The heart of an entrepreneur


“In point of fact the three actions of perceiving, determining, and responding were sequential: but so infinitesimal were the intervals of time between them that they appeared simultaneous.” – Jack London describing Buck, “Call of the Wild”

This constant call and preparedness for action reminds me of what I see at the core of successful entrepreneurs; a hardened mindset that assumes roadblocks and obstacles ahead as a given; an attitude that wastes little time dwelling on or becoming frustrated by the size of the problem that surfaces; and a preparedness for problem-solving and adaptability that makes the development process look fluid and constantly advancing. The result is that these mavericks waste little time feeling defeated (a useless expense of energy to them) and furthermore skirt more serious conditions of thinking their pursuit has failed terminally.

I recently watched two students struggle through the process of developing a viable product/service and was struck by how transparently different their approaches and results were. “One” had a unique consumable product that had lots of novelty appeal but finding a good application for it and a sound business model would be difficult. The “Other” had more of an idea and desire to create efficiencies for businesses and institutions, and her starting point was a unique office-supply product.

Captivated by and dedicated to the fascinating physical properties of his product, “One” spent about three months pitching its uniqueness, developing a few viable ideas on how to apply it but never delving into the particulars of actually developing a business model around the product, despite advice from numerous sources to do so. He probably thought the product would sell itself, but the result was that at the end of three months, he felt entirely defeated and traction-less, with little research or market-feedback to point in any prosperous direction. He hit the “dead end” he was likely anticipating and happy to ultimately reach. Energy waned and he abandoned the project, closing a small chapter of entrepreneurial spirit. The madness, insecurity and unpredictability of the startup won out.

Across the spectrum was “Other”, who drove head-on into adversity and numerous setbacks, and despite all odds demonstrated (and is still demonstrating) an unwavering resilience and drive to put something with the slightest air of the original concept into motion. From our first interaction, it was clear that “Other” was determined to stay moving forward and already anticipated that problems and disappointments would come; as though coming to terms with the fact that the process was going to be extremely taxing and there was already a limit in place as to the amount of energy she was willing to cede to frustration. Problems rolled in like waves, but she reacted immediately with answer (right or wrong) as though already prepared, letting her mind and decisions actively guide her process. The original concept ultimately underwent numerous iterations (consistent click here to a Steve Blank development), but it still maintains the integrity of the original idea and she has finally narrowed-in on a very interesting business model.

That ability to take on adversity, process information, trust intuition and then act with conviction is obvious in all sincere entrepreneurs. Coupled with a mindset of forward progression and you have the heart of the entrepreneur. Baring some exceptions, I think these traits clearly delineate those with a highly-scalable “start-up” mentality and who can follow through from those likelier to excel at other pursuits.

However, I don’t think this is a question of “nature vs. nurture”. We can improve and evolve our start-up capabilities provided we have a devoted interest. We can get better at front-loading wasted energy on disappointment and defeat so that it doesn’t affect us down the road. Meditation and hypnosis aside, simply absorbing problems as an integral part of the start-up process, both on macro and day-to-day levels, can help to get over the hurdles and move from “A” to “B”. It will get tough, and opportunity costs and basic financial needs will exacerbate these situations, but the better the mental preparedness and awareness, the easier it will be to get beyond the problem and repeat the behavior. It is hard to take lessons from others without experiencing first hand, but at least take comfort in the fact that many have faced and scaled equally high walls.

We can also focus on letting our minds hover and be nimble, constantly processing the variables in a situation. Every hour and every interaction is an opportunity to make a decision around, and the better we process and faster we consider the consequences the more fluid the startup process will be. Let your mind float “like a butterfly”, be a sponge, and physically put yourself out there to create as much opportunity for stimulation and input as possible.

We can learn to better trust out intuition, and make active decisions and not let things linger. Even the act of choosing not-to-do is important and refines the start-up process. Focusing on making sound adjustments on-the-fly is a mindset, and becomes an immediate reflection of you and your idea. No one else can build the business like you can so trust your vision and have conviction. Jack White rearranges his instrument configurations for every show so that he’s forced to make new decisions and see if he can get to places fast enough. Similar attitudes and methods can enrich your concept and force you to become more confident in your abilities.

Considering all of this, I suppose the one giant caveat is that maybe “One” really was the smartest person in the room and realized he was better off abandoning a seemingly hopeless project at the get-go and searching for a more viable business. However, while that remains to be seen, “Other” is currently forging her own path to start-up success.