As a small business and startup advisor, I find that entrepreneurs often love to talk about their latest idea, but not their execution. Like most investors, I am convinced that success in business is more about the plan and the person than the idea. It is great to be a visionary and a thinker, but a business that generates real world change and wealth requires people who get things done.
For example, Elon Musk is recognized as a visionary entrepreneur, but his fortune and his impact has come from the great companies he has built, including SpaceX, Tesla Motors and PayPal. He seems to have a knack for surrounding himself with people, who can complement his skills, follow his model of an intense work ethic and together provide consistently outstanding results.
The challenge is to recognize the people with the right traits to get results, and to train yourself to work on the right things. We all know people in business who are constantly busy, but never seem to get anything done. I believe the right attributes and habits can be recognized and learned, and here are 7 key ones that I find in successful entrepreneurs:
1. Actively recruits others and solicits win-win relationships. The best entrepreneurs know what they do not know, are not afraid to ask for business help and always offer something in return. Some people pretend to have answers for everything, and are only looking for followers, rather than partners. Positive relationship building is always a plus.
2. Asks hard questions, and actively listens to critical feedback. Dodging the tough issues, and surrounding yourself with “yes” people is not conducive to a successful new business venture. Investors look for entrepreneurs who surround themselves with a smart and experienced team, and use the power of the team to convert the idea to a business.
3. Sets goals and milestones, with metrics to track progress. Good implementers document and communicate long-term goals, and translate them into daily action items. They define metrics for each goal, and diligently track themselves against these metrics. Ideas cannot be tracked, and tend to only morph into other ideas as time passes.
4. Publicly reward team members for business results. Affirming and rewarding team members for key actions creates more momentum, commitment and satisfaction. This gets more done by others, and keeps the focus on results. Reward yourself for results with time away from work, or special events with your family. Investors like happy teams.
5. Focus all initiatives around value to your customers. A business must be all about listening to customers, delivering value and customer satisfaction. I still hear too much focus on disruptive technologies, making more money and working less. Execute processes and metrics around customer requirements, loyalty, satisfaction and service.
6. Tie executive titles and organizations to business roles. You will not impress investors in a startup with titles like “Chief Inspiration Officer” or “Chief Thinker.” Results-oriented entrepreneurs limit status titles to traditional business results roles, including finance, operations, customer satisfaction and business development.
7. Founder and key partners are role models for results. Team members follow the model of the people they look up to. If key leaders do not keep personal commitments, promote top performers and reward results; the rest of the team will change their focus accordingly. Investors recognize volatile personalities and large egos as high risk.
I find that we all have biases that can trick us into picking the wrong people, or discrediting feedback on our ideas and business plans. The best entrepreneurs work hard to overcome these biases, and actively seek insights, which may refute their basic assumptions. They are willing to learn and change based on results and new input. Idea people are often more fixed in their view.
Thus, if you hear yourself or someone else expounding too often at the idea level on something that will change the world, it may be time change the focus to business traction achieved so far. Even if you are not looking for an outside investor, it helps to think like one in validating that you are investing your own time and effort for maximum impact. Do not be too busy to get the right things done.
Image credit: CC by Steve Jurvetson