Climbing mountain of success is straightforward for starting your own business, right? Separate fiction and fact for entrepreneurs.

Many people have ideas about what it is and what it takes to be an entrepreneur. If you have chosen to become a business leader, it is critically important to understand the difference between fiction and fact when it comes to entrepreneurship. Here are some of the most common misconceptions:

A Straightforward Climb Up Mountain of Success?

Fiction: Successful entrepreneurs have climbed straight up the mountain of success without faltering. Fact: Though some have higher business success rates than others, no one climbs straight up the mountain without taking some pretty gnarly falls, either because they lost their balance or they got pushed. The difference is that successful entrepreneurs have the intelligence to quickly understand what happened and the courage to immediately start climbing again.

Being Boss Means Being Free?

Fiction: Being your own boss gives you total freedom. Fact: Being accountable for the direction of organizations and responsible for the well-being of employees and clients often means that going where you want, when you want is impossible. You are free to follow your intuition, which is a great freedom, but your time is highly constrained since people are counting on you for solutions so that they can live well.

Being CEO Means Never Being Alone?

Fiction: Entrepreneurs are part of large groups, surrounded by people. Fact: Though this is true, and, in fact, surrounding yourself with great people is one of the most important keys to successful entrepreneurship, being an entrepreneur can be an isolating experience. When you are starting your venture, you may be an army of one, pushing things forward with no one to tell you whether it is a good idea or not. And, even when things are up and running, making decisions requires an individuality that can be isolating as well.

Money Is What Gets You Started?

Fiction: You need money to make money. Fact: It is a great head start, of course, to begin a venture with resources. More resources, on average, produce better outcomes. But it is not necessary. In fact, if you can find your way through those initial stages, lessons learned by getting over the top with limited resources can sustain a venture into maturity. Someone with inner resources is always preferable to someone who only has outside resources. Building from the inside out makes you stronger in the long term.

Getting Rich = Success?

Fiction: Being successful is all about getting rich. Fact: Though getting rich can serve as an indicator of success, it is just one. And, no doubt, money can help get you through the rough patches. But, as you move toward to a more mature understanding of the world,  having family, clients and employees who are living better lives because of you is truly what marks success.

Born to Be an Entrepreneur?

Fiction: Entrepreneurs are born successful. Fact: Most folks looking from the outside see a confident leader and assume they were overnight successes. They don’t see the level of focus needed, the grinding responsibilities. Or, the  blood, sweat, and tears it took to get to that big office. They don’t know how the venture started. Without fanfare, a single individual pushed an idea that hardly anyone seemed too excited about.  

If you feel the call to start your own business—if you have killer ideas and the persistence to move them forward—then separating fiction and fact is one of the most important things any entrepreneur can do.

Entrepreneur in an empty office for a startup or failure and bankruptcy

Entrepreneurs are no dummies, but that doesn’t mean that they always do what’s best for their company. Certain actions, habits, and behaviors can not only harm a business but also lead to its eventual downfall. Failure can be a useful tool for entrepreneurs but some mistakes are avoidable, unnecessary, and easily prevented with a little foresight and self-awareness.

Excessive Ego

As an entrepreneur and business owner, having a healthy ego can be a good thing. It can grant you self-respect and confidence in your leadership and decision-making. Excessive ego, however, can be your biggest enemy. It can lead to over-confidence that causes you to miss opportunities, micromanage, and think there’s nothing new to learn. Even worse, it can make you think that every decision revolves around you — a dangerous mistake. At the end of the day, everything should revolve around your business — your employees, your customers, and how to best bring value to everyone.

Hiring Friends Over More Qualified Candidates

Part of the great thing about being a business owner is that you get to call the shots — and what would be better than being able to work with your friends or loved ones all day? Hmm, maybe working with professionals who are actually qualified for the position? Nepotism certainly exists in business and while it may seem like a great idea to work with friends or family, it can often be a hindrance. Not only can the emotional ties to these people affect decision-making, but there could also be far more qualified people out there who could provide more value to your business. Besides, nepotism generally creates resentment among other staff members. It’s best to avoid anything that could cause a conflict of interest or hint at favoritism.

