Originally published on LinkedIn, May 28, 2015: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ten-traits-great-entrepreneur-andy-price
The life of an executive recruiter can be brutal. People flame out in our business all the time. It’s a game of failure, you work ridiculous hours, clients don’t respect your personal time, you are in the servitude of others year in, year out and there is no linearity or predictability to your income. It’s a tightrope, all-out knife fight. But what has kept me passionate for 20 years is a simple driving force: I LOVE ENTREPRENEURS.
Yeah, they’ve been Hollywood-ized. Yeah, they’re twitchy and high maintenance. A legendary VC (and first class jackass), once said “it’s never too early to fire a Founder.” Too much fame, too much fortune, money is too easy for too many of them. On and on and mostly true. But let’s be honest. Very few of us would be living the lives we’re living without these people so let’s celebrate them more often. Here are 10 ways to spot an awesome entrepreneur:
1) They talk about the product and what it does for humanity, way more than they talk about themselves. Love or hate Steve Jobs, one of the great SOB’s of tech history. He lived to delight customers. But these people are everywhere. Luke Kanies at Puppet is a great example. The guy lives to root out misery for his customers. That rocks. Tom Gonser at DocuSign. Talk to him for 5 minutes and get past the Northwest, Seattle saltyness. The guy lives and breathes this product. Jyoti Bansal at AppDynamics. Zuck. What makes them great comes down to simple passion for the pain they’re solving.
2) They never talk about money. Run, don’t walk, from entrepreneurs who are quick to tell you about how much money they’ve raised at X valuation as a lead topic. As if money is hard to raise. My 12 year old daughter could raise a round right now. Get over it. And if one tells you about how much money they’ve personally made, they’re focusing on the wrong topic and will be road kill.
3) They respect investors. They understand that once they take money, it’s not “their company” any more. Don’t respect investors? Don’t want to take their money? Then go bootstrap something…Or build a lifestyle business.
4) People who bootstrap companies over a long period of time and avoid venture financing until it’s expansion financing vs company validation financing. These people should be celebrated more often, because it’s a grittier, longer road strategy. Desire2Learn is a cool education company that’s doing about $100M now and a key player in Edutech. Talk to John Baker about how he cooked up the idea in college. Great story.
5) They are inspired by the employees who follow them. They put “cult” in the word “culture.” They genuinely love their employees as one would love their families. They understand people. People are not commodities, pawns or objects to them. When an entrepreneur talks fondly of their people, that’s a great sign. They understand that their journey will be a short one if they don’t celebrate the people who accompany them, do the heavy lifting and deliver the work.
6) They think about the company as a business, vs just a product or a service. They take a holistic approach to thinking about the organization strategy, financing strategy, roadmap. They challenge their own assumptions all the time without being indecisive (difficult to do). But they aren’t single threaded.
7) They’re level headed about exit strategies but they don’t fixate on it. They’re not religious about going public (which is grossly overrated–just ask any public company CEO and most will agree with this). They think about financing expansion in a rational, disciplined way. They don’t over-invest and they don’t starve the company.
8) They’re self-aware. They understand their own weaknesses and accept them. They get excited about hiring people who address those weaknesses. They get out of the way of the people they’ve hired to do those jobs and they root out the no-ops unapologetically, but elegantly. They try really hard not to hire no-ops in the first place…
9) They think about their Board and they embrace accountability. They don’t surround themselves with sycophants. Look to the sick public companies right now, or broken startups. Usually you find a weak Board…Or one that has been assembled by the entrepreneur or CEO (in many cases it’s the same person). No system of checks and balances. No balance. The universe, and technology companies all need balance…
10) They don’t lose their nerves when things get hard. They keep a level head. The stay focused or they pivot, but with clarity of thought. They don’t flip out. They don’t yell at people or blow people up. They approach company challenges as something worthy and exciting, and inevitable. That’s when they shine. Under pressure.
Thank you, to every entrepreneur in the world who has the courage to start a business. And a special thanks to those of you who stick with them, and turn ideas into companies, creating jobs and wealth, excitement and delightful products and services along the way. We are humbled by your sacrifices and grateful for your contributions to our sick, crowded, violent, hot, hungry, chaotic world. We need you now more than ever.