Top 10 Key Attributes of an Entrepreneur to Succeed


Entrepreneurship is a vocation where the playing field is even among the competitors. It doesn’t matter if you are competing against another entrepreneur who graduated from an Ivy League school in the US. A college or Master’s Degree will not guarantee you success as an entrepreneur. Some entrepreneurs will move forward and succeed while others will accept the bitter taste of failure and loss.

To succeed, you must possess the key attributes of an entrepreneur.

One of the most interesting discussions in a high school reunion is finding out where my former classmates are and what they have been doing the last few years. I’m sure like myself, many of you are pleasantly surprised to learn that the ones labeled misfits in high school are the ones during exceptionally well in their careers.

Sure the smart ones found well-paying jobs. But the average to below average students were the ones who became successful entrepreneurs. I always find myself asking why is that? Could there be an inverse correlation between academic success and entrepreneurial success?

A 2012 article from the New York Times sought to state its case that there is no correlation between high SAT scores and success in college. High school students who scored very high in these exams did not particularly excel in college nor did they find well-paying careers after graduation.

In the world of international business, many of the most iconic and successful entrepreneurs did not finish college: Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bill Gates of Microsoft and the late Steve Jobs of Apple.

How about the remarkable life story of Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson?

Branson attended Stowe School; an independent school at Buckinghamshire, until the age of 16. Branson had an atrocious academic record partly because he had dyslexia. His headmaster, Robert Drayson, told Branson he would either end up in jail or become a millionaire. Drayson was wrong on both counts as Branson moved on to become a BILLIONAIRE and one of the most inspiring champions of entrepreneurship.

My point in raising the argument is not to undermine the value of having an education. After all, education in itself is a privilege and if you have been accorded an opportunity to study in an established institution, then by all means you should capitalize on it. I’ve always shared with the younger generation that a good education is your passport to a good career.

The question is: “Where will your passport take you?”

It would seem that success in entrepreneurship requires more than academic excellence; intellectual capacity, technical or fundamental competencies. There are certain behavioral attributes of an entrepreneur that will spell the difference between success and failure.

So what are the key attributes of an entrepreneur that would lead to a successful career?

I am referencing the 2014 study by Gallup chairman Jim Clifton and Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal called “Entrepreneurial Strengthsfinder” in addition to my experiences and encounters as a lifelong entrepreneur. The study of Clifton and Badal was very extensive and covered more than 1,000 entrepreneurs.

Top 10 Key Attributes of an Entrepreneur to Succeed

1. Business Focus

Statistically, entrepreneurs start out with a disadvantage as 55% of startups fail within five years.

Successful entrepreneurs are those who are focused on turning a profit.

They know the numbers and that the odds will be against them in the next few years. Those who can maintain business focus can do so because they established the most important component in any venture before committing to entrepreneurship. Purpose.

Purpose paves the road for entrepreneurial success. It guides you to follow your vision regardless of the obstacles that lie ahead. A purpose is a reason why entrepreneurs wake up every morning looking forward to seizing the day.

And lest you think their purpose is “to make money,” you are wrong.

Yes, entrepreneurs want to turn in profit, but they look past material wealth. For them, profit creates opportunities to transform lives. The most successful entrepreneurs use business as a lever for transformation.

When you think about accomplishing a greater good that serves other sectors, your success will be sustainable because you are contributing to the very same economy that supports you.

2. Confidence

Even if they were average or mediocre students at best, the most successful entrepreneurs were confident of who they were and their capabilities.

They did not let their grades or their teachers define who they were. They have the faith and self-confidence to know where they want to go and what they want to achieve.

Thus even under the most difficult situations; and there are many, these entrepreneurs never lose hope. Their composure remains intact, and their minds are always looking for solutions.

If the best decision is to close the business, these entrepreneurs will not wallow in self-pity. They are already looking forward to the next venture.

As Sir Richard Branson said: “Do not be embarrassed by your failures. Learn from them and start again.”

3. Creative Thinking

Henry Sy is one of the Philippines’ most successful entrepreneurs. He got to be successful not only because he worked hard but because he was an innovative thinker who was ahead of his time.

One of the most famous stories handed down to promising entrepreneurs on Henry Sy was about the time the company found out they were losing shoes at Customs. SM’s managers hired the best minds from the biggest and brightest schools and business to solve the problem. But no one did.

Mr. Sy did it with one simple solution: He shipped the left pair and the right pair separately. Pilferage problem solved! And mind you, Mr. Sy only has an Associate Degree not a Bachelor’s Degree.

Related: Top 10 Successful Entrepreneurs in the Philippines Story

In the case of the highly-paid managers and consultants hired to solve the problem, they were very much structured in their way of thinking. Problems are approached using principles of management learned in college or MBA. These are all theories which can be successful under the right conditions.

