Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What Are The 2 Most Important Traits in An Entrepreneur?

I have been noodling on what I consider to be the two most important traits in an entrepreneur, based on the entrepreneurs I have worked with (or for) who have been most successful.  There are a number of traits I think can help a successful company 10X from where it would be without the trait - e.g. being a "visionary", galvanizing people around a vision, focus, emotional IQ, ethics etc.  All these things are important.  But they are not the real meat of the two traits that are necessary in a great entrepreneur.

The 2 Key Traits
If I had to chose only 2 starting traits in an entrepreneur that determine success disproportionately, I would chose:

  • Tenaciousness.  The sheer unwillingness to take no for an answer.  Getting things done.  Not giving up. Continuing to push when lesser beings would have given up.  Entrepreneurs are defined in part by when they quit, and many great entrepreneurs just keep pushing.
  • Raw capacity to learn.  Most entrepreneurs are in way over their heads.  They have a different job every month as the company scales, and they need to learn product, deals, people management, fundraising, corporate structures, legal issues, HR, PR, ...  The strongest entrepreneurs I have worked with take in multiple sources of information on a topic, synthesize the information and draw the conclusion that applies to their situation, and then drive that conclusion.

A Few X Per Additional Traits That Matter
I think there are a number of additional traits then help change the outcome/impact the entrepreneur would otherwise reach by a few X, but these traits don't mean much in the absence of tenacity and raw capacity to learn.  These are more icing on the cake then the cake itself.  These include innate product sense, ability to motivate others at scale, emotional intelligence, charisma (which I think can also be a big negative signal for success), etc. etc. (non-comprehensive list).  But if you have met a number of founders who have built truly huge companies, many of them lack a number of these characteristics.  All of them that I can think of have the top 2 traits.

Product Market Fit Vs Entrepreneurial Traits
Ultimately, I think product/market fit trumps everything else.  You could be the strongest entrepreneurial team on the planet, but a terrible market will do you in every time.  This goes both ways, as really strong product/market fit can make reasonably incompetent people look like geniuses.  The magic happens when a great team meets a great market (see e.g. Google, FB).

What do you think?  What are the top few traits that the very best entrepreneurs *MUST* have?

Thanks to Avichal Garg, the super talented founder/CEO from Spool for the IM conversation that spurred this post.

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