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Is Entrepreneurship Learned, or Wired Into Your DNA?


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The age old question is whether or not good entrepreneurs are born that way, or whether such entrepreneurial skillsets can be learned.  Let’s try tackling the answer to this question, by defining which skillsets make for a good entrepreneur, and whether or not they can be taught.

SMART INTELLECT

Not everyone is born an Albert Einstein.  Some people are naturally intelligent and have high IQ scores, while others struggle in this area (with a whole lot of people in between).  I am not saying you need to be genius, to be successful as an entrepreneur, as many geniuses are very book smart, but not street smart.  But, intelligence certainly goes a long way.  But, to be fair, people are not born intelligent; they are most-typically taught the information required to accumulate intelligence.  Score:  Learned 1 – Wired 0.

VISIONARY/ GOOD INSTINCTS

Anybody can be smart about the current status quo.  But, very few people can actually see “outside of the box” to imagine new and innovative ways of solving current world problems.  You typically cannot teach imagination.  You are either imaginative or you are not.  Score:  Learned 1 – Wired 1.

PASSION/ ENERGY/ EXCITEMENT

Nothing helps move a startup along like a good “fire in the belly”; especially, if that energy is focused around a product that an entrepreneur is passionate about.  That is why my past startup, iExplore, was successful, based upon my passion for adventure travel.  Passion is particularly important for exciting prospective employees, customers, partners and investors.  You either have passion and can instill excitement, or you do not.  Score:  Learned 1 – Wired 2.

PERSISTENCE/ DRIVE

Entrepreneurs need a “succeed despite the hurdles” mentality and drive.  Most startups have a lot of challenging periods in their growth, and if you are not persistent enough to “slog through the mud”, you are never going to succeed or survive.  Believe me, it would have been a lot easier for me to shut down iExplore in the wake of 9/11/01, and its impact on the travel industry.  But, then I wouldn’t have had the battle scars from a won war, and a successful exit for my investors.  You can’t teach persistence.  Score:  Learned 1 – Wired 3.

FEARLESS/ CALCULATED RISK TAKER

As far as I know, you can’t teach someone not to be scared, or not to boldly go where others have not gone before.  Yes, you can teach a person how to assess or minimize risks, but in my opinion, this category leans more on the side of wired.  Score:  Learned 1 – Wired 4.

GOOD COMMUNICATOR/ LISTENER/ SALESPERSON/ TEAM BUILDER/ MOTIVATOR

Entrepreneurs need to do a good job of communicating their vision, listening to input from others, selling through the vision to employees/partners/investors, building teams and motivating employees.  For the most part, many of these skills are basic business skills which can be taught (although I could have easily shared the vote here with wired given the intangibles required here).  Score:  Learned 2 – Wired 4.

DOMAIN EXPERIENCE IN INDUSTRY

The most successful entrepreneurs have had some exposure to their industry, typically from a previous work experience, where they had on-the-job training that prepared them for their big venture.  Score:  Learned 3 – Wired 4.

So, despite a valiant effort from “learned”, “wired” hangs on to win by a nose.  But, the overall point here is:  it really isn’t one or the other, as you really need both to maximize your odds for success, and a 7-0 shutout victory!!

This post should be read in combination with my “How VC’s Define a Backable Management Team” post, to not only see if you have the right skillsets for entrepreneurship, but to see if you will be perceived as fundable by investors (with access to capital being another one of the magic ingredients you may need over time).

This article was originally published on RedRocket VC, a consulting and financial advisory firm with expertise in serving the start-up, digital and venture community.

Image credit: CC by John Goode

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About the author: George Deeb

George Deeb is a managing partner at Red Rocket Ventures, a Chicago-based startup consulting and fundraising firm with expertise in advising Internet-related businesses. More of George’s startup lessons can be read at “101 Startup Lessons — An Entrepreneur’s Handbook.”

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