4 Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs
We recently wrote about a start-up named Brightbox, which developed a phone charging station that hangs on the wall at hospitality venues such as hotels, restaurants and bars, event spaces, gyms, and malls. During our interviews with Billy Gridley, CEO, and Steve Palladino, EVP of sales and business development, we also talked about their backgrounds and what led them to become entrepreneurs.
Steve and Billy discussed four key characteristics that entrepreneurs possess:
- Ambition and self-confidence
- Willingness to take a leap of faith
- Ability to learn from mistakes
- Trust in and respect for the team
'A Terminal Case of Ambition'
Billy defined entrepreneurialism as having "a terminal case of ambition." This really resonated with us. In our experience, entrepreneurs are intellectually active, see problems all around that need fixing, and are generally impatient about those problems. This mental state never seems to go away; it really is terminal.
But it is not enough to just see the problems. An entrepreneur must also have a burning ambition to fix them and the self-confidence to believe he or she is uniquely positioned to save the day. Not everyone has that ambition and self-confidence, much less a terminal case of it. We celebrate entrepreneurs when they succeed against all odds and through enormous challenges. What keeps them going? Often, a unique mix of ambition, self-confidence, and simple mule-headedness enables them to power through the dark times and find the light at the end of the tunnel.
'The Leap of Faith'
Billy and Steve both mentioned the leap of faith they made when they moved to Brightbox. Billy had spent 25 years on Wall Street and was ready to lead a start-up. What made Brightbox attractive to him was his belief that the problem (how to recharge mobile devices while away from home) was worth solving.
Believing that a problem is worth solving and that you can do it better/faster/cheaper is an enormous leap of faith! Ambition and self-confidence will only get you so far; you also have to passionately believe in the idea.
'We Made All the Mistakes We Could Have'
We have yet to meet entrepreneurs that haven't made a boatload of mistakes and unwise-in-retrospect decisions. "We made all the mistakes we could have, and learned a lot from them," Steve told us. On a daily basis, entrepreneurs make dozens of decisions, large and small, about their business, knowing all the while that some of those decisions will backfire.
Without believing in themselves and their vision for Brightbox, Billy and Steve might not have persevered, but that is not enough. The key, as Steve noted, is learning from the setbacks. The best entrepreneurs set up their businesses as learning laboratories. They deliberately run tests and experiments on their products and customers. They have a disciplined process to evaluate those tests and reorient the business around what they learned.
'We have the Right Partnership'
Steve also explained how the mutual trust and respect among the senior team at Brightbox enables them to feed off each other's strengths. This really resonated with us as well. The team members at Avondale have very different strengths and weaknesses; we deliberately hire for this diversity. Without mutual trust, respect, and partnership, we would quickly spiral out of control as an organization. We continually challenge each other to deliver more value and raise our game. Businesses that don't operate from a base of trust, respect, and partnership are miserable places to work--we know this all too well from past experience. A great idea can be the spark that brings people together, but mutual trust and respect keep them together.
Our thanks to the Brightbox team for sharing their thoughts on these four key ingredients of entrepreneurialism.
What are other key ingredients of the successful entrepreneur? Share your thoughts with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale
Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.