Successful emergency room doctors must be highly intelligent and calm under pressure. Successful triathletes must to be goal-oriented and driven. Successful songwriters must be creative. What about entrepreneurs? Entrepreneurship is an interesting field and one that often stokes the debate over whether successful entrepreneurs are born with the prerequisite traits or if they can also be learned/developed over time. Rather than get into that debate, I thought I would share what I see as the eight most common personas of successful entrepreneurs.
Have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment? (I’m an INTJ) Have you read Strengths Finder 2.0 and taken the online assessment? (my top strengths are learner, achiever, focus, self-assurance and futuristic) Why do we take these assessments and how do they help us?
I don’t know what the research says but, in my opinion, the most important benefits are to learn more about yourself, the inherent assets you have and also the gaps and blind spots you have. With that knowledge, you can better understand why you make decisions the way you do and can best surround yourself with others that bring both different and valuable viewpoints to the table while also filling your key gaps.
Using an example already mentioned, successful emergency room doctors must be both highly intelligent and calm under pressure. But those are just prerequisites. Each successful emergency room doctor has other attributes of their persona that contribute greatly to their individual success and those attributes vary greatly among the various successful doctors. I propose that it’s the same with successful entrepreneurs – necessary prerequisites plus unique nuances.
As you build out your founding team and then later your broader management team, you should strive for a complementary blend of strengths and personas. Can you imagine how poorly a professional basketball team would perform if all they had were aggressive 3-point shooters. If you are joined only by founders and executives that think and act like you, you’ll build a company that is unbelievable at shooting 3-point shots but can’t dribble, shoot free throws or layups, play defense, or manage the clock. And that team isn’t going to win any games, much less any championships.
Note: Building a diversified founding team will also greatly enhance the strength of your founding principles. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see my related article titled “Founding Principles – Do You Have Them?”
This article is about personas, which most describe as different than personality traits. A persona is more of a social role or character that is made up of a collection of attributes. Some of those attributes could be personality traits, but not all of them.
I do want to briefly acknowledge that certain personality traits offer advantages for entrepreneurs. The ones I most commonly observe are listed below:
- Driven (self-motivated)
- Unstoppable (doesn’t easily take “no” for an answer)
- Passionate (willing to assign huge amounts of belief and purpose behind a mission)
- Caring (want to make/leave an impact as a result of their actions)
I’m sure you’ve observed other favorable personality traits and I believe that many of the successful personas you’ll see described next incorporate at least some of these personality traits. Now let’s get to those personas.
Now let’s explore my assessment of the 8 personas most exhibited by successful entrepreneurs. I guess the word “successful” can mean different things to different people. For me it is best represented by the following two attributes:
- Leader – people want to join you in whatever mission you are undertaking
- Winner – you tend to accomplish whatever goals you set for yourself
As you read through the personas that follow, realize that you probably exhibit characteristics of multiple. That’s neither good nor bad because the benefit of this personal assessment is not to feel good about yourself but rather to understand yourself in the context of being a successful entrepreneur. Try to first identify your most dominant persona and then see if others also seem to describe you.
The personas listed are not in any ranked order and are purely my own assessment from giving personal advice to more than 1,000 entrepreneurs and growing.
Hustlers are always busy and often referred to as a “workaholic”. They’re filled with energy, move fast and in order to support that pace, they are quickly decisive. A startup’s most valuable resource is time (see related article titled “Your Most Valuable Resource“) and Hustlers help optimize for available time (aka – “runway”).
Warnings – Hustlers often act without thinking and make decisions with very few data points. If they don’t also have a high degree of natural common sense, they can create a lot of unnecessary chaos.
Best Complementing Personas – Hustlers are complemented well by Conservatives and Visionaries
Inventors live in between the gaps of mainstream society. They like to create new things and love to be told “that can’t be done”. Inventors are willing to shoot a lot of arrows, knowing that only a small subset will likely hit the mark. But it’s the process of starting from nothing and creating something that drives them.
Warnings – Inventors are so rewarded by creating something new that often they don’t care as much about whether the thing they invent solves a real problem that someone is willing to pay money to have solved.
Best Complementing Personas – Inventors are complemented well by Visionaries and Evangelists.
Explorers are curious and driven by their inner need to continuously learn. They like to get answers to the “why” question and that desire gives them a strong sense of drive and perseverance. Explorers love to experiment to see what happens and that gives them a tolerance, and even enjoyment, for risk-taking.
Warnings – Explorers often get so excited about the journey and their ability to learn along the way that they lose sight of the need to get to a destination. They also can trend towards perfectionism and that can be paralyzing to a startup.
Best Complementary Personas – Explorers are complemented well by Conservatives and sometimes Scrappys
Visionaries are creative and have an artistic way of thinking. They can see the big picture and are able to think BIG. This also means that Visionaries often identify opportunities that others can’t easily see.
Warnings – Although some Visionaries are also able to connect the dots between the current state and their envisioned future state, many are not good at explaining the necessary steps along that path. Visionaries are mostly consumed with “where are we going” and not “how do we get there”.