Giving Up When Things Get Tough

When things get tough, it can be difficult not to wonder if it’s time to just quit. There may certainly be times when a business is faltering to the point of no return, and it’s just time to cut your losses. However, it’s also important to avoid discouragement over issues that can potentially be overcome. Ultimately, it’s important to determine whether or not your venture is worth it; does it add value to your life or seem to be an endless drain? Like most things in life, achieving goals doesn’t often happen linearly — or exactly to plan.

Assuming 

What’s the old saying about assuming? Assuming rarely works out well, particularly in regards to business matters. You can have a stellar six months of revenue and growth, only to be hit by a dry spell where you’re scrambling for clients or sales. If you assume that there will be no lean times, that growth will automatically come organically, that your business is 100 percent rock-solid, you’re ignoring numerous factors that could potentially ruin a business. A safer route would be to plan; plan for growth and how to achieve it. Plan for ways to garner more business in periods where things slow down. Plan for contingencies. Be forward-thinking and solutions-driven. Intel tech legend and businessman Andy Grove said, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

What is your entrepreneurial DNA? Are you a Builder, Specialist, Opportunist, and Innovator? Understanding strengths and weaknesses determines outcomes.

 

You have an amazing innovation you want to bring to market. Your innovation, though, is only one factor in this statement. The other one is you. Your strengths and weaknesses as an entrepreneur will intensely impact your ability to succeed. Investors are increasingly looking to back entrepreneurs whose strengths match up with their projects. One portfolio manager of high-growth international companies, Joe Abraham, calls these characteristics your entrepreneurial DNA, which he breaks down into four quadrants: Builder, Specialist, Opportunist, and Innovator.

Builder

Do you excel at constructing an organization from the foundation up? If so, you might be a Builder. These entrepreneurs pride themselves on their strategic abilities, seeing exactly what needs to happen to get to a specific goal, staying ahead of the competition at every step. They love the battle and love winning even more. Often, Builders are described as calculating, ruthless, cold, focused, and driven.

Specialist

Specialists enter an industry and spend the rest of their lives becoming an expert. They are strong on knowledge and relationships in their specific corner of the business world, but can struggle to stand out in a crowded marketplace of competitors. Specialists are great at starting small, family businesses, but, when it comes to scaling, lack the vision and broader experience to succeed.

Opportunist

Are you a dreamer? Do you pride yourself on your limitless imagination? Opportunists dream big, go big, and, when they crash, go down in flames big. When you find yourself, for good or bad, diving into projects more quickly than is expedient, you are flying your Opportunist flag. Impatient, these entrepreneurs are constantly looking to be in the right place at the right time to make money.

Innovator

The strength of the Innovator is to work meticulously and tirelessly to perfect their invention, product, system, recipe, or product. Their weakness is that they focus so much on their innovations, they miss opportunities because the realities of the business environment are less engaging than innovation breakthroughs and solutions.    

There is no explicit formula for success. Each of these types of entrepreneurs have strengths and weaknesses that powerfully impact the likelihood of successfully bringing an innovation to market. Investors, more than anything, are looking for execution rather than an idea. For investors, when a Builder teams up with an Innovator, the potential for success is unlimited.

Even if you don’t believe in narrowly defined characteristics determining outcomes, it is critically important to fully understand your strengths and weaknesses. To bring your innovation to market, you will have to build a team that makes up for your weaknesses. The success of your business may depend upon your ability to look inward, before you start looking outward.  

Entrepreneurs distinguish themselves by linking together qualities such as being positively engaged, true grit, and open to change and learning

No knock on business owners, but not all people who own businesses are entrepreneurs. Like entrepreneurs, business owners risk more, take on more responsibility, and have more control over their work lives than employees. The difference, then, is the motivation. Entrepreneurs are not simply trying to make a living, but measure themselves by their achievement and success. As Peter Drucker, one of the founders of modern management, says, an entrepreneur is “someone who always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.”

