I recently asked a question to my social media followers: "Are you born an entrepreneur or can you learn to be one?"
I believe you are born with some innate characteristics that make you an entrepreneur. Without those, it's very difficult to be one. Bill Aulet, the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT, would say I'm dead wrong. That's just one of the myths he says are told about entrepreneurs--by entrepreneurs themselves.
Aulet has spent his career studying entrepreneurs and being one himself. He's raised more than $100 million for his own companies and is the author of Disciplined Entrepreneurship. Aulet is out to debunk some of the "truths" you hear about starting your own business and making it big. Here are a few:
Entrepreneurs are mercurial individualists.
You've probably heard this one. Don't get in the way of an emerging Mark Zuckerberg-type. He'll run you over after pulling himself up by his bootstraps. Just not true. Aulet says: "Entrepreneurship is a team sport. Entrepreneurs work with other people, and they just don't bulldog them." Research shows that a two-person entrepreneurial team has a better chance of success than a single person. And a three-person team's odds are even better.
Entrepreneurs are the smartest, highest-achieving people in the room.
"Entrepreneurs are very passionate and they don't care about pleasing other people," Aulet says. "High-achieving people are the ones who follow the rules. Entrepreneurs are people who are really into something and are very, very passionate about it. And they will exclude other things that they are not passionate about." In other words, they're willing to blow off the English lit paper to spend a few more hours writing code. "Entrepreneurs aren't trying to please other people by getting grades, "Aulet points out. "They're trying to figure out what's useful."
One person I know with these exact characteristics is Scott Kurnit, the founder of About.com and Keep.com. That's why we asked him to list 10 things entrepreneurs need to know before starting a company. Watch it here:
Entrepreneurs are born, not made.
It's a good way to explain someone's success--or excuse your own lack of trying. Don't expect someone who teaches at MIT to buy it. "Either you have it or you don't--there's no data to bear this out," Aulet says. "Quite the opposite. The more times you're an entrepreneur, the more likely your chances of success are. So you learn it as you go. You're no more likely to be an entrepreneur because your parents were than if they weren't."
Aulet says he can identify students who have a higher propensity for being successful, but that's because they have skill sets they can develop--not some sort of innate talent. "They have the spirit of a pirate, with the execution of a Navy SEAL."
Entrepreneurs love risk.
Don't expect to see the Bill Gates of the 21st century at the roulette wheel. "That's ridiculous. I think it's stupid to go to a casino and bet on 64," Aulet says. "You have no control over that. What entrepreneurs love to do is to take informed risks where the odds are in their favor. What they do is take their money and put it in areas where they have an advantage."
Entrepreneurs are successful because they're charismatic.
Aulet says this one is easy to debunk--just go to any party with lots of entrepreneurs and you'll find charisma generally isn't on the menu. "Charisma only gets you so far, You have to have a sustainable business," he says. "You have to have discipline to go about it. The successful entrepreneurs are the ones who just grind it out... Some are just off-the-charts boring."
Entrepreneurs are lucky.
"People just like to write off entrepreneurs as 'they were lucky,'" Aulet says. "That's not the case. That's like (New England Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady. He was 'lucky.' He was working out every day and then when [starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe] got hurt, all that preparation met opportunity, and he was 'lucky.' It was luck that was brought around by a lot of hard work."
Entrepreneurs are undisciplined.
This is the one that entrepreneurs like to put forth about themselves, Aulet says. They're disciplined--it's just not the white-shirt-and-dark-suit type of discipline seen at old-line corporations. "For an entrepreneur, it's 'if I don't ship the product and collect the money and make sure the customer's happy so I can sell more, I'm not going to make payroll next week or the week after or the week after that.' That brings about a level of self-discipline that's infinitely higher."
Aulet says you have to take a lot of what you hear about entrepreneurs with the proverbial grain of salt because just as they like to change the course of business, entrepreneurs often like to rewrite history--especially when it comes to themselves.