There are a few entrepreneurs who always seem to be ahead of the game, because they are able to sense where the market is going tomorrow. Investors reverently call this the ability to “see around the next technology corner,” and fight for a place in line to put their money down. Everyone wants to support the entrepreneur with the courage to make bold decisions, and can make it happen.
Elon Musk seems to be highest on this list these days, with his record-setting order rate on the new Tesla Model 3 all-electric car, not to mention his groundbreaking progress with SpaceX and SolarCity. Steve Jobs of Apple and Richard Branson of Virgin Group are other common examples. Most investors probably have one or two additional favorites, but the lists are always short.
So, what does one have to achieve to get on this list? No one expects an entrepreneur to be “always right,” and no one is looking for aspiring entrepreneurs that make random jumps into the unknown, based on a passion or a revelation. People do expect to see all the key attributes of an entrepreneur, and a few other traits like these:
- Dominating presence without the arrogance. These entrepreneurs are outspoken and opinionated, but not afraid to put their money where their mouth is. Steve Jobs never denied his failures, but didn’t hesitate to risk everything on the next turn of technology, whether it meant computers or consumer products. Jobs’ new product presentations were legendary.
- Exhibit almost superhuman energy and focus. According to various sources, Elon Musk has worked 100 hours a week for more than 15 years, and with incredible productivity. Richard Branson’s adventurer escapades are legendary, while at the same time founding over 400 companies. Steve Jobs’ focus on incredible design has set new standards for all.
- Good at business, but driven by making the world a better place. Too many founders that are driven by social causes forget that they have to make money to deliver results for their vision. Maintaining the balance between doing good and doing business is a key to success that investors and customers watch carefully.
- Build relationships with the best of the best in their domain. Lone scientists may uncover great technology, but a team is required to build a solution and a market. That team has to cover the range from top designers and savvy financial managers to good marketing and sales leaders. Leaders make a team greater than the sum of its parts.
- Push beyond the limits of known function and design. Only a few entrepreneurs have the intelligence and perseverance to not only envision, but also actually build solutions that defy conventional design and performance limitations. They have the ability and patience to communicate and awaken customers to a need never felt before.
- Enjoy continuous learning from “stretch” experiments. These entrepreneurs are self-learners, having long ago foregone the conventional learning vehicles of schools, consultants, and incremental improvements. They challenge themselves and their handpicked teams to “impossible” tasks such as reusable rockets or a computer in a wristwatch.
- Always on the offense in strategy rather than the defense. For most entrepreneurs, playing defense is the default, since it doesn’t require being proactive and it’s hard to consider killing a cash cow. Steve Jobs couldn’t wait to push out the Macintosh personal computer, even though the Apple IIe was still doing well.
The entrepreneurs who work at “seeing around the corner” are the ones who work 80 hours a week or more, just to avoid the 40-hour cliché. They don’t worry about getting it right the first time, or every time, because they relish the heightened learning they get from failure. They get their satisfaction from the journey, as well as the destination.
As a mentor and advisor to aspiring entrepreneurs, my advice is to hone your development of these extended attributes by first working in a challenging startup environment under the tutelage of a more experienced entrepreneur that you respect and trust. It helps to know the difference between a corner and a brick wall before you charge ahead.
Image credit: CC by Segagman