The 4 Entrepreneurial Qualities to Make or Break You
If I mentioned to you that I was an entrepreneur, you would understand that my having a setback only means I make an even bigger comeback. And, being told “no” only means I find a new way to make things happen. This part is fun.
However, being an entrepreneur in practice can be scary - even quite horrific. It means making life choices that could set you back for years. I often think, What if I chose a different path? An easier path? In 2013, with only a small savings to my name, far removed my hometown, and a Manhattan rent to pay, I founded a consulting firm that ended up being highly respected and profitable. It was a risk I took, especially because I had a job offer in my hand from a company that would ensured stable income. A few years later, when I returned to the Bay Area, the heart of technology innovation, I made that choice a second time -- I chose to sacrifice stability and comfort to join a lean tech startup as CEO. The common denominator for both decisions? I knew my talent and tenacity would be better applied and appreciated in the startup world.
I do not have a family positioned to support me. I do not have individual financial capital to bootstrap early traction. And, I do not have experiences as my male counterparts do of the “you had me at hello” benefit when I walk into the room. As a woman founder of color operating in the technology startup world, I must prove my competencies before I even say, “Hello.”
These were all, and continue to remain, my primary risks. As such, I embrace entrepreneurial practices to mitigate this risk. I call these the “4 C's of an Entrepreneurial Mindset” and am sharing them now for early and mature founders alike -- this framework has kept me focused, sane, and committed.
1 - Be Coachable
I know your company is your baby. You conceived it, nurtured it through thick and thin, and watched it grow. That said, when other people tell you, “Hey, your kid just threw a ball through my window for the third time, and we need to do something to fix this,” don’t take it as “Your kid sucks.” No one means that. As your role is to nurture your company, the reality is that sometimes you are blinded by stress and by love. Let others in who can tell you where your blind spots lie. Don’t argue back. Listen and Reflect. (I’ve capitalized both for a reason). Ask questions as if you never know the answer. For me, this has helped me create a library of feedback that even if not useful today, will be useful tomorrow.
2 - Be Consumable
I have found that when I lose focus, it is often due to feeling disconnected with my users. My users inspire me everyday to keep putting one foot in front of the other - this is especially true for social impact ventures. When I feel that I am distant from my users, I reconsider how the products I offer them will improve their lives and solve their pressing challenges. This is what customers will be willing to pay for.
Remember to treat your investors as you would your customers. Give them a consumable idea that describes succinctly the problem you are trying to solve, the solution, and the workflow of the product. Frame your customer story with how investor involvement will help you accelerate the business while also delivering a return to them. This is what investors will be willing to invest in.
3 - Be Customer Centric.
Does your customer know what you’re doing and do you know what your customer is doing? Early on, talk to as many customers as possible. Ask them questions. Even if there is a strong customer need, this doesn’t mean they are willing or able to pay for it. What are the barriers for them purchasing it?
For education entrepreneurs, it is imperative that you nail this. We can’t harm student learning. At the same time, teachers are forgiving as long as you keep feedback channels open. Talk early to district leaders, your buyers, and be honest about what your solution can do now. Do not undercut yourself during the sales process - simply state that you will be able to put the students and teachers at the center of your business only with their feedback and buy-in.
4 - Be Concise.
A goldfish has the attention span of 5 seconds. So do most humans. If you take more than 60 seconds to tell me what you do, that is 12x my available attention span. If it is 90 seconds, I start to think about what I should order for dinner. I wonder why I am even here - does this entrepreneur not want to exchange ideas? Because at that point, you could have sent me a digital audio file of you talking. (I wouldn’t listen to it.) Your business is only as good as you market it and the more focused your message, the better you seem like an entrepreneur who has nailed the problem to solve with an innovative solution. Often, it is not the product or idea that is not the problem, it is the message.
I believe in these qualities so much that I'm making them into an AI.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned rejecting stability to take a job leading a lean tech startup. I bring this up because these four qualities have been so vital to me as an entrepreneur that, as CEO, I actively integrate these learnings into our core artificial intelligence product. At EruditeAI, we build AI systems that help individuals find the right expert, at the right time. We understand that finding coaches to solve hard problems at work and in life is important. Our AI poises individuals to be coachable, and it helps coaches target learning needs with impact and precision, all at incredible speed. I want this cultivation of the human network to not only help individuals reach career milestones, but also to support organizations to reach revenue goals.
Your startup can also achieve revenue goals with this entrepreneurial mindset. Founders, start now.
To learn more about EruditeAI, email Kathy at firstname.lastname@example.org