And though not every entrepreneur is the same, there are core elements that many share. These qualities link together, forming chains of strength that entrepreneurs use to pull themselves forward. Here are a few:

Proactively Engaged

Successful entrepreneurs have the vision to initiate actions, playing offense instead of defense. Instead of doing the bare minimum, or even underperforming, they outwork, outhustle, and outthink their competitors. This proactiveness has entrepreneurs looking ahead to where they want to go, versus constantly being stuck in regret over where they’ve been.

True Grit

Is life a series of obstacles or learning opportunities? Your answer to this question might tell you if you are truly an entrepreneur. In your effort to build solutions to market needs, you will face endless vexing and seemingly unsolvable issues. If you rage and resist these challenges, you might want to find another line of work. Entrepreneurs are consistently adaptable and resourceful. This allows them to persevere when most are ready to quit, thriving on adversity that make them better and stronger individuals.

And Change

Though everyone knows that the world is constantly shifting, most try to build a wall against it, yearning for predictability in a flood of transition. Real entrepreneurs actually embrace change, because that is where opportunity exists. Charles Darwin noted that species’ survival depends not on strength or intelligence, but on adaptability. Entrepreneurs view change as a positive and know that their ability to respond and adapt gives them an edge in every situation.

Learning is Earning

An entrepreneur unwilling to learn is like a river without water: empty and with nowhere to go. A deep understanding of every facet of business and life is essential and is the only way forward. A hunger for new ideas identifies you as an entrepreneur. Every facet of your business requires knowledge, and a willingness to learn is the only way to gain that crucial knowledge.

Feeding the Machine

An entrepreneur willingly sacrifices any activities that don’t nourish the brain with quality content. Wasting time with gossip or social media is ditched. Instead, entrepreneurs favor inputs that build knowledge and experience. Personal time sustains the body and mind. Feeding the machine requires the commitment of the whole person, body, mind, and spirit to building solutions in shifting, challenging environments.

Passion

All of your energy, motivation, and hard work are fueled by your passion. If you wake up every morning, fired up about what you’re doing, passionate to thrive and succeed, then you are a true entrepreneur. If you spend your days thinking about retirement, or a beach, or some other escape from the moment at hand, then you might want to consider retiring to that beach. Entrepreneurs’ hearts beat with their lifeblood of building and achieving.

Is life like a giant dirt track? Or is a giant dirt track like life? No matter, the intensity of dirt bike riding brings you right into the moment.

Is life like a giant dirt track? Or is a giant dirt track like life? Either way, when you’re timing the jumps and finding the right lines, riding around a screaming dirt bike course is an amazing rush. The intensity of dirt bike riding brings you right into the moment when the track is rutted and the dirt is flying. If there are other bikes out there, it is loud. For someone who loves it, though, it is as quiet as the inside of a church. All the chaos dissolves. You know there is a line out there. And if you find it and follow it, it will get you where you need to go. You just have to find the line.

How Do You Find the Line?

Being present, vulnerable and alive. Being in the groove, decisive and intuitive. Letting it happen. Making it happen. In the moment.  

So maybe riding a radical dirt track is like life.

When you are looking at life and business decisions, you also have to be absolutely vulnerable and alive. If something obscures your vision, an emotional reaction or holding onto an assumption or illusion, you will miss something important. And that something might be painful. And not just for you. For your family, clients, and employees.

And those people, those connections, are the most valuable assets you have. They are why you work so hard. You should be grateful for their trust.

See the Line That Provides Optimal Results

And, just as in dirt bike riding, there is, in business and life, a channel of prosperity out there. And you have to be completely open and clear, alert and awake. You have to become so focused that the chaos slips away and you are fully immersed in the moment. Ready to see the line that provides optimal results. And then be decisive and intuitive, perfectly in the moment.

And if you’re not in the moment? If you lose your focus? You can get hurt out there. And if you’re afraid? Unsure? You can get hurt out there. So I guess life is like riding a dirt bike track, too.