Mr. Sy exhibited classic “out-of-the-box” thinking. While the “scholars” approached it as a complex problem, Mr. Sy thought it was a simple problem that needed only a simple solution.

In this day and age of volatility, unpredictability, chaos and ambiguity, you need flexibility, not rigid business decision-making. Creativity leads to flexibility.

4. Delegator

An entrepreneur may be the sole proprietor of his business, but it does not mean that he plans to do everything on his own. Successful entrepreneurs recognize the value of their time.

If he has only 8 to 12 hours in a day to manage his business, he would want to make sure those 8 to 12 hours were productive. Remember, just because you are busy all the time does not mean you are productive. The famous saying in business goes that if you are doing too much paperwork for your business, you are not the owner but an employee.

They also acknowledge that they do not know everything and other people are better qualified to manage certain tasks. Thus, they do not hesitate to delegate work and projects.

Delegating work improves productivity because it raises efficiency.

Author Tim Ferris chronicled his experience contracting virtual assistants in his book “The Four Hour Work Week”. Outsourcing work reduces cost, increases productivity and improves business flexibility.

When you delegate work, you improve the quality of deliverables and focus your time, energy and resources to the functions that matter directly to your business.

5. Determination

One of the most dynamic entrepreneurs in the world today is Elon Musk, who takes on challenges most people would not even consider.

Musk is the CEO of Space X, a company that ventures into space exploration and Tesla, a company involved in optimizing sustainable energy. He has one of the most innovative minds today. His vision extends beyond the present. He plans with the future in mind.

When you have ambition the size of Musk, you must be aware of the tremendous obstacles that you have to overcome.

In 2006, Musk was facing the possibility of bankruptcy. He had to choose to shut down one of the companies. Instead, Musk chose to continue both Space X and Tesla for fear his employees would be jobless. Musk continued his pursuit of landing contracts by funding the companies from the money he made from the sale of PayPal.

Eventually, Musk’s determination paid off, and NASA gave him a contract!

If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you must have faith, conviction and determination to achieve your goals and objectives. Accept the fact that in the real world, challenges and difficulties lie ahead. When faced with these obstacles, your determination will always keep you on the course.

6. Independent

When you are an entrepreneur, you are the boss. Let that thought sink in for a moment.

In school, everything that you had to do to pass had to be checked by your teacher. As a 9-to-5 employee, you could not make decisions unless your supervisor or manager approved them. Even in your home, you had to follow the rules of Mom and Dad.

Throughout most of your life, you have been subordinate. As an entrepreneur, you answer to no one outside the government. You make all the decisions and call the shots.

It’s a great thought that most of us had when we were regular office employees.

But are you ready to assume the responsibility?

When you decide to go independent, you’re on your own. You make the rules and live or die with the decisions you’ve made. In business, these decisions have repercussions on your success.

Are you ready to accept accountability?

The most successful entrepreneurs accept accountability because that is a prerequisite for leadership. The most successful companies don’t achieve their status because they have the best managers. They do so because they have leaders in the organization.

Thus, if you want to become independent, you should prepare to become a leader.

7. Knowledge Seeker

What do Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have in common other than being billionaires?

The answer: They both have a voracious appetite for reading books.

Bill Gates makes it a point to read at least 50 books a year. In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg embarked on a new challenge to read at least one book a week. With billion dollar corporations to run, why would Gates and Zuckerberg want to allocate precious time for reading?

Because Messrs. Gates and Zuckerberg want to learn more; Gates reads up on technology while Zuckerberg wants to find out more about culture. For them, this is part of work and more importantly, part of life.

Learning is a process that does not end when you receive a diploma. You should aspire to learn something new every day. Knowledge will always make you better as an entrepreneur and as a person.

8. Promoter

When you think about brands like Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Alibaba, Starbucks, Virgin Airlines and Air Asia you automatically associate the companies with their respective founders; Zuckerberg, Jobs, Gates, Jack Ma, Howard Schultz, Branson and Tony Fernandes.

This is because these entrepreneurs are also the promoters of their brands. They are front and center of everything their company is about. They are the primary endorsers; representing the company in every interview, product launch, stockholders’ meeting, published article and advertorial.

Their image is the seal of approval for every product or service offered to consumers. These entrepreneurs are confident of their business that they want consumers to know the person behind the company.

It’s the same line of thinking promoted by other iconic entrepreneurs such as Roy Disney of Walt Disney, Col. Harland Sanders of KFC and Dave Thomas of Wendy’s who used to say, “If it’s not good enough for me, it’s not good enough for you.”

Personally, I hope more Filipinos subscribe to this way of thinking. There are many successful entrepreneurs, but very few dare to put their face and name on the brand itself. I think this is mainly due to our culture which tends to be more reserved, conservative and introverted.

