We have just lived through the greatest era of fake entrepreneurs.
It was a second-wave dot-com boom that lasted five to six years, when money was so readily available that it felt like anybody could get in on the “become-an-entrepreneur” game (many have referred to it as the Age of the Unicorns). People believed that raising several millions of dollars for a business meant that they were a successful entrepreneur.
That is insanity to me. As the economy gets tighter, these businesses will start to disappear. Some will become acquired by other companies, but rarely does that mean anyone actually made any money.
The belief that becoming an entrepreneur is possible for anyone, that they can have a big role to play in this “fail and get acquired” practice has grown over the last couple years. How do we fix that? There needs to be a reset around how we look at entrepreneurship as a skill and talent, and what it takes to start and lead a successful company. Most people think entrepreneurship is a developable skill, and it’s just not.
When the NBA Meets an MBA
If someone plays a few games of pickup basketball, they don’t automatically believe that they’re ready for the NBA. But the same understanding of skill and talent just doesn’t seem to be applied when we talk about entrepreneurship. So many “entrepreneurs” over the last five years are people that one day decided they’re just going to “become an entrepreneur” and expect it to be something they can pick up and learn. Build a company. Raise some money. Done, no problem.
We all know how hard NBA players work on their craft to get to that professional level. They are taking shots and practicing their ball handling every day for hours on end, for years and years. But we’re also equally aware of the massive amount of athleticism and talent that they were born with to harness and execute against.
Imagine if the NBA opened up tryouts to everyone, and anyone who tried out made the league and became a NBA player. That’s basically how we’ve been treating the startup culture. Someone shows up to tryouts and they’re automatically referred to as an entrepreneur and someone who builds businesses.
Why don’t we apply the same perspective, how we view the talents and skillsets of our best athletes, to how we teach entrepreneurship and becoming an entrepreneur? Just like the top athletes in the world, entrepreneurs who build successful businesses come from a certain breed. They have an entrepreneurial DNA that allowed them to hone in on their business skills in the first place.
Because the fact is this: Entrepreneurs are born, not made. Of course, anyone can maximize any skillset, but it doesn’t necessarily make them successful at it. I could maximize my singing with vocal lessons, but I’ll still always just be a mediocre singer. To win at the very top of the chain, to make it big in the business world and in any arena, you have to be born with talent.
An Entrepreneur’s Characteristics and Skills
So what are the characteristics and skills of a good entrepreneur? What’s the “it” factor that makes for a great entrepreneur? To be a basketball star, you would most likely be extremely tall, fast, athletic, and have real hops. But the qualities of a great entrepreneur are more abstract or illusive for someone studying entrepreneurship and business. From my experience, I believe there are five major traits that mean you have the chops when it comes to building a business and living the life of an entrepreneur.
The ability to sell something is absolutely necessary to knowing how to run a business at any stage. Whether you’re starting out on the floor like I did selling a physical product or the CEO of an agency selling the talented employees, you need to know how to make a sale.
2. A chip on your shoulder.
Yes, I’m serious. And that can come in two forms. Either you were born with nothing, zero, and you’re just hungrier than the average human. Or, it’s the reverse: You were born into a lot of wealth and opportunity and you want to prove that you don’t need it, and can do it on your own. In either case, some kind of chip can push you a long way, especially for the amount of hours and energy you’ll need to put into your business.
3. An independent spirit.
Being an entrepreneur means you rely on yourself and no one else. At the end of the day, you need to be 100 percent comfortable with making the final call, being able to trust yourself and your intuition.
4. Understanding consumers and consumer attention.
Mark Zuckerberg is a fantastic example of someone who truly understands and trades consumer attention. He got it with his product: Facebook. He held onto it by identifying and acquiring Instagram. And he saw it with Snapchat, too, but that deal didn’t pan out. In any case, the lesson is that not only knowing where the consumer is, but also where they are going, is crucial.
It can be a slow and lonely climb to the top. If patience is a trait you don’t currently possess, but you want to play in this world, I recommend developing it as much as you possibly can.
Listen, everybody is born with some capability to run a business. But 90 percent are born with the capability to run a business into the ground. There is an amazing amount of entrepreneurs who can make $80,000-$90,000 working for themselves running a small e-commerce shop around a personal interest of theirs. And the opportunities to do that have never been more available. If you want to do that, do it. It was the main thesis statement of my first book Crush It. I am all about that life and I support it.
But let’s be clear about entrepreneurs and the businesses they run: There are levels to this. The higher you climb and the more the business grows, the stakes become a lot bigger. More and more people are depending on you to make the right decisions for them and the company. The league you’re playing in and the skillset required jumps from pickup ball to NBA very quickly.
Sure anyone can start a business, but only the top 25 percent will actually grow into multimillion-dollar companies with more than one employee. Only a handful of entrepreneurs with the talent and skillset required to make it to the big time have what it takes to truly run a million-dollar business. Real entrepreneurs are born and prove their DNA with hard work.
Related: Entrepreneurship | SUCCESS
This post originally appeared on GaryVaynerchuk.com.
“Is being an entrepreneur something we’re born or with or is it something that we learn over time?”
That’s the question Bryan Elliott asks futurist and social entrepreneur Roger Hamilton in this episode of Behind the Brand.
“I have a real belief that every one of us can be an entrepreneur,” Hamilton says. “But I think a large part of this is really just our definition of what it is to be an entrepreneur.”
Hamilton defines entrepreneur by its roots: to undertake, to go on a journey, a quest. “The moment someone says, "I"m gonna go on a journey, I"m gonna go out there and do more than just simply take what life gives me," then I see that as being an entrepreneurial journey.”
Hamilton says, “You need to do in order to know.” It’s all about that entrepreneurial spirit, the drive and the courage to define your own destiny.
Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur? Watch the full video to get Roger Hamilton’s take.
Can you influence another person’s entrepreneurial IQ, say your child’s? You can have an impact. Check out 7 entrepreneurial traits well worth cultivating in them—the skills kids need most now to succeed when they grow up.