5 qualities every entrepreneur should have

by Jeff Hilimire on March 3, 2010

I read this on Fred Wilson’s blog and couldn’t agree more. He lists the 5 characteristics he sees the most in successful entrepreneurs:

1) A stubborn belief in one’s self

2) A confidence bordering on arrogance

3) A desire to accept risk and ambiguity, and the ability to live with them

4) An ability to construct a vision and sell it to many others

5) A magnet for talent

What would you add to this list?

  • lewisa

    Malcolm Gladwell tends to disagree, mainly on point #3…check out his thought provoking piece “The Sure Thing” in the Jan 18 2010 New Yorker.

  • http://KevinVogelsang.com Kevin Vogelsang

    I prefer to describe number 2 as “cockiness.”
    Cockiness tempered by humility is a very good thing.

    I tend to associate arrogance with ignorance. Entrepreneurs need to listen, although they don't need to do what they're told. Learning to create the right filter is what experience is all about.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Thanks for the link Lewis! Unfortunately I don't have a subscription so I'll have to pick it up next time I'm out. If you happen to have it in digital form maybe you could post that section here?

    My experience though definitely backs up #3, but again that's just my experience. Being able to move forward at a rapid pace and not really knowing what is in front of you, and being able to live with the decisions you make, is all part of what I believe helped me be successful.

  • lewisa

    Here's a link.


    My thought is that your experience is your experience and it's definitely relevant. Gladwell's point is that we like to think of entreprenuers as cowboys or daredevils seeking risk. The most successful ones, however, identify a unique opportunity and have the ability and resources to exploit it. Gladwell cites Ted Turner and a Hedge fund manager who made a killing when the mortgage market imploded as examples. I'd also say this is true of John D. Rockefeller, having read his biography. Rockefeller and Bill Gates probably didn't have a lot of charisma and I don't think they had a desire for risk but they are the most successful entreprenuers in history.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    You make a fantastic point on the charisma angle. In fact, I've made a similar point about Zuckerburg (Facebook) because I think he has just about as much charisma as a rock. But he's been crazy successful for sure.

    I could argue the risk point though on both Gates and Rockefeller. Gates in particular seemed to take massive risks. Selling an operating system before he even had one, that's riskier than anything I've done in my career.

    But I'd still say that if I was picking someone to place a bet on to be successful starting a new company, I'd certainly want them to have the qualities listed above. Are they required? Of course not. But if they had those qualities I'd feel a little better about their chances for success.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Arrogance is perhaps a bad word for that quality. I agree, cockiness is perhaps better. It's also a fine line, you have to believe in yourself and believe in your decisions, but you also have to accept when you're wrong and know when to take the contradictory advice you're getting.

    There have been many times in my startup life that I made decisions that most everyone in my company disagreed with. Sometimes they played out the way I hoped and sometimes they didn't. That's a very tough line to walk indeed.

  • pfreet

    These are the traits an investor wants to see in an Entrepreneur. Not necessarily the best traits of an entrepreneur.

    The first three can be summarized as: “You and your entire friends and family network are all-in. You owe money to everyone you've ever met. Your credit cards are maxed and your home has 3 mortgages. You are either a success or bankrupt and can never go to Thanksgiving dinner again.” :-)

  • philrubin

    Great post, Jeff. One more (a combo): passion and the commitment that is fueled by that passion. That is the thread that connects these five things so it might be considered implicit but there is no subsitute for it. People who are “all in” generally embody the five qualities above.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Paul, it's true that these are qualities that an investor wants to see in an entrepreneur, that's a good qualifier for this list. And you're family take is obviously spot on. I was always too scared of the awkward Thanksgiving dinners to take money from family and instead applied the “how many credit cards can I juggle at one time” method of funding. God bless whoever invented the 0% interest for six months strategy. I was flipping money from card to card like a short-order cook.

    I still feel, as an entrepreneur, that these qualities certainly helped me along the way. I could add some of course, but I'd be curious your take on which of these you feel are less important from the entrepreneur perspective (vs. the investor perspective).

  • pfreet

    I don't know who started the idea that you should raise money from “Friends and family”, but I am guessing it was a VC, not an experienced entrepreneur. It is the wrong strategy. I don't think an entrepreneur should ever take money from family. And only from friends they are willing to lose. VCs want you “all in”. Then if things get dicey, they truly own you and you'll take whatever deals they offer to protect your friends and family.

    I say bootstrap the startup and, only if you must, take money from strangers.

    Good traits of an entrepreneur: realism, patience and ability to change

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    “All in”. That's great Phil, its what I tell enterpreneurs is the most important thing for their startup. Having a side job while trying to start something makes an almost impossible task infinitely more difficult.

  • pfreet

    If you are single, I would agree completely. Go all-in. But if not, is it fair to put your spouse and children's financial security at risk? No, of course not. Keep your day job or find consulting work to pay the bills while you get launched.

    BTW, we talk about this and other topics at our weekly “Bootstrapping Circle” at ATDC.

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  • http://twitter.com/shaunjboyce Shaun J Boyce

    @jeffhilimire:disqus ::The ability to self-motivate is key. Especially with a start up, there is often no one else to delegate the work.. to.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Agree, self motivation is an absolute must for an entrepreneur. You can’t coast or hide like you can at an established company. It’s one of the things I like most about small companies, actually. There’s no hiding!

  • http://blog.gleep.org/ andrewwatson

    All in is easier said than done. When you started your first company you were a single guy with nothing to lose, right? When you started your second you had an exit under your belt.

    looking back, of course I should have started a company when I first graduated from college in 1998 but if I could go back and change the past I’d change a lot more than just that…

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  • Honey18

    resourceful and persevering

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