And even if you don’t find your bliss by blasting along a rugged, choppy track of flying dirt, you still have to let the chaos slip away. You still have to be vulnerable and alive. And completely in the moment.

Industry conferences might be the perfect place for CEOs to discuss mental health issues associated with business leaders.

Strong handshakes and powerful keynote speeches. News of disruptive trends and insurgent strategies. The latest technological advances. As dynamic and demanding as they are, industry conferences aren’t normally known as places to make human connections and discuss mental health. 

But at least one founder and CEO, Erin McKelvey, sees that as just another unhealthy industry standard in need of unsettling.

Mental Health Struggles

In a recent article in Entrepreneur, McKelvey points to studies that show that entrepreneurs are more likely to feel isolated and alone. While depression affects about seven percent of the general population, a study, Touched With Fire, reports that 30 percent of entrepreneurs have lifetime histories with depression. They also had much higher rates of ADHD, substance abuse, and bipolar diagnosis. And even asymptomatic entrepreneurs had higher rates of close relatives who experienced these mental health conditions.

Suffering at these higher rates, what is an entrepreneur to do?

Mostly, until now, entrepreneurs have had to gut it out. As founders and leaders, entrepreneurs have cultivated facades of invulnerability and strength. Even as they crumble inside.

McKelvey, after struggling to understand the suicides of a close friend and two colleagues, found that connection and empathy were keys. She opened up to colleagues at a conference and, communicating honestly and vulnerably, made deeper, important connections with her peers. Validated and understood, she was ready to face the stigmas associated with depression and entrepreneurship.

Foster Intimate Discussions

Her conclusion is that industry conference keynotes could focus on dealing with everyday stresses and how to develop coping skills. Also, conferences could arrange seating that encourages smaller groups, two to four people, to foster more intimate discussions. Finally, event planners can motivate honest, real talk with discussion cards and questions, such as:

  • Tell us about a wrenching decision you had to make last week with an employee or colleague.
  • How do you manage your work-life balance? Is there such a thing?
  • Do you feel like you can let down in front of your organization?
  • Do you feel like you need to be a superhero all the time, every day?

Touched with Fire also recommends destigmatizing people with mental health differences by understanding the strengths and weaknesses associated with entrepreneurs. It is crucial they are informed about mental health vulnerabilities associated with risk-taking innovators and leaders. With empathy and understanding, entrepreneurs can continue to create economic value, generate jobs, and create social and market solutions while moderating their suffering.

Introvert entrepreneur sitting on a floor in his office dreaming of business education success promotion company growth isolated gray wall texture background.

Are you an introvert who would love to start a business, but feel you’re held back by your quiet, reserved nature? Extrovert tendencies, such as being outgoing networkers, action-oriented, and risk-takers, are often named as desirable qualities for an entrepreneur to have, but that may be due in part to what author Susan Cain calls a cultural bias rather than a template for business success. According to Cain, we live in a “society that favors action over contemplation.” She says this bias stems from our Greco-Roman roots and was solidified as we moved from an agricultural to industrial society. Does this mean that introverts can’t be successful entrepreneurs? Not at all.

You Aren’t Limited By Your Personality Type

Extroverts and introverts both have their strengths and weaknesses. Having a clear understanding that you aren’t limited by your personality is one of the most important things to keep in mind. Introverts have many excellent qualities that bring a lot of value to a business, such as the ability to focus for long periods of time, critical thinking, and high observation skills. Since they process things internally, they tend to have ideas well fleshed out before acting on them and lead from a focused place.

Focus on Your Strengths 

You may not be gregarious or a networker, but maybe you have a keen mind for analytics and marketing. Most introverts tend to be good listeners, which can help you learn exactly what a client is looking for and allow you to offer products or solutions that are a perfect fit. Instead of focusing on the things you don’t feel good at, find a way to market the skills you do have. These will bring you, and your customers, far more value than trying to be a square peg in a round hole.

