You’ve read a million times what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur: intelligence, vision, drive, perseverance, and a strong work ethic.
But while these are most often repeated entrepreneurial traits, they aren’t the only ones. Through my research I’ve come to find that there are other more surprising characteristics that most all entrepreneurs share.
Over the course of the last year, I’ve profiled ten of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time – visionaries like Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs. I’ve also edited Income Diary’s book of interviews with 20 of today’s most successful online entrepreneurs.
I’ve noticed some striking patterns in their habits and characteristics that you may not guess. Keep reading if you want to discover these traits and cultivate them in yourself.
#1 Entrepreneurs are Down to Earth
What happens when someone wins the lottery? Usually, they gain a sports car, a yacht, and a few diamond rings… and completely lose their grip on reality. Sudden wealth has a way of putting people out of touch with what really matters.
Successful entrepreneurs are often the benefactors of sudden wealth, yet they’re much better at keeping their perspective. They tend to stay down-to-earth even after their bank account goes sky-high.
Take for example two of the world’s youngest billionaires, Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz of Facebook. Zuckerberg bought his first home last year for just $7 million dollars. Moskovitz still rides his bicycle to work.
Why are entrepreneurs so down to earth? Maybe it’s because most of them learned to live on practically nothing while they worked night and day to turn their first profit.
#2 Entrepreneurs are Naïve
Some people think that naivety is just another word for ignorance. Actually, it means a lack of experience, judgment, and worldliness. Naivety can lead us astray – into believing fairy tales are true and that we’ll be able to fly if we just jump off the roof and flap our arms – but it’s also a source of wonder and optimism.
This is why naivety is so important for entrepreneurs. Wonder is required to come up with a brilliant new idea. Optimism is required to believe you’ll actually be able to bring it into reality.
“Every true genius is bound to be naive.”
The entrepreneurs we interviewed for Web 20 all admitted to being a little bit naïve when they first started. They founded their businesses without realistic expectations – and most of those businesses failed as a result. One still has a box of custom t-shirts collecting dust in his attic.
But if they hadn’t been so naïve – had they known the complexities, the challenges, and the obstacles when they first came up with their idea – then they never would have started down the entrepreneurial journey at all.
#3 Entrepreneurs are Lucky
When I researched the life of Bill Gates, I was a struck by how lucky he was as a kid. In 1968, Gates’ middle school invested $3,000 in a state of the art computer. At that time, most universities didn’t even have a computer available to students. The chance of getting to learn how to program as 13-year-old in 1968 was about one-in-a-million.
“I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity.”
The truth is that everyone who’s successful has gotten lucky at some point along the way. But while there’s such a thing as dumb luck, most of the time people make their own luck. By consistently putting themselves in the right situations, successful entrepreneurs make themselves luckier than the average person.
#4 Entrepreneurs are Masters of Nothing
With a fully grown business, there are several employees and each one plays a different role. With a startup there are just as many roles to fill, but usually only one or two people to fill them.
This means that most entrepreneurs need to have a diverse skillset just to bring their vision into reality. They can’t merely be good managers; they must also be good marketers, salespeople, and copywriters. It helps if they’re good programmers, graphic designers, and web developers too.
But when you’re good at so many things, it’s very difficult to be great at any of them. To master a skill requires that you invest hours into its practice daily. For this reason, most entrepreneurs are “jacks of all trades, masters of none.”
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As your business grows, you can begin to hire masters of their trade to fill certain roles. In the meantime, you’ll have an easier time getting off the ground if you a have a well-rounded skillset.
#5 Entrepreneur are Compassionate
Fair or not, there’s a stereotype that businesspeople are heartless. It’s easy to imagine a fat-cat CEO, sitting at his desk with a cigar in his mouth, and greedily cutting costs to boost profits.
But there’s a reason the same stereotype doesn’t exist for entrepreneurs. In order to found a business and help it grow, you truly need to care about more than profits. Successful entrepreneurs genuinely care about their products, their employees, and their customers.
One great example of compassionate entrepreneur is Richard Branson. He’s been known to write his employees personal letters to let them know he cares. Branson’s big heart has also spurred him to join the fight against on AIDS, nuclear weapons, and climate change – pledging billions of his own wealth.
“Never has there been a more exciting time for all of us to explore this next great frontier where the boundaries between work and higher purpose are merging into one, where doing good really is good for business.”
Richard Branson, from ‘Screw Business as Usual’
#6 Entrepreneurs are Different
When Steve Jobs took over as CEO of Apple in 1997, he commissioned a new slogan for the company: “Think Different.”
This attitude inspired the colorful, pod-shaped iMac — a very different product that signaled Apple’s resurgence and cleared the path for future innovations such as the iPod, iPad, and iPhone.
But for Jobs, being different had been a way of life long before it was Apple’s slogan. While other little boys were playing baseball in the backyard, young Steve was in the garage tinkering with the circuit boards of old radios and televisions. While other young adults were in college, he was traveling to India and living on an apple orchard.
So Jobs was different, but compared to some other famous entrepreneurs his eccentricities are tame. Think of the reclusive habits of business magnate Howard Hughes or Mark Zuckerberg’s commitment to only eating meat from animals that he personally killed.
Entrepreneurs are people who embrace their differentness, accentuate it and explore it. In a 1994 interview with PBS, Steve Jobs explained why a willingness to think and be different is so important:
“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much.
That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”
What do you think is the most important trait in an entrepreneur? Are there any important ones that I missed? Let me know in the comment section below.