be a good leader means to be a calm and an empathetic personality rather than just being a face of the company for the sake of it.