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Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

10 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs

It started as a comment at the bottom of my 10 signs you’re probably an entrepreneur post on this blog, a few days ago. What are the traits of successful entrepreneurs?

I was quoting a Twitter friend, Andrew Patricio. I hope you saw that list. I identified easily. But I can’t help thinking about that comment left by Robert Hacker:

Next post should be a list of the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs ūüôā If you do not write it I will.

That’s quite a challenge. What, besides the obvious, do successful entrepreneurs have in common? I know I’m not sure. But at least I can get the idea started. Maybe you can help. What am I missing?

  1. There’s a lot of talk about P-words: passion, perseverance, and persistence. I mistrust all three. A lot of unsuccessful entrepreneurs have them just as much. You have to have some variation on these traits, but you can have all three and still fail. You and I both know people who never made it and never stopped trying. My favorite P-word in entrepreneurship is planning, but that’s just me. Stubbornness is good too, even without starting with P.
  2. I like empathy, as in understanding how other people think and feel about things. Empathy leads to understanding what the people you sell to want, what they need, how they think, and how to best reach them. It’s hard to imagine somebody building a company without being able to put themselves in the buyer’s state of mind.
  3. A sense of fairness. For dealing with vendors, customers, and employees.
  4. Transferable values. This is closely related to the sense of fairness. I just don’t see people building businesses without believing in what they’re doing.
  5. Willingness to work hard, shoulder to shoulder with other people. Cliche, but true: the harder I work, the luckier I get.
  6. Knowing what they don’t know. To me that’s much more important than what you do know.
  7. Listening carefully. Shutting up.
  8. Vision for what they can build. Imagining a happy future. Dreaming.
  9. Making mistakes. You have to deal with failure. Keep pitching.
  10. Jumping viewpoints, like from short- to long-term in an instant, mixing those viewpoints together. That’s like dribbling, keeping your eyes up while managing the ball at your feet.

So there’s 10. Everybody likes lists of 10. Go ahead. Add some more. Make my day.

39 responses to “10 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs”

  1. Greg Berman says:

    This is really a nice post related to traits of successful entrepreneurs. Yes, only this types of characters such as willingness to work hard, dealing with mistakes, unique vision can only lead to becoming an entrepreneur.

  2. It was after World War II that ergonomics began to include not
    only productivity, but also the safety of the workers.
    What if there was an invention that caused gum to immediately dissolve once it leaves
    a person’s mouth after being chewed. They get a new product to market, and you get a check for every unit sold.

  3. Geoff R. says:

    It’s funny after weeks at looking at your website and your business plans I forgot I did a case study on Being an Entrepreneur a few years ago. After, reading my case study it appears that it’s consistent with Mr. Tim Berry, so it makes me feel good that I’m on the right track for success. If you read this Mr. Berry, can you tell me what you think of my article? Thank you. http://liveitjacksonville.com/2012/12/26/it-takes-a-special-person-to-become-an-entrepreneur-do-you-have-what-it-takes/

  4. mcx tips says:

    Just follow one rule and become successful businessman — is that — always looking for opportunities online searching is the best idea for giving your life a BOOM …

  5. Bluebird3245 says:

    Hello, WHAT ABOUT ENTHUSIASM!!! Don’t you remember, based on how old you look(no offense) Henry Ford? He wrote a poem about enthusiasm! Enthusiasm is the sparkle of your eyes, the grip of your hand, the swing of your gait. Enthusiasm is verrrrrrrrrrrrry important.

  6. GOODLUCK says:

    For me besides all characteristics i believe an entrepreneur is also prayerful to his/her GOD.Yes it is evident even though h/she is heard praying or not but being prayerful is one of the characteristics of any entrepreneur

  7. mussa says:

    Entrepreneurs when they start business think the success and their success is not seen by them selves since they think to have more after the previous success reached.

  8. Dimonte Ogletree says:

    This is me all the way. This my future

  9. Stephanie King says:

    I think confidence is the first trait I would add. I mostly apply this to having a versatile strategy and a willingness to play the game with people. An example would be not revealing information, only to be questioned for obvious reasons and then creating the illusion that you were able to come up with an answer with little to no effort. It takes confidence to prepare timing that convinces people you have the P’s.

  10. Hey Tim,

    I just wanted to say I enjoyed this quick article. as an aspiring entreprenuer, I hope that I possess the qualities that you and Robert, the first commenter as mentioned. I particularly like 2, 4, and 8.