Best Complementary Personas – Visionaries can be complemented well by Evangelists, Hustlers and Conservatives.
Evangelists see things that others don’t, which means they have visionary traits but of a specific type. They have an inherent ability to be contagious with their excitement and conviction, which gives them charisma. Because of this, they can be the company’s best spokesperson and sales person – both internally and externally.
Warnings – Evangelists can easily get frustrated if/when others don’t see what they see. They can also become so fixated and obsessed with their current mantra that they turn off their various senses and that can be dangerous if it turns out they were pointed in the wrong direction.
Best Complementary Personas – Evangelists are complemented well by Conservatives.
Scrappys are obsessed with “getting shit done”. They are resourceful, efficient and flexible. And they don’t hesitate to cut corners or break rules to meet their objectives. They are one of your key “go to’s” during crunch times because they can do a lot with a little and they don’t care about job titles or stated roles and responsibilities.
Warnings – Scrappys don’t always take direction well and can march to their own drummer. If they aren’t pointed in the same direction as the rest of the company, they will create chaos and re-work. Prepare to sweep up broken glass that is left behind by Scrappys.
Best Complementary Personas – Scrappys are complemented well by Conservatives and sometimes Explorers.
Unstoppables are confident and fearless. Because of this, they are another “go to” resource during crunch times and also good sales people. Unstoppables are resilient and have no problem dusting themselves off after a failure and immediately getting back into the game.
Warnings – Unstoppables are usually bad listeners and are mostly incapable of processing the word “no”. Even if they hear it, they can’t process it and that means they can bump their head into the same wall over and over until someone else is able to get them pointed in a different unstoppable direction.
Best Complementary Personas – Unstoppables are complemented well by Conservatives and sometimes Visionaries or Evangelists.
Conservatives are logical and analytical by nature. Their actions are first calculated and only then decisive. Conservatives are strong planners and like things to be organized and process-oriented. They are usually self-aware in a way that leverages all of their senses and this also makes them strong collaborators.
Warnings – Although Conservatives are good at leveraging their various senses, that comes at the expense of ignoring their heart and gut intuition. Additionally, their desire for order and process can cause them to be extremely frustrated during the early days when pivots, strategy changes and chaos are the norm.
Best Complementary Personas – Although Conservatives are listed as a good complement to most of the other listed personas, they themselves are best complemented by Hustlers and Visionaries.
Before reading forward, I’d love to understand which persona(s) you most identify with personally. Please take the short survey below and feel free to click the link at the bottom to see how you compare to the summarized results.
Here’s a version of the graphic with arrows showing the various complementary relationships:
The Other Side of the Coin
It should be no surprise that there are lots of personality traits and personas that are not well suited for success as an entrepreneur. I won’t list them all but rather the ones I see most often in the startup world.
The graphic below helps explain this best. At the left and right extremes are personality traits that can kill a startup venture, if exhibited by one or more of the founders. In the middle is where I find that a lot of entrepreneurs drift back and forth. It’s also where I sometimes have to step in as the sage advisor and smack an entrepreneur around a little.
There is a fine line between Confidence and Cockiness. Most successful entrepreneurs are confident in their vision and mission to solve a particular problem they are highly passionate about. But some are, or later become, cocky, which means they have all the answers and know more than anyone else.
Cocky founders are not able to listen to advice or alternative viewpoints. Note that I said “listen to” because successful entrepreneurs don’t act on every piece of advice they receive but they do at least listen and process both advice and alternative viewpoints before making their final decision.
When I’m evaluating an investment or request to become a formal advisor or board member to a startup, I personally look for a personality that I describe as “confident, yet coachable” but not across the line to “cocky”. And if an entrepreneur I’m advising later crosses that line, I figuratively smack them on the head and do my best to help them understand they can’t possibly be so smart as to be able to completely ignore advice and alternative viewpoints.
Of the many undesirable personas I encounter amongst startup founders, below are the most common:
They either can’t bring themselves to make important decisions or they change their decisions back and forth so much that they whipsaw the company.
Probably self-explanatory but maintaining the needed trust and respect with other team members, customers, business partners, investors and advisors is critical to success. Even the most skilled liars get caught eventually and, unfortunately, the company comes crashing down with them.
Being a perfectionist is ideal if you want to be a world-class chess player, fighter jet pilot or accountant. But the startup phase of a company usually calls for getting down a “directionally-correct” path as quickly as possible and adjusting/adapting along the way, as needed (see related article titled “Why Use a GPS When a Compass Will Do?“). Perfectionists plan forever and are driven crazy when there’s chaos.
I hope this article helped you learn a little about yourself and generally opened your eyes to the importance of understanding the personas of the co-founders and employees you are surrounding yourself with during the early days of your new venture.
If you didn’t take the survey but are curious how others rated themselves, below is the snapshot of results after more than 250 responses, which means the relative distribution won’t change much going forward. I must admit that I’m surprised Conservatives ranked so high and Hustlers and Inventors ranked so low.
I can highly recommend the book Strengths Finder 2.0 and can also recommend the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment. Actually, I can recommend just about any of these types of assessments that help you self-inspect and become more self-aware.