3 Traits of Insanely Successful Entrepreneurs



While advising entrepreneurs over the past six years, I observed distinct patterns amongst insanely successful entrepreneurs. I observed that those who experienced the most dramatic trials and tribulations in their formative years, were the best suited for managing chaos as CEOs. How can this be?

It is logical that a lifestyle of self-parenting, living with less and dealing with severe disappointment would yield an adult who is able to handle the, often difficult, role of building a company.

Below are the most common traits I observed:


If you were often required to prepare your own meals, organize your own activities or wash your own clothing, you were preparing yourself to become an entrepreneur.

When building a company, we are often attempting to do much with very little. We may start with a co-founder and a few employees, but we are most definitely running with a deficit in our skill set. This requires us to be able to figure out things on our own and wear multiple hats.

I often see this trait in entrepreneurs who craft brilliant, inexpensive customer acquisition campaigns by cold calling, asking for favors and networking their way in front of their target audience. They don’t need $100,000 for a CMO. They have a million dollar attitude. Simply put, they get it done with minimal resources.

Intellectual Curiosity

If you were raised in sub par conditions, chances are that your education did not come via expensive boarding schools and private tutors. If you had to trek 5 miles to the public library to enrich your mind, you were preparing yourself to become an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs who are innovating new technology or products will not have all the information they need at their fingertips. They will need to be comfortable aggressively seeking information. If education is the key to prosperity, a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity is the fuel needed to prosper.

I often see this trait in entrepreneurs who are able to extract knowledge through self-constructed data. If the information they need does not exist, they create it.


If you were forced to overcome difficult situations in your formative years, and emerged stronger, you were preparing yourself to become an entrepreneur.

As entrepreneurs we need to be well equipped to handle the ups and down and uncertainty of building a company. We need to remain calm during difficult times and trust that we will find the answer.

I often see this trait in entrepreneurs who have been trumped by a competitor, yet fail to see it as the end of the road. In Only the Paranoid Survive, Andy Grove eloquently calls Intel’s failures an inflection point. Of course, it is easy to be optimistic when you have already won some heavy battles at an early age. By the age of 20, Andy Grove overcame a near fatal encounter with scarlet fever, escaped a concentration camp and fled a Communist regime.

The most common traits of an insanely successful entrepreneur can be summed up in two words: battle tested.

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” -Steve Jobs

Did I miss a trait? Let me know what traits you’ve observed in insanely successful entrepreneurs.

This post originally appeared on Atelier Advisors. Lili Balfour is the founder and CEO of the SoMa-based financial advisory firm, Atelier Advisors, creator of Lean Finance for Startups and Finance Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs. All AlleyWatch readers are automatically eligible for a 50% discount on either of the courses using the preceding links.

About the author: Lili Balfour

Lili Balfour is the founder and CEO of the SoMa-based financial advisory firm, Atelier Advisors, creator and host of Finance for Entrepreneurs, author of Master the Finance Game, and host of the Finance for Entrepreneurs broadcast on Spreecast.

After spending fifteen years in investment management and investment banking, she decided to develop a firm to cater to the specific needs of early-stage companies. At Atelier Advisors, Lili advises leading brands across industries: from tech to consumer goods. In the past, she has advised over 100 brands, including:

Bag, Borrow, or Steal, Visual IQ, Alpha Theory, Derivix, Practice Fusion, Peeled Snacks, Sustainable Minds, Firescope, Chix 6, Duchess Marden, Erin Fetherston, Eckart Tolle, and Stuart Skorman (founder of Reel.com, Elephant Pharmacy, Hungry Minds, and Clerk Dogs (sold to Netflix)).

While advising companies at Atelier Advisors, she observed a common theme – -brilliant founders avoided finance. She began writing about entrepreneurial finance to solve this problem.

As a native of Silicon Valley and a first generation Mexican American, Lili understands the importance of imparting wisdom learned in Silicon Valley to the rest of the world. Her goal is to teach the entire planet about entrepreneurial finance.

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