Budget Your Energy and Set Boundaries

One of the trickiest things about being an introvert is how draining the day can feel. While extroverts thrive on activity, many introverts have limited energy reserves and can quickly become exhausted or overwhelmed. Determine what you can handle. Can’t do two or three meetings in a day? Stretch them out throughout the week. Balance low energy activities with ones that you find more draining.

Outsource Tasks

Introvert or extrovert, you’re only one person, and chances are there will be some tasks that are not your forte. Learning to recognize that and allow yourself to be comfortable with assigning the task to someone better suited to it will be good for your business and your energy levels. A successful business owner will have both introverts and extroverts on the team and understand how to assign them to tasks according to their strengths.

Utilize Technology

Tech is a lifesaver for many introverts as it allows them to take a bit more time to collect their thoughts and put them into words. Many companies now rely on social media as a primary form of customer service, and it can be a beneficial tool for introverts to thoughtfully perform customer interaction, outreach, and complaint resolution. Email and instant messaging can reduce your face-to-face time, and allow you a little longer to reply. E-commerce can be a useful way to sell products without resorting to high-energy sales. Utilizing tech can keep your energy reserves up while also handling day-to-day business.

Some of the most successful people today, like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Mark Zuckerberg, describe themselves as introverts, proving that it’s your drive, not your personality type, that dictates success. While starting up a business may not feel 100 percent comfortable for the introverted, there’s no reason to tell yourself that it can’t be done!

 

How do you move forward after a devastating loss?

Call it what you will. Hitting the wall. Crashing into a ceiling. Having the bottom fall out from under you. It doesn’t matter what direction it comes from, failing is a painful, devastating experience. For entrepreneurs who often have their lives wrapped up personally and financially in their businesses, failure can be difficult to overcome.

On one level or another, failure is certain. Yet everyone deals with defeat differently. And some find it very hard to move on.

If you have found it tough to gain forward momentum after a reversal, what is stopping you? Here are a few ideas on what might be happening and how to get back on track.

Hitting the Books

Have you been so focused on day-to-day activities that you haven’t kept up with industry knowledge? Is there a weakness in your foundational understanding? One great idea is to go back to the books and resources that are the bedrock of your expertise. Are they still relevant? If so, re-examine them, and, like watching a great movie a second time, allow new ideas to surface. Also, if you sense those resources are no longer applicable, seek out new ones to fill the gaps.

Another way forward, especially when you have hit bottom, is to reset your goals. Working without overall personal and business objectives is like being adrift on the open sea. You might end up on a beautiful island, but you’re likelier to have wind and current leave you in the doldrums. Take the time to become very clear on where you are going and how you plan to get there.

Going it alone is a possible downfall for anyone, especially entrepreneurs used to shouldering the responsibility for their organizations. It may be time to return to a mentor, someone who inspired and taught you along the way. Don’t let fear of admitting defeat stop you from contacting an important resource. If they are a true mentor, they will have themselves tumbled down mountains and have astute observations to help you climb back up.

Give Yourself the Gift of Time

You may also have to review your time management. The only person who can give you the time you need to succeed is you. For some, that might mean cutting back on personal time-wasting habits such as social media or television bingeing. For others, it may mean making difficult decisions to create revitalizing personal time such as exercise or meditation. The Dalai Lama wakes at 3:00 am for two hours of meditation each day before his day begins. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, famously gets up at 3:45 for personal time. The idea is that taking time to rebuild and reset is absolutely essential for getting your career back on track.

Once you begin taking these steps, you will find that the setback has made you stronger and more knowledgeable. Of course, when you are down it is hard to imagine, or hear someone tell you, that it is all going to be okay. That is why it is important to begin by taking practical, steadying steps as you begin moving forward again.

 

 

Universities incentivize student and faculty on-campus entrepreneurship

Have you noticed that many innovators leave college early? Or, they begin making their groundbreaking innovations after graduation? Colleges have noted this, too.