Filipino entrepreneurs tend to hire celebrities as promoters; obviously capitalizing on consumers’ propensity to be star struck with movie stars, singers, and athletes. Consumers should realize what “paid endorsement” implies.

Here’s an activity for you. I mentioned ten companies that are exclusively promoted by their founders.

Can you name ten successful Filipino companies that are promoted by their founders?

I will make it less challenging for you. You can include companies that are successful in the local market only. The important thing is that the brands should trigger immediate recall or association with their founders.

9. Relationship-Builder

Many of the companies I have mentioned so far value the relationships they have established throughout their history. This includes relationships with consumers, their suppliers and distributors and those within the organization.

Building relationships go beyond building friendships.

For successful entrepreneurs, it is part of the ongoing process of maintaining aligned values, purpose, and vision.

Values such as trust and transparency provide strong foundations for a relationship. These successful entrepreneurs want to be accessible to those in the value chain.

One of the more extreme examples is Tony Hsieh of Zappos who implemented Holacracy in his company. Holacracy is an organizational structure which has no management/supervisory level in the hierarchy. Every person becomes responsible for their scope of work and quality of deliverables.

Hsieh is a big believer in trusting the behavioral component over technical and fundamental competencies. He wants his people to know he trusts them in getting work done.

This is another one among the attributes of an entrepreneur which I hope more Filipinos subscribe to. Based on my meetings and associations with many local companies and entrepreneurs, there still exists a culture of distrust.

Companies terminate services of talented people because management is fearful of being unionized. The by-products of this way of thinking are disengagement and lack of standardization in deliverables.

If the Philippines wants to increase foreign investment, companies have to lower the rate of attrition which has been increasing the last few years. Rising attrition affected the outsourcing industry of India. BPO is still a strong industry in the Philippines, but companies should keep in mind that our strongest export; and asset, remains people.

10. Risk-Taker

Many Filipinos have grown to love its distinctive sweet flavored grilled chicken that is served with unlimited and strangely addictive “chicken oil”. But not many Filipinos know that Edgar “Injap” Sia II, the founder of “Mang Inasal” is not even 40 years old, a billionaire and a college drop out.

Like many Filipinos, Sia was attracted by the idea of running a food business. His concept was a traditional Filipino food served in a restaurant setting. He borrowed US$65,000 from his Dad and concocted the recipe with his wife. The first outlet for Mang Inasal was in a food hall in the city of Iloilo. Sia gambled on the location because rent was cheap.

Today there are 380 Mang Inasal restaurants in the Philippines. Mang Inasal has supplanted “McDonald’s” and is only behind “Jollibee” and “Chow King”. Sia weathered the storm of expanding at a time there was a rice shortage in the country and competition versus the more established giants.

But Sia’s brilliance shone through during an aggressive proposed buyout of his franchises in 2011. The Pancake House group made a bid at the same time as Jollibee. Sia eventually sold 70% of Mang Inasal to Jollibee for a reported US$68 Million and still retained 30% of the company. The arrangement made Sia an overnight billionaire!

In April 2016, Sia agreed on the complete buyout of Mang Inasal to Jollibee for a reported US$45 Million. However, operations remain under Sia’s group, and they have entered into a joint venture with Jollibee to construct commercial property for Jollibee and Mang Inasal restaurants under the name “Double Dragon”.

Related: Top 7 Successful Businesses in the Philippines that Will Inspire You

In 13 years, Sia transitioned from college dropout to #40 on the list of “Richest Filipinos”. According to Sia, his mind was “never in school. It was always somewhere else.” He took risks as an entrepreneur by opening an Express photoshop, a Laundromat, and a budget hotel before getting into the food business. Not bad for someone without a college degree!

Your Key Attributes as an Entrepreneur

Do you believe that you have all of these key attributes of an entrepreneur?

It is not important to have all 10 of them. The take away from these attributes is that successful entrepreneurs are committed to the idea of entrepreneurship. Once you make a commitment, there should be no turning back.

Life of an entrepreneur is not easy. Those who believe entrepreneurship is a guaranteed avenue to achieve riches beyond their imagination will be sadly mistaken. Prospective entrepreneurs who believe they have discovered the “next great thing” will be in for a rude awakening. Dreaming of success is one thing. Having the attitude and the attributes to make it a reality is another.

This is why I strongly suggest that if you are presently studying in school, stay the course and earn that college degree. Having a baccalaureate degree will afford you opportunities to learn and gain valuable experience. It will also serve as a fall-back position in case things don’t go your way as an entrepreneur.

If you want to become a successful entrepreneur, understand it takes plenty of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. Keep in mind that the journey to entrepreneurship is transformative. Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant. At the end of the journey, you will emerge a better person.

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