What makes the difference between an entrepreneur who successfully launches and grows their startup, and one who doesn’t?
It’s a question we often get asked by journalists and aspiring business founders. When it comes to running a business, the best-laid plans and strategies won’t win the day if the person in charge lacks the essential qualities to execute them well.
At Crowdcube, which I co-founded to help democratise investment, we come into contact with hundreds of business owners every year. We’ve recognised some consistent traits and qualities that are shared by those who’ve gone on to build strong, profitable and inspirational companies.
1. They’re on to something unique
Successful entrepreneurs have identified a gap no-one else has seen, a problem no-one knows how to address or an opportunity no-one has the gumption to go for.
Their minds work in ways that other people’s don’t; as a result, hey might be considered as somewhat eccentric or quixotic, but it’s exactly this creativity, bravery and wildness that enables them to change the status quo.
2. They are rooted in a powerful purpose
The individuals that turn their crazy idea into a profitable reality are those who sharpen it into a clear, solid purpose built on a desire to improve the world in some way.
Ben Pugh of Crowdcube-funded business Farmdrop, for example, left his job as a stockbroker to pursue his mission to ‘fix’ the UK’s industrialised food supply chain by bringing independent producers and customers closer together. Since raising £749,000 on our platform in 2014, he’s grown Farmdrop’s customer base by 230% and attracted a £3m investment which was led by tech investment firm Atomico.
3. They’re like a dog with a bone
Building a profitable business requires persistence. An entrepreneur has to keep their original vision and purpose firmly in focus from day one, putting them at the centre of everything they do. They need a thick skin and the tenacity to keep knocking on the same doors until they get the answer they need – whether that’s a ‘yes’ from an investor or the major order that will put them into the black for the first time.
However, persistence doesn’t mean sticking to your guns and ploughing forward come what may – entrepreneurs do need to be willing to adapt when necessary.
4. They listen to those around them
Strong leaders seek guidance and support from their co-founders, the expert team they’ve hired and their wider network. They’re willing to flex their goals and their strategies if someone has found a better way forward or points out that they’re heading down the wrong path.
They also allow themselves to be vulnerable sometimes – they ask for help with the stresses and strains of running a business, and admit when they’ve made a mistake or they’re unsure what to do next.
5. They think on their feet and learn on the job
Many of the founders we deal with have come from a role or an industry that’s different to the one in which they find themselves as an entrepreneur. Most are equipped with the transferable strategic and leadership skills that drive success in any field, but there’s usually something they have to start from square one with – so you can’t be afraid of being a beginner again or stretching outside your comfort zone.
Jane ni Dhulchaointigh, the founder of Sugru, was a sculptor when she had the idea for the mouldable ‘glue’ that now has more than a million users across the globe. She learned chemistry from scratch in order to develop the product, which took 5,000 experiments to get right.
6. They’re willing to fail
In the US, someone with a failed start-up on their CV will be hailed a hero for giving it a shot. Over here, there’s a stigma attached to it.
The founders we know who have succeeded the second time around have accepted and even embraced their past attempts. The standout first timers all accept that failure is a possibility and forge ahead anyway with the courage to take risks.
Nobody starts a business hoping for anything other than success – but if you don’t make mistakes or fail sometimes you’re not doing what it takes to challenge the status quo.