Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle that requires staying power, because starting a new business is a long-term process with many tough challenges. As an angel investor, I look diligently for signs that an aspiring startup founder has what it takes to thrive and prosper for the long haul ahead. Passion and vision are necessary, but not sufficient, to really change the world.
Many of the best-known entrepreneurs who achieved long-term successes, including Howard Schultz (Starbucks) and Steve Jobs (Apple), shared a common set of attributes and habits, including the following:
1. They never give up, despite some major setbacks.
In investor circles, it is often said that the number one cause of startup failures is that the founder gave up too early. Great entrepreneurs will tell you that they may have pivoted many times, down to their last dollar, but have never given up. I look for that same determination in every new founder.
2. The founder talks about lessons learned, not excuses.
Successful entrepreneurs are always ready, willing, and able to learn from challenges, rather than trying to find something or someone to blame. Howard Schultz readily admitted that early success created hubris and entitlement in his team, which took a major initiative to correct later.
3. They proactively replace their current offerings.
When the revenue starts to flow, it is easy to ride the wave and only react when competitors start to cut deeply. Steve Jobs was quick to obsolete his own best-selling products every few months, to keep the momentum and the Apple brand image growing. That’s a challenging but winning long-term strategy.
4. They focus only on highly-differentiated solutions.
The most common startup proposals I see are for yet another social media niche solution, or for solutions which are “all-in-one” integrations of multiple existing platforms. Entrepreneurs who think long-term look for innovative new solutions in large and growing markets, despite the increased risk.
5. They work hard on finding complementary channels and partners.
Never assume that a great solution will sell itself, or won’t need the help of dominant distribution channels and partners with existing customer bases. Entrepreneurs with a habit of thinking long-term focus on their core competency to build a recognizable brand. They don’t try to do it all.
6. They spend as much time on relationships as the business.
There really is something to the saying that a successful business depends on who you know, as much as what you know. That ability and determination to nurture win-win relationships with peers, potential partners, and competitors, separates long-term entrepreneurs from short-term flashes.
7. They surround themselves with strong and positive people.
Great entrepreneurs have a habit of selecting associates who are smarter than they are, and provide complementary skills. These are not “yes” people, but they always offer a positive perspective, rather than reasons why something can’t be done. The result is that 1+1 equals three or more.
8. They know that making money is critical, but secondary to a higher purpose.
Steve Jobs often attributed his long-term success to a desire to change the world, but suffered setbacks when he took his eyes off revenue flow for too long. Even the best cause does not sustain a business alone, and a higher cause is needed to drive long-term success.
9. They work harder and longer than most, and relish it.
Not only do they put in more hours by habit, they get far more done than others. Yet they are known for their extreme focus on selected critical elements, and their extreme depth of knowledge on key subjects. They consistently embrace a workload that would seem crazy to others.
The entrepreneur lifestyle is all about vision, working hard, getting things done, and learning from every step, forward or backward. When investors see a founder with the habits described above, they hardly care what solution he or she is pitching – the odds are good of a long-term success. Have you checked your work habits lately, to see how well they project your staying power?