What do you need to be a successful entrepreneur? One thing's for certain, you can't confuse need with want. That may at first sound obvious and easy to sort out. Yet there's enough overlap between need and want that absent clear purpose, consistent focus, and a view for the long haul, it's remarkably easy and common to get confused.
So just what should you do? There's no better source from which to learn the answer than those who've journeyed the road themselves, in other words, seasoned entrepreneurs. Though they have much to share, their advice boils down to keeping 3 simple things they suggest you keep top of mind, 3 mantras that go a long way to clarifying the path to success and keeping you on it.
It's Not About The Selfish
Though often ignored by overly ambitious first timers, this is the easiest and arguably most fundamental lesson: Success isn't about you. File ungodly wealth, fame, and overnight market dominance in the same category as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. You want to believe in them, and with enough storytelling and marketing glitz they can sometimes appear to be real possibilities, but each of these is rare, fickle, and even if it comes, fleeting. True success is gradual and modest. It requires constant tending, even redefining. More to the point, when wealth, fame, or speed are your top priorities, you cause your odds of success of any level to immediately plummet. As founder of numerous startups like LeGourmet, startups.com, and Vibrant Ventures, Donna Jensen Madier captures it succinctly. "You're working toward a payoff that's far away and often doesn't happen. Yet a true entrepreneur can't do otherwise." Clearly the keys to success run deeper than just what's in it for you.
It's Not Just About The Self
Some aspects of successful entrepreneurship are less clear-cut. Take the launch of a new product or service. Success matters personally, but also matters to the many others and to the venture overall. This is equally true for profitable growth, increased market share, or positive brand recognition. But despite having broad-reaching benefits, any of these indictors of progress can slide quickly and disproportionately towards a view that says they're really about you, the founder. Language is often an early warning sign. Talk such as, "I made this launch successful" or "The profitability achieved is finally paying me back for all my good ideas, hard work, and sacrifice," are obvious indicators. They reflect a mindset, even if unintended, of brand = self, something that despite the mythology of the solo gun-slinging entrepreneur, simply is never true. It's a dangerous slope to venture onto. "Entrepreneurship cannot be a universe of one person," notes serial entrepreneur Martin Goebel. As founder or co-founder of Sustainable Northwest, Long Haul Capital Group, and Moebius Partners, among other ventures, he's come to believe is he so bluntly puts it that "Ultimately, it's entrepreneurship that matters - more than the entrepreneur." Among successful entrepreneurs there's universal agreement on this critical insight.
In The End, Culture Matters Most
Ask any successful entrepreneur and they will tell you, without others there would be no successful entrepreneurship. It isn't simply the supporting roles others play. Entrepreneurial ventures rely on ecosystems, within which the founder is simply one highly visible, often over-credited part. 'Founders' that go on to be successful 'leaders' of sustainable ventures, the ones that keep growing and evolving, understand and embrace this truth. More, they feed it. They allow leadership to be shared and to constantly move across the organization to follow the opportunities and meet the needs of the ever-shifting landscape that is entrepreneurship. In a word, successful entrepreneurs get that in the end success is about culture, one that infuses these insights into every part and every player in the successful venture.
To quote former Dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University Dipak Jain, "In entrepreneurship, you have to keep in mind that you are building not for tomorrow but for many years beyond. Successful entrepreneurship is about taking good steps that will allow others to take good steps. It's not just about getting here or there."
Note to the reader: The entrepreneurial insights offered here are from interviews for the book A Deliberate Pause: Entrepreneurship and its Moment in Human Progress by Larry Robertson.