    Regarding number eight, I think vision is important, however, it is the constraints of vision that are more important. By this, I simply mean the ability to take down the concrete walls that society ingrains into each of us. You have to break the walls down and look from outside the box for a true vision to develop. I’d be interested in discussing further. Email me at jkondik@kent.edu or check my Linkedin

  11. An entrepreneur is a person who performs the dual function of risk taking and control.He must be hard working,quick thinker, have willingness to work.Over all he must possess all the qualities such that he can foresee future and plan accordingly.

  12. Ben Baldwin says:

    These are great points, Tim. We do a lot of work with businesses and entrepreneurs, helping them to select the right people for their cultures; so do a lot of research on this topic.

    One of the best articles I’ve seen is from Paul Graham (Y-Combinator), back in 2009, on being “relentlessly resourceful”: http://www.paulgraham.com/relres.html. We’ve found this to be very true.

    Airbnb became one of his most successful progenies, demonstrating this attribute in spades as they created their Obama O’s cereal to raise money for their company. Here’s a link to their cereal: http://www.airbnb.com/obamaos.

  13. Starbase says:

    I’m here trying to figure out what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the less successful ones. Mark Merenda described an entrepreneur “someone who will jump out of an airplane, figuring he will build a parachute on the way down.” — I’ve met several of this type. It’s hard to build stuff when your moving that fast.

    My favorite point above was yours and Robert Hacker’s about empathy, inspiring people with their egos rather than putting people off… and that a good entrepreneur has an understanding of what people actually want or need.

  14. For myself I tend to dislike the properties that are descriptors of successful people. I believe it is possible to classify success, but such a classification is of very little use to anyone who strives to succeed. There is a causality to the list and comments above. You won’t succeed by getting yourself a huge ego; but success tends to inflate the ego.

    For me, the list is shorter: Dream. Work. Never stop.

  15. […] lists of traits of the entrepreneur, and I’m guilty of producing several (including my own top 10 list, which is the most popular post on this […]

  16. Claude Blackburn says:

    I enjoyed reading all your comments above. I started three businesses and my last one grew to 200 employees, and 70% American market share. I agree that a person can replace a big ego with a big vision. In fact I think that a big ego can really get in the way of success. My ten words include vision, integrity, leadership, committment, planner, character, perseverance, listening, and empowering and focus.

  17. Angel says:

    wow this has been amazing ly insightful even if i am a 13 year old in FBLA

  18. best mcx tips says:

    Hey Tim, I definitely agree, without passion for your work,
    it’s work. When we love what we do it’s fun and exciting, and we
    can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning to begin. That’s a far
    cry from having a J.O.B. (just over broke….). Thanks for this
    series, you’ve really hit the nail on the head here!
    http://www.maxcommodity.com/best-mcx-tips/

  19. Tim Berry says:

    TracyTC, thanks, and wow, I didn’t realize, but you’re right … it’s just a few weeks less than two years. And I’m as big on #9 now as I was then.

  20. TracyTC says:

    What timeless epiphanies, Tim! I’m enjoying your post as I read it two years after you wrote it. My favorite (or at least one would think it’s my favorite based on my history) is #9. Thank you for the follow on second sentence. That’s an important reminder. =-)

  21. […] in Entrepreneurship,Reflections TweetIt’s almost two years now since I had a go at listing traits of entrepreneurs. It started with somebody else’s 10 signs you’re probably an entrepreneur list and then I came up with my own list, a few days later, 10 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs. […]

  22. Danno says:

    Dori from “Finding Nemo” said it best:

    “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

    I like Tim’s stubborness idea. So many of our closest family members and friends doubt us, warning us of failure, predicting our doom. My stubborness helps me focus and keep swimming when I get bombarded by miserable people’s negativity.

  23. Gresh says:

    Hello,

    I recently wrote my thesis on sports entrepreneurship. After interviewing and researching a bunch of entrepreneurs, I developed a list of traits that I believed were evident in entrepreneurs in the sports industry–and also apply to “non-sports entrepreneurs”. I posted the list in my blog and would love to hear what you think: http://tiny.cc/hf9li

    Thanks

    @proGRESHion

  24. […] Several articles have been written on characteristics of an entrepreneur i.e what sets them apart from plebeians. While I admire such characteristics immensely and laud them for having¬†the¬†chutzpah, one should accept that these characteristics are not always pleasing to your nerves. As the famous¬†playwright Natalie Barney said, ‚ÄúEntrepreneurship is the refuge of a trouble making individual‚ÄĚ. […]

  25. Lav says:

    I think the above list is great, but one thing I have found after a year in business is the need to be flexible and adapt to new situations as needed. When we first started our business (and did some heavy planning), we had no idea that we would end up in a completely different industry one short year down the line. The reason we changed is that it simply made more economic sense and the deals were a lot more profitable.

