The examples of entrepreneurship you’ve read about so far suggest that people who strike out on their own are a different breed. Successful entrepreneurs are more likely to have had parents who were entrepreneurs. They also tend to possess unique personality traits. Researchers who study successful entrepreneurs report that they are more likely to be inquisitive, passionate, self-motivated, honest, courageous, flexible, intelligent, and reliable people.
Vision Entrepreneurs begin with a vision, an overall idea for how to make their business idea a success, and then they passionately pursue it. Bill Gates and Paul Allen launched Microsoft with the vision of a computer on every desk and in every home, all running Microsoft software. Their vision helped Microsoft become the world’s largest marketer of computer software. It guided the company and provided clear direction for employees as Microsoft grew, adapted, and prospered in an industry characterized by tremendous technological change. Arguably, every invention from the light bulb to the cell phone originated from a person with vision. In fact, some of the greatest innovators were so far ahead of their timethey were labeled “crazy” or worse. Michael Lehrer was an accountant when his first child was born. While changing his son’s bib, he realized he would have to change it, wash it, and get a clean one every time the baby spit up or drooled. He later launched Better Baby Products and sold Double Dribble bibs featuring interchangeable pieces to several large retailers. Although the business didn’t bring much profit, it did give him confidence for his next venture, a golfing green in the backyard. At first, his neighbors thought he was crazy, especially when he replaced his lawn with a synthetic green that would need little maintenance. But within a year he was tearing up his neighbors’ yards and building greens for them. Through referrals and quality work, he began taking on customers beyond his neighborhood.
Now Lehrer’s company, Home Green Advantage, builds 40 greens a year in places from suburban New York to Manhattan rooftops. It all started one day in a conference room when “Fairway to Heaven” struck Lehrer out of the blue.38 Similarly, the vision of providing economically feasible space transportation, practical electronic cars, and affordable solar energy propelled Elon Musk to start three companies with his own money, as the “Hit & Miss” feature describes.
High Energy Level Entrepreneurs willingly work hard to realize their visions. Starting and building a company require an enormous amount of hard work and long hours. Some entrepreneurs work full-time at their regular day jobs and spend weeknights and weekends launching their start-ups. Many devote seven days a week to their new ventures. The average time to start up a business is about two years, and working 50 hours a week is the norm.
Many entrepreneurs work alone or with a very small staff. Therefore, a high energy level is a must. Truman and Minhee Cho grew up together, started dating in their twenties, then married. The couple started Paper + Cup + Design, a stationery and graphics company in Brooklyn. Minhee left her job as a magazine designer, while Truman still works full-time as a computer engineer. Minhee oversees a small staff of five, and Truman works several hours each evening at the office dealing with investors and new retail customers. The couple has expended enormous energy to place their note cards, journals, and gift tags in 250 stores nationwide. Because entrepreneurs like the Chos often work long hours, even two jobs, one of the major challenges they face is balancing the hard work with rest, recreation, and family time that are essential to good health, quality of life, and continued creativity.
Need to Achieve Entrepreneurs work hard because they want to excel. Their strong competitive drive helps them enjoy the challenge of reaching difficult goals and promotes dedication to personal success. A poll conducted by About.com showed Oprah Winfrey as the most admired entrepreneur. The first African American woman billionaire, Winfrey has built an empire stretching from television to magazines. Her own words best illustrate her strong drive: “I don’t think of myself as a poor, deprived ghetto girl who made good. I think of myself as somebody who from an early age knew I was responsible for myself, and had to make good.”
During the past several years, most of PayPal’s key players have left after selling out to eBay for $1.5 billion. Besides Elon Musk, with his SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity, these PayPal alums have been building a variety of new ventures, including investment firms and several Internet companies. Co-founder Peter Thiel, who also had an early stake in Facebook, which is now worth about $1 billion, has founded a new venture capital firm that has Silicon Valley talking and runs a $3 billion hedge fund. Another PayPal cofounder, Max Levchin, runs a photo-sharing site called Slide and pulls in 134 million users a day. Thiel, Levchin, and other founders of the original PayPal run businesses worth an estimated $30 billion. A strong need to achieve pushes these successful serial entrepreneurs to further success.