Entrepreneurship is a choice. It is not reserved for an elite race of humanity. It can be learned. I realized this in my early twenties, after reading a study by a prominent Stanford professor.
We tend to over-glamorize the solo characteristics of an entrepreneur. I believe that more than singular traits like brilliance or passion, social tendencies matter. Individuals who are able to create and nurture relationships with people have a leg up. Relationships with strategic mentors, customers and even your team can make or break your success. Relationships are key because they provide quick and relevant feedback allowing a business to stay agile and forward thinking. Big companies move slower because of bureaucracy and stakeholders, so agility is a key advantage. Remember, it takes more than a visionary like Steve Jobs. Apple is and was an outlier.
A successful entrepreneur, is an individual who realizes the importance of relationships. One such relationship is mentorship. Young entrepreneurs need to prioritize sourcing and leveraging content-specific mentors. People who can help with various business obstacles like financing or creative customer acquisition. Mentors can be industry experts, professors or even peers who are tackling adjacent problems. Everyone should have a mentor and life advisory board. Mentors should provide clear strategic value, not just slap you on the back when you are doing a swell job. This is specifically important for women who tend to be socialized to have lower self-esteem compared to their male counterparts. A recent HBR article noted that in developed countries it is by 17%, and in emerging countries much lower. This is probably why 44% of top women CEO’s attribute mentorship as a major driver to their success.
Another key relationship is with your customer. It is important to incorporate customer feedback throughout the life-cycle of your venture. Whether it is determining targeted messaging, developing design that customers love or deciding on your MVP (Minimal Viable Product). Often times, entrepreneurs forget to engage with their target customer face to face. Instead, they only engage in market sizing analysis as opposed to anthropological analysis. In short, startups prioritize viability over desirability. Both are critical. This theory is not new. Philosophies like Lean Startup and IDEO’s user centered design teach this type of thinking.
The final element to an entrepreneur’s success is their team. Putting together a diverse team is critical to the long-term creativity of a business. The founder of a venture must appreciate their team members generously through compensation but also emotionally through incorporating their feedback. After all, your team is taking a risk by working for you so you have to reward and value their input. For generalization sake, this is not yet a habit in South Asian businesses. Specifically with the distribution of ESOPs, and the tendency to hoard equity.
Relationships are critical, because they provide feedback. In order to get through obstacles more efficiently, you need to incorporate a trusted feedback loop from your mentors, customers and team members. 95% of startups fail, feedback is a tool to stack the odds in your favor. I am not advocating to incorporate every single persons opinion, this would be absurd. But rather that an entrepreneur should be open and consider founded perspectives. Remember, it takes a village to be successful.