    I think the business plan should really serve as a guideline, and should not be considered as “set in stone”. Because if we would have carried on according to it, I find it highly unlikely that we would profitable right now. A great book which discusses this idea in more detail is ReWork by Jason Fried and David Hansson. http://www.amazon.com/Rework-Jason-Fried/dp/0307463745. Definitely worth reading as it turns some traditional business concepts upside down!

  26. […] lists of entrepreneurial traits are fun — I posted a list of my own here and another here and a third here on this blog. But don’t take them […]

  27. I found this blog post by searching entrepreneurial stubbornness on Google as I believe I have those qualities and more. Thanks for your above insights, I agree with all but I believe passion is a necessity with the ability to listen… now the next challenge is who to listen too. As some or most people will not have the vision you have.

    My greatest challenge was securing the right partners and financing. My next challenge was public speaking, being able to properly communicate my product/service to a crowd in a short time, leaving the audience wanting more and more. Now this goes back to your planning point with the addition of execution and timing.

    Cheers to all the entrepreneurs…

  28. Mark Merenda says:

    George’s comment is on point. I think the key qualities in a successful entrepreneur are boldness/courage/audacity and a proclivity for action. Definition of an entrepreneur: someone who will jump out of an airplane, figuring he will build a parachute on the way down.

  29. Carol G says:

    Very nice post and brilliant comments. This resonates: Stubbornness.
    And sorry, but here is another “P” word: Pride. Pride of ownership, whether it be owning the business, owning the ideas, owning the work that went into development of the relationships. And pride in the methods used such as honest work & honest business dealings.
    I also really like this text, “like dribbling, keeping your eyes up while managing the ball at your feet”, though I usually think of dancing.
    Roger: Reading this, “Great entrepreneurs have oversized egos”, I think of charisma or “mojo”. The spirit is not only alive in the entrepreneur, but is also broadcast to others.

  30. George says:

    It takes “guts” to venture outside your comfort zone – everyone would be successful if it was easy – developing a mindset of accepting problems and obstacles as challenges to be overcome is useful.
    Having a dream or a goal you see so clearly as worthwhile and achievable you would be ashamed if you didn’t pursue it.
    There is a blindspot in many entrepeneurs when it comes to recognizing what others may identify as “risk” – maybe having a long term vision obliterates it.
    Not being afraid of making mistakes – sometimes they clarify the situation and sometimes present new pathways.
    Not being easily satisfied – every success is a new vantage point with possibilities previously beyond your vision and/or your imagination.
    Don’t procrastinate – get today’s work done today!
    Keep moving – there is much to accomplish!
    If you don’t do everything you can to achieve a goal you see so clearly – who will?

  31. Earl Porterfield says:

    I think Robert Hacker’s 3rd thought is worth repeating:

    3. Great entrepreneurs have over-sized egos but they inspire people rather than turn them off. Empathy is a key here.

    “Empathy is key here.”

  32. Zig Ziglar often points out that the key to success in life and business is The Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would want them to do to you”
    Another way of saying it is, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” This is a great perspective to use when considering how to approach client relationships.

  33. tpmcneal says:

    This is my first time here but I would like to define an entrepreneur as someone who isn't happy with the current offering or status of something and feels that there is a better way to do it, build it, bring it and aren't afraid to step out and get it done. I didn't use the word success because I think there are many great entrepreneurs who weren't successful but their thinking and challenging of what hasn't yet become has led others to what we in society would call 'successful'.

  34. Rob Ianelli says:

    I agree with the above comment (Jared O'toole). It's clear that not every entrepreneur goes into a business "knowing" everything they will need. The truth is that "you can never go at anything alone" and expect the same results, if anything in the time you wish. I know nothing about CAD designing, but I have jumped head first into product development. Despite the common usage of all those "P's" I still really think the most important ones are "Passion & People". My passion has led me to seek out People who know more than I do, and through that, success is that much closer.

