STARTUP

Entrepreneurial DNA: Either You Have It or You Don't

You're going to need to leap without a net. But not without plenty of data.
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At our accelerator here in Durham, North Carolina, we deal with entrepreneurs of every description. Age, race, gender, education--we see diversity of just about every sort. This fall, three of the six companies in our group this fall are led by women. Next spring, who knows.

But the diverse people in our program have at least one thing in common--something we call entrepreneurial DNA. I like simple definitions, so let's define entrepreneurial DNA as the ability to jump off a cliff with no apparent net. I’ll go so far as to say our success is based on identifying people who have it.

Here are a few observations about the leap and the people who make it:

Great leaps are made with great data. Boldness is attractive to us, but recklessness is not. Great entrepreneurs find a way to share their idea or concept or prototype with a targeted customer set. Whether they did this informally over coffee or in a controlled environment like a test landing page, they have accumulated data. 

Limping is not leaping. Start-ups are hard. Real hard. At a minimum they require many hours, and a good number of those hours involve asking yourself whether this is ever going to work. Limp in and you will almost always bail out when the idea seems dead. The leap is a gate to success, in my experience. There is very little room for part-time entrepreneurs. 

There is safety in numbers. Entrepreneurs need one another. Hanging out with other entrepreneurs lets you see that it isn’t easy for anyone. There is no magic template for success. There is no exact right way to move your company forward. There are just opinions-;and it’s a good idea to hear some. Entrepreneurs need mentors, too-;not to tell them what to do, but to help them process data. The role of the mentors in our program is specifically to share the gather-data/make-decision experiences that drive great insight.

Still, the people who are ready to leap do it on their own, for their own reasons. With a smile. Because they have that Entrepreneurial DNA.

Last updated: Dec 3, 2012

CHRIS HEIVLY | Columnist | Managing Director

Chris Heivly was a co-founder of MapQuest (sold to AOL for $1.2B), sole managing director of 77 Capital (a $25 million venture fund) and has been an executive at five software companies. He is currently one of two Managing Directors of The Startup Factory, a seed investment fund making 10 to 14 new investments per year. In addition to TSF, Chris is the founder of the Big Top Job Fair and a national writer and speaker about startups and startup communities.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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