The Morrill Act of 1862 granted land and resources for higher educational institutions focused on agricultural and technical studies. These public and land-grant colleges include leading universities focused on research, including the University of California and Pennsylvania State University. In a recently released position paper, these colleges attempt to contribute and remain engaged in a fast-paced economy.  Though their approaches are different, one element that is crucial is supporting university-based innovation and entrepreneurship.

Show Me the Money

Many schools already have policies to pay faculty or students when they make a research breakthrough that is commercialized. Yale, for instance pays 10 percent to inventors after a number of expenses are deducted. One of the main ways to spur entrepreneurial growth in universities is to evaluate these royalty split policies. University innovators are likely to hide key findings when universities take most or all of the royalties from innovations. Low or no royalties cause innovators to either leave their institution or give up their ambitions entirely. By more generously sharing revenues, universities can spur innovation and create a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit.

Similarly, entrepreneurial growth is slowed by traditional “walls” built between departments and even individual professors. One way to break down these walls is the establishment of technology transfer offices. These offices increase institutional capacity to turn discoveries into market-ready products. They can also make donors aware of university opportunities for product commercialization, startups, and venture formation. Opening communication within the entire higher educational environment— alumni, management, faculty, and students—encourages cutting edge innovation.

In response to student loan debt, another recommendation is to establish scholarships and financial aid opportunities for student innovators. This will inspire students, who are increasingly aware of the long-term negative effects of student loan debt, to stay in school and innovate. The study also proposes developing internal prizes and endowments to encourage faculty entrepreneurial education and activities. Additionally, universities can incentivize faculty innovation by connecting their accomplishments to promotion and tenure.

Incubate or Perish

Research-focused university campuses should be highly productive incubators for business development resources, according to the paper. It is imperative for universities, which house state of the art research facilities and attract the brightest students and faculty, to be engaged in entrepreneurial efforts to stay relevant and to continue to contribute to the national and global economy.

Turning a university into a makerspace, in which people with shared interests and ambitions work on innovative projects, is necessary as we step forward in the 21st century. Figuring out ways to encourage students, faculty and alumni to work together is the way to build these spaces.  

Radical Vulnerability: Small surfer on a giant wave

What is vulnerability? Though it can mean different things to different people, it essentially comes down to being brave enough to be yourself. And that means being your whole self, including weaknesses and strengths. All the energy you spend projecting an image of strength and invulnerability becomes a mask that insulates you from the real world.

If you are an entrepreneur, you don’t want anything getting between you and the real world. That’s where all the solutions are.

The Emotional Impact of Being Authentic

Being authentic is what helps you connect emotionally with your team. Truth and authenticity are at the foundation of vulnerability. If you show your team your humanity, your genuine heart, they will know that you trust yourself and that they can trust the organization.  

One way to do this is to illuminate your flaws rather than try to hide them away. Be willing to admit mistakes. Understand your strengths and weaknesses and be willing to get support where you need it. This means, instead of projecting confidence, being confident enough to be uncomfortable.

It also means having the ability to be self-aware. Often, the people and situations that bother you the most, the ones that really electrify the negative feedback loop in your brain with repetitive thinking, are places you need the most work. For example, maybe you label someone as a bullshitter. That person really bugs you, and you hate doing business with him. If you look inside, maybe you will see there is a part of yourself that is willing to be less than honest in certain high pressure situations. Maybe you’re the bullshitter! If you take steps to deal with that then you won’t have to plug in and give energy to every dishonest person you run into.

Shame Is an Organizational Virus

When you are willing to look at your own flaws, your team can admit their own mistakes. Everyone makes errors. Why not let them live in the open where they can be learned from? Shame is a terrible organizational virus that mutes voices, making team members less bold and less able to suggest big ideas.

Of course, you work in a demanding environment, and being vulnerable and willing to accept who you truly are does not mean you are willing to accept mediocrity. In fact, it’s the opposite. When you challenge yourself and your team to be fully vulnerable and driven while building solutions for clients, you build an organization that has the best chance of dynamically moving forward. Being a radically vulnerable leader is the optimal strategy to becoming a successful business leader.