5 traits of the most successful entrepreneurs

Over the course of my career, I have met, worked with, and/or invested in hundreds of entrepreneurs. During this time, I’ve seen some rise to the top, while others never quite made it past the starting line. While there may not be a sure-fire recipe to guarantee success as an entrepreneur, a clear profile of a successful startup leader has emerged for me over time.

Here are five key qualities that successful entrepreneurs typically have in common:

1. They have clarity of vision

Successful entrepreneurs can very precisely describe where the company is today, where it will be tomorrow, and how it will get there. This isn’t some robotic elevator pitch, but a natural and clear vision that’s typically very product-centric. Such clarity of purpose and vision helps these entrepreneurs attract employees, convince investors, and bring in partners more easily than others.

2. The startup is their life

The most successful entrepreneurs love working on their ventures; they can’t imagine doing anything else. These are the type of individuals who will respond to your emails at all hours of the night and can’t help but pitch their company to every single guest at a party. This level of passion is critical, since being an entrepreneur is hard, hard work. If you don’t love what you do, there’s no way you’ll last.

3. They stay focused on what matters

Entrepreneurs are typically visionaries, able to see new opportunities around every corner. While this personality trait is typically considered a strength, it comes at a price: staying focused is one of the toughest challenges for any entrepreneur. Thinking back on my own entrepreneurial career, I found myself too easily distracted by new opportunities. The result is that you find yourself thinking about bells and whistles instead of how to improve the core of the product.

In order to thrive as an entrepreneur, you can’t always chase after each new bright and shiny opportunity. Stay focused on just two to three key priorities at all times. Peter Thiel even takes this a step further and recommends only having one priority at a time. In any case, if you spread yourself or your company too thin, it’s difficult to gain any traction.

4. They surround themselves with great people

No one can be an expert in everything. The best entrepreneurs are acutely aware of their shortcomings and build an ecosystem of great people (including co-founders, employees, mentors, and investors) to fill in the holes. For example, a “big ideas” type needs to find somebody who can run the day-to-day and excels in building out operations. Or, a naturally introverted type may want to pair up with a co-founder who enjoys the limelight, pitches, and presentations. At my start-up, my co-founder Hannes and I had the perfect split of responsibilities: he liked finance, HR and legal while I thrived on marketing, sales, and product.

5. They pay close attention to detail

The most successful entrepreneurs I’ve seen don’t just limit their focus to big picture thinking. They care deeply about those little details that matter, particularly ones that impact the product, brand, customer experience, quality of the team and company culture. For example, I know founders who deliberate over the UI of web pages, who interview each new hire, who consider the details of the Holiday party and office design. These entrepreneurs are making decisions on the micro level that can have a profound impact on the macro.

Perhaps more importantly, these leaders are instilling careful attention to detail throughout their company. And this culture pays off as the company gains momentum and employees follow the CEO’s lead in getting the small stuff right every day.

The takeaway

Not every successful entrepreneur will excel in all five areas. For full disclosure, I’d rate myself 3 out of 5 as an entrepreneur. Yet while some people seem to possess a natural aptitude for these qualities, many of these traits can be learned. Don’t expect to develop any of these skills overnight, but keep them in mind throughout your own journey.

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  • http://twitter.com/TonyNicalo Anthony Nicalo

    I vividly recall the day I sat in a boardroom with you and got much needed brutally honest feedback. “I’m not sure if you are the right person to be the CEO,” you said. I didn’t know it at the time, but it mirrored the best feedback I got as a young cook (who had just moved to Chicago after being a “chef” in a small town), from Chef Patrick Robertson. After my first day in the kitchen, he said, “I’ve forgotten more than you know about cooking.” Humbled, I put my head down and worked as hard as I could, learning as fast as I could. I’ve been doing the same since you shared your unintentionally kind words with me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to 5/5, but I am definitely improving as an entrepreneur thanks to your feedback. Thank you, Boris.

  • http://twitter.com/bwertz Boris Wertz

    Thanks for sharing that story, Anthony – it takes a lot to take (tough) feed-back constructively and turn around on improve on it – kudos to you for doing so!

  • http://twitter.com/expertsai Experts.AI

    Nice post. That link to the Peter Thiel blog post just got iDoneThis a new customer. 😉

  • Freddie Heartline

    Awesome round-up. Totally agree.

    Love point#4 – well rounded team & everyone sees and respects everyone else’s area of the court.

  • http://twitter.com/alexchuang72 Alex Chuang

    Love the post, Boris! Just to add on point #5, I think successful entrepreneurs are also great observers of behaviours.

  • http://twitter.com/bwertz Boris Wertz


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  • anne sweeney

    I liked William Scotti’s comment on positive energy, on Linked In. So many Big Box Stores and new start ups’ are quick on the trigger to fire their visionaries, hired to build, or build up Entrepreneurs Business Models or Chains. I could tell that Williams comment was more about humility and less about himself. The one bad element I find with Entrepreneurs, both male and female are that they full of themselves and are self empowered with way too much hubris and arrogance.

  • Richard Sebutor

    Entrepreneurs hold the key to sustainability of life on earth all things being equal.