Characteristics of a winning entrepreneur

Luke Johnson has a good column in the FT today (reproduced here on Luke’s website) in which he talks about the importance of entrepreneurs to the economy and hence how we would all be better off as a society we were better able to identify the good ones.  He looks at some of the academic approaches to this subject over the years before offering his own thoughts on the subject, which is where it gets interesting. 

Firstly, entrepreneurs are all different:

By their nature, entrepreneurs are rule-breakers who do not conform to sets of rules about their traits and what inspires them …. [and] The sheer breadth of personalities who ascend to the summit shows that there is no single gene for success.

But Luke does hold one firm view about entrepreneurs:

strengths are more important than weaknesses. If you have one or two remarkable talents, they may carry you to the top in spite of many shortcomings. So, if you are a wonderful salesman, or a brilliant inventor, or a phenomenal picker of people – it might be enough, even if you are a poor general manager

Two good points.  I particularly like the second one – startups need to do something exceptional to succeed, and that means they need exceptional talents, more than they need individuals without weaknesses.  That said, at the company level there obviously can’t be any critical weaknesses, which means that talented but flawed individuals need to understand their shortcomings and allow other team members to compensate.

I would go a little further than Luke, saying that passion, commitment, and intelligence (as much EQ as IQ) are also present in the vast bulk of entrepreneurs that go on to be winners.

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  • I feel that you need all of those three attributes (passion, commitment and intelligence) if you want to be a wonderful salesman, brilliant investor or phenomenal picker of people. Of course the strenght of the attributes in you can vary a lot, but you need them all to be special.

  • Hmm, not so sure about that Olli. I've known great sales people who were chancers and lacked commitment, and at the venture end of investing passion is probably essential for success, but not elsewhere in financial services.

  • Perhaps you are right. Could generalize then that you need 2/3 to make something happen. Though, I'd still argue that the salesman who lacked commitment to the project/product obviously, were perhaps committed to some lifetime goal or committed to achieve some economic incentive. Gets rather philosophical form already.

    Sorry about the typo with -investor +inventor

  • Hi Nic,

    Nice article. Loved the 'entrepreneurs are not typically well-rounded human beings' in Johnson's piece. How true. There's a deal of irrationality in entrepreneurship or any creative endeavour that slips rational interpretation.


    (apols if you got this twice, Disqus seemed to delete first attempt)

  • Thanks James. Nice point – maybe we should add irrationality to the list 🙂

    I only got the comment once. Sorry for the Disqus screw up.

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