  35. Passion would be my most important word from the 1st point.

    "Knowing what they don't know"! It's not said enough. You have to understand your weaknesses and either fix them or find people to help with them. When you start a business you may not be able to hire people to fill the gaps so you might have to adjust your business model at 1st or focus on what you do best.

    I know nothing about web design so I can't produce a website that looks and feels the way I want. So I focus on getting the functionality of the site, pumping out great content (what I do best) and if the idea starts to move I can hire someone down the road to fix the site up.

  36. Passion would be my most important word from the 1st point.

    "Knowing what they don't know"! It's not said enough. You have to understand your weaknesses and either fix them or find people to help with them. When you start a business you may not be able to hire people to fill the gaps so you might have to adjust your business model at 1st or focus on what you do best.

    I know nothing about web design so I can't produce a website that looks and feels the way I want. So I focus on getting the functionality of the site, pumping out great content (what I do best) and if the idea starts to move I can hire someone down the road to fix the site up.

  37. Passion would be my most important word from the 1st point.

    "Knowing what they don't know"! It's not said enough. You have to understand your weaknesses and either fix them or find people to help with them. When you start a business you may not be able to hire people to fill the gaps so you might have to adjust your business model at 1st or focus on what you do best.

    I know nothing about web design so I can't produce a website that looks and feels the way I want. So I focus on getting the functionality of the site, pumping out great content (what I do best) and if the idea starts to move I can hire someone down the road to fix the site up.

  38. Passion would be my most important word from the 1st point.

    "Knowing what they don't know"! It's not said enough. You have to understand your weaknesses and either fix them or find people to help with them. When you start a business you may not be able to hire people to fill the gaps so you might have to adjust your business model at 1st or focus on what you do best.

    I know nothing about web design so I can't produce a website that looks and feels the way I want. So I focus on getting the functionality of the site, pumping out great content (what I do best) and if the idea starts to move I can hire someone down the road to fix the site up.

  39. Passion would be my most important word from the 1st point.

    "Knowing what they don't know"! It's not said enough. You have to understand your weaknesses and either fix them or find people to help with them. When you start a business you may not be able to hire people to fill the gaps so you might have to adjust your business model at 1st or focus on what you do best.

    I know nothing about web design so I can't produce a website that looks and feels the way I want. So I focus on getting the functionality of the site, pumping out great content (what I do best) and if the idea starts to move I can hire someone down the road to fix the site up.

  40. Gopal says:

    All great points. To me anyone who dreams big and works incredibly hard and smart while displaying strong leadership qualities is an entrepreneur. People sometimes wrongly label such individuals as selfish or lusting for power/money but more often than not they are simply misunderstood.

    This world was built by visionaries who persevered despite great adversity and took many others to the top right along with them. This is team work and every team needs a leader. Entrepreneurs are trail blazers who ultimately strive for freedom. Onwards and upwards!

  41. Dan says:

    I think another trait is understanding both that you have to pay for things, but also that you shouldn't pay for everything.

    A perfect example is PR – something that could be huge for an entrepreneurial business if they get a good story. But entrepreneurs have either refused to pay for publicists, or retained worthless publicists who don't generate them much (but they still have to pay the retainer). This is the perfect example of the type of entrepreneurial issue that you can solve through the rise of web services. Like, PublicityGuaranteed.com only charges when the articles get placed.

    And it's not just PR, there are a lot of tools that are pay-for-performance like that which are great for entrepreneurs.

    So, the entrepreneur needs to be able to take a risk sometimes, but not to waste money. It's a classic trait of a successful entrepreneur.

  42. Tim Berry says:

    Thanks Robert, and thanks for the initial challenge too. All 3 of your points belong on this list for sure; although the third one troubles me. I think sometimes the vision — you call it large vision — can push to make up for a just-normal-size ego. Maybe. Tim

  43. Given that I may have started this post, let me supplement your list with three thoughts.

    1. Great entrepreneurs that build billion dollar companies pursue large visions with little concern for the effect on their net worth. It's all about achieving their vision.

    2. Great entrepreneurs are very analytical when it comes to the key growth drivers. Maybe not universally analytical but where it counts. (May just be your planning point restated.)

    3. Great entrepreneurs have oversized egos but they inspire people rather than turn them off. Empathy is a key here.

    In summary, I like your post. Well done.

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