7 Key Traits of the Best Entrepreneurs
Since 2012, I’ve had the opportunity to work with more than 500 tech startups in Israel and a dozen other countries. Along the way, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about building a successful company and gained key insights into the investment process for early stage companies. While there are many factors of what makes a startup successful, in my opinion the most important is the skills of the entrepreneurs. Through literally thousands of meetings, calls, and events with startup founders, I’ve seen entrepreneurs from nearly every walk of life, yet the most successful ones have several core similarities.
Here’s my take on 7 key traits I’ve identified as crucial to the best entrepreneurs:
- Questions: Entrepreneurs are people that ask questions, and lots of questions. It’s not just that they strive to ask more questions, but better ones that people have asked before. Every startup begins with a question — What if we did things a different way? What would happen if…? Why can’t we do X, Y, or Z better, cheaper, or faster?
- Take Action: Questions and ideas are great places to start, but soon they must turn into action. The key differentiator between entrepreneurs and dreamers is taking action and going from thought to reality, idea to product. In the startup world, entrepreneurs will immediately take action quickly by creating an MVP — Minimum Viable Product — and start getting their product or service out to the market, even before its perfect or finalized.
- Love the problem: Startups are inherently businesses that solve problems. Uri Levine, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Waze, said it best “Fall in love with the problem not the solution, and the rest will follow.” The best entrepreneurs are focused on a big enough problem and providing a solution that works — regardless if it takes a few versions or pivots to get to the specific solution. Study the problem, love the challenge it represents, then work towards a solution.
- Un-reasonable: Entrepreneurs are unreasonable — not in the traditional sense of the world, but in the way that they don’t let reasons get in the way of their goals. Entrepreneurs are extremely driven people, and to succeed in the startup world requires immense determination, focus, and a willingness to overcome obstacles.
- Dream Big: The best entrepreneurs are driven to solve not just local issues, but global problems. When we categorize startups at Axis Innovation, one of the criteria we ask is does this company want to change the world? Many startups are content to clone something that worked elsewhere or solve a local problem. There’s nothing wrong with this — such companies can make great businesses and provide value to customers. But the best entrepreneurs are thinking big and how they can make an impact on the whole world.
- Win-Win: Entrepreneurs see the world through a win-win lens. Traditional business and much of popular culture is built around zero sum — if I win, you lose — so competition with everyone is extremely fierce. While the best entrepreneurs certainly know how to deal real competition, the general attitude is one of working together and helping others. The Israeli startup ecosystem is particularly successful in part because this entrepreneurial mindset affects us all — mentors abound to help new entrepreneurs, investors are very open to meeting new startups (one prominent investor even created an open google doc with contact info and advice for reaching investors), many local events help entrepreneurs find co-founders and partners for their ideas, service providers like Axis Innovation connect startups with investors and corporations, and more.
- Embrace Uncertainty: Entrepreneurs must know how to thrive despite uncertainty — both within the business and in the world at large. There are enormous ups and downs that can take a personal toll on people, and I’ve personally been involved in investment rounds that were so stressful it could have ended the company and a normal person’s sanity. Nevertheless, the best entrepreneurs are able to maintain composure, leadership, and vision through these challenges in remarkable ways and keep going and building.
These 7 traits are just a start, and there are certainly dozens of others that also define entrepreneurs. By definition entrepreneurs are pushing the boundaries of what exists and doing something new and difficult — so it is no surprise that it requires exemplary traits and skills to accomplish it.