If you have considered starting your own business, you may be wondering if you have what it takes to become successful.
Are entrepreneurs born predestined for success, or did they work hard to become the best version of themselves to achieve their goals?
The answer is both. In this post, we’re going to look at the personality traits, qualities, and skills it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
Part I: Personality traits in the DNA of an entrepreneur
Scientific studies have confirmed that genetics play a strong role in each individual’s Big Five personality traits – openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
- Those who are open to experience see the world differently – they are creative, enjoy new experiences, welcome new ideas, and easily comprehend abstract and theoretical concepts.
- Those who are conscientious demonstrate thoughtfulness and impulse control – they are organized, prepared, detail-oriented, goal-oriented, and always on schedule.
- Those who are extraverted feel energized with others – they are assertive, emotionally expressive, social, talkative, and find it easy to connect with others.
- Those who are agreeable empathize with others – they are kind, altruistic, cooperative, and strive towards ensuring others happiness.
- Those who are neurotic exhibit low emotional stability – they are moody, anxious, irritable, and have a hard time dealing with or bouncing back after stressful events.
The Founder Institute, the largest pre-seed startup accelerator worldwide, has funded over 3,500 technology startups. After working with social scientists and assessing the traits of founders that have found real-world success, they categorized them into six groups: Hustlers, Innovators, Machines, Prodigies, Strategists, and Visionaries.
Within each group, they found the following three personality traits to be the most important for success.
Openness is reported as one of the top personality traits of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs need to be innovative to develop new ideas and
solve challenges that arise in day to day business.
Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, believed that creativity was linked to the ability to connect things in a way that others could not. In a 1995 interview with Wired, he explained his knack for great design as follows.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”
In other words, openness to new experiences gives entrepreneurs the ability to see beyond the limitations of perceived borders (industry, geography, profession, discipline, network, etc.). This allows them to find unique solutions to problems that others trapped within these borders haven’t been able to solve.
2. Emotional stability
The opposite of neuroticism, successful entrepreneurs display personalities with higher levels of emotional stability. This allows them to be able to push through hardships in the business world without being brought down.
According to Elon Musk, “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” Indeed, he proves that he has the strong emotional stability it takes to overcome numerous failures with his companies and still come out on top.
PayPal, which Elon originally founded as online banking platform X.com, was referred to as one of the worst business ideas in 1999. SpaceX suffered multiple expensive launch failures. Tesla’s Roadster received an unfavorable review on the BBC show Top Gear in 2008. Despite these setbacks, each company is thriving today and Elon Musk has a current net worth of over $19B USD.
Entrepreneurs who want success must also a high level of conscientiousness in their personalities. Studies have shown that people with strong conscientiousness, along with higher emotional stability, were more successful in terms of better salaries and job satisfaction. Conscientious people who are open to new experiences tend to have more creative accomplishments.
Thus, in conjunction with openness to new experiences and emotional stability, entrepreneurs with higher conscientiousness are more likely to have success in their business ventures. According to the Founder Institute, this is especially true for the Machine and Hustler entrepreneurial types that get things done on time and is determined to succeed in the world of entrepreneurship, respectively.
What about extraverts?
Do entrepreneurs need to be extroverts to be successful? Apparently not, according to Sheryl Sandberg, who has said that Mark Zuckerberg is very shy and introverted. In fact, many well-known Fortune 500 founders are more introverted than extroverted.
There are even benefits to being an introverted startup leader. Google’s Larry Page, known to be very reserved and likely an introvert, gets new ideas from listening more than talking. Bill Gates, another famous entrepreneurial introvert, advised that introverted startup owners hire extroverts to “tap into both sets of skills in order to have a company that thrives both as in deep thinking and building teams and going out into the world to sell those ideas.”
Are entrepreneurs agreeable?
While many entrepreneurs may classify themselves as agreeable, business experts and studies on entrepreneurship have shown that successful entrepreneurs typically have an average, if not lower amount of agreeableness in their personality. It’s not because they lack empathy or do not have altruistic natures. It’s simply because the type of person that would start their own business is not as interested in pleasing those around them as the average worker or managerial type.
As Dr. Bret L. Simmons states about entrepreneurs and the Big Five personalities, “It’s a jungle out there, and entrepreneurs have to be tough to survive.” People with low agreeableness tend to be more suspicious than the average agreeable-natured person, which can be a good thing for business leaders pursuing success in a cut-throat corporate world.
Learn about your big five traits
While your environment and experiences will aid in the development of these traits, 40 – 60% of your personality will come from your DNA. Recent advances in genetic research allow everyone to connect services like Genomelink and Xcode Life with 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or MyHeritage DNA results to learn more about how their DNA affects their personality.
Genomelink offers the following dashboard showing where on the spectrum your personality fits with some of the Big Five personality traits. While they do not show whether you are more extroverted or introverted, they do show the main three that affect entrepreneurship success – Openness, Neuroticism, and Conscientiousness – for free.
Xcode Life offers a personality traits report for $20. It includes four of the Big Five personality traits along with specific categories that focus on the leadership and entrepreneurship potential within your DNA. According to their report, a 24% variance in leadership potential and 50% of entrepreneurship ability is due to genetic factors.
