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Not all entrepreneurs are created equal. Some fail, some just remain one-man-bands, some go on to create small businesses, and some go on to create massively scaled businesses.
Over the years I have met and had conversations with many founders that have built some impressive businesses.
From these conversations, I have compiled what I see as the eight key habits of successful startup entrepreneurs:
Vision – most entrepreneurs (and business leaders) are able to sketch and effortlessly communicate a message of growth and opportunity for employees.
In a startup environment this is particularly important. Startup employees often find themselves in bootstrapped, sub-optimal office environments, working late nights with little or no benefits.
They have joined the startup not for the present, but for the future promise of what is to come. So, it is vitally important to regularly articulate a vision at stand-ups, exco meetings, company reports, casual conversations and in the values of the company.
I used often tell my first six employees, imagine yourselves, one day, as part of a top management team with people and departments under you — that is where we are going.
Networks – It’s a lonely world when you jump out of the corporate beast into the great unknown. Erstwhile friends suddenly disappear when they see you leave your position of power and responsibility.
For any entrepreneur a strong business and friend network could be the foundation of your new startup. These are the people that trust you and like you — and will take a bet on you even if the credibility of your business has yet to be proved. Keep those bridges crossable and don’t burn them.
Curiosity – this is nicer way of saying “opportunistic”. Entrepreneurs need to seize every potential meeting or opportunity as you never know where that will lead.
I see it as a series of doors. Some doors stay shut, some doors lead to hundreds of other doors opening. I can’t count how many dead-end meetings or opportunities I looked at, but because I embraced them open-mindedly the few that came off literally doubled my business, and led to other opportunities that helped my business.
I often think to myself, what would my business have been like if I had missed that one meeting that revolutionized my business? Be an opportunist and approach moments like these with an open mind.
Focus – This is a subset of curiosity and not the opposite of the word. Conventional thinking says it takes 10 000 hours to become an expert in something. This is only achieved with a driven, laser like focus on your goals to grow your company.
Being curious is not the same as being reckless. Take every opportunity that comes your way, but make sure that it fits in with the broad vision of what your company is.
One of the classic mistakes where VCs criticise entrepreneurs is their desire to conquer foreign markets before they have even saturated their home market – the very market they have a competitive advantage in.
I know some entrepreneurs that have been so focused on their business that they cut out watching TV or Sport and social engagements for a period of their lives.
Exercise – Starting a business is both a battle of the mind and body. As an entrepreneur, being pulled in many different directions, sitting with so much uncertainty and many issues to solve, you need to get out there and get some physical exercise to relieve stress.
It will also make you a more balanced person when dealing with staff. Some entrepreneurs are even exploring mindfulness disciplines like meditation.
Processes – most businesses are organised chaos. The chaos part is the humans, the organised part is the processes and deadlines. As your business grows you will lose contact with staff members, start dealing with management layers, and be managing people indirectly.
A way to bake your vision and the way you and your team want things to work in your business is to create processes, templates and documentation that ensure your employees work in a certain way, and to the standard you expect.
Profile – not every entrepreneur is an A-type personality, but creating a profile can be helpful for your business. It’s important to get out there to the right conferences and events. Offer your speaker services, develop relationships with journalists, and write thought leadership pieces where your competitors and your target market hangs out.
Don’t just hand this over to a PR company. Be authentic, and take time to craft your unique message and take on the world. For the more introverted startup founders that don’t want their name in lights, find someone in the company that can do this for you as your proxy.
Positivity – Your employees and your future clients — and you, yourself — need to believe in what you are doing. Being outwardly positive about future prospects and keeping a positive spin on things — even when you may have personal doubts – is critical.
In fact, a startup on day one is nothing more than a positive belief until it gains traction and proves itself as a viable business. Your employees need to believe, and for that to happen, so do you.
More from Matthew Buckland
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How Naspers could help find SA’s next great tech startups [Opinion]
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Time for startups to get over myth of the ‘one big idea’ and just get going [Opinion]
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SA’s startup ecosystem offers a positive vision of country’s future [Opinion]
Indonesian unicorn shows Silicon Valley model can’t beat going local [Opinion]
What’s the secret ingredient that makes entrepreneurs successful? [Opinion]H]
Matthew Buckland is an investor, entrepreneur, founder of Ventureburn.com. This column was first published in Business Day (under the title “Seven habits of successful start-up entrepreneurs”. See the original version here.
Featured image: sasint via Pixabay