Part II: Natural qualities of an entrepreneur
In addition to the personality traits encoded within your DNA, there are certain natural qualities that may determine if you will be a
successful entrepreneur. Even if you are not born with these qualities, once you learn about them, you can either work to improve them or strategically partner with people who have these qualities to ensure your startup’s success.
The following natural qualities and acquired skills in Part III are from the traits of successful builders as determined by Gallup, a global analytics and advice firm. They have over 80 years of experience in collecting data from 35+ million employees in 160+ countries. 90% of Fortune 500 companies rely on their CliftonStrengths assessment to hire and develop strong talent within their organizations.
If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, confidence is key. Brian Tracy – CEO, motivational speaker, and bestselling business author – says it best: “Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.” All you need? “A clear vision, backed by definite plans, gives you a tremendous feeling of confidence and personal power.”
According to Gallup, those who are confident possess a strong self-belief in their ability to achieve their goals. They can quickly recognize opportunities that will result in positive outcomes and act accordingly. Confident people can also convince others of their ability to achieve anything.
It’s easy to see why confidence is an essential quality that all entrepreneurs should possess. If you don’t believe in yourself, it will be difficult to convince potential partners, lenders, colleagues, or customers to believe in you, your business, or your ideas. Fortunately, there are many ways you can boost your confidence.
Another essential quality of entrepreneurs is independence. Unless you are fortunate enough to find another person who shares your business vision, there is a good chance that you will have to start your
business on your own.
Based on Gallup’s research, independence is the quality that gives entrepreneurs the energy and motivation needed to get things off the ground. They enjoy multi-tasking and keeping track of all moving parts until its time to bring in partners. Personality traits like high conscientiousness and low neuroticism play an important role in ensuring an independent entrepreneur’s success at the start of their business venture.
Are you comfortable when dealing with uncertainty? Do you approach challenges analytically over emotionally? If so, you have the kind of comfort with the risk that suits entrepreneurship. Gallup’s definition of a person talented with risk is one who welcomes challenges as opposed to one who shies away from them.
In the words of Robert Kiyosaki, entrepreneur, and bestselling financial author, “Everyone can tell you the risk. An entrepreneur can see the reward.” That’s the difference between a successful entrepreneur and everyone else – they know how to calculate the risk and know the profitability of the venture.
Part III: Acquired skills of an entrepreneur
What is the difference between a quality and a skill? A quality is something that you are typically born with, similar to your personality traits. A skill is something that you develop throughout your education and career.
Those who are highly skilled have a combination of experience with strong personality traits and natural qualities. An extroverted individual with a high level of confidence, for example, may be better at developing business relationships and making sales than someone who is introverted with a low level of confidence. Of course, an introvert that is smart and highly skilled at delegation will be able to hire strong business relationship managers and sales representatives to handle those responsibilities.
The following are essential acquired skills that every entrepreneur needs for a successful business venture.
Although you may start out on your own, most successful entrepreneurs eventually have help. It’s important to focus on what you do best, and eventually move towards a system where you trust and empower others to help build your business through delegation.
Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, advises entrepreneurs when it comes to delegating vs DIY, “As your business grows, seek out people who understand your ideas, want to build on them and can envision ways to make improvements in your business. As your responsibilities increase, delegating those that others can do better will free you to plan for the future and find new ways to develop your company.”
Jim Rohn, an American entrepreneur, and author believed that a “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” Gallup agrees, listing knowledge as an important talent of entrepreneurs. In particular, those who realize that information is an asset in building a business will likely succeed.
As an entrepreneur, it’s important to know what you know and what you don’t. It’s important to always want to learn more about your
industry and your market. It’s critical to stay on top of the trends or to employ people who will inform you of what you need to know about them.
How sharp are your business instincts? If you can understand the language of profitability, you will be successful in entrepreneurship. Those who understand profitability can analyze anything in relation to the effect it will have on their business’s profit.
Relationships, investments, opportunities – anything that comes along the way has the potential to have a positive or negative effect on your business’s bottom line. If you can identify the ones that will be positive and act accordingly, then you will be able to continuously grow your business.
A crucial concept that you will need a thorough understanding of when it comes to profitability is ROI – return on investment. When you start looking at everything based on its cost and the potential return in relation to the cost, you will start seeing the profitability of each decision you make – new hires, new marketing campaigns, new products, new store expansions, and so forth.
Everything in business is about selling. As it’s defined by Gallup, someone with selling talent is able to speak clearly and persuasively about their company. They are great communicators that can deliver their brand’s message with clarity, ensuring that everyone understands the value of the business and its products or services.
When do you need to be effective at selling as an entrepreneur? From the moment you start writing your business plan for potential partners and investors, you will need to distinctly articulate your business’s vision and goals. You will need to create a narrative that gets business plan readers excited about your business – excited enough to make an investment.
The one thing that all entrepreneurs have that can’t be found in their DNA or measured by an assessment is passion.
If you can find something you are passionate about creating for a target market, it will bring out the best in you. Let your passion motivate you to develop your talents to become the entrepreneur you need to be, connect with the people you need to fill in any gaps, and make your startup a success.