Right now it seems like entrepreneurship is rarely out of the news. With many graduates unable to get jobs and economies stagnating, people have realised that one way to create jobs and drive growth is to encourage entrepreneurship.
Just last month, the British government announced a £117 million start-up fund for entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland. In a region with a very young population coupled with high rates of unemployment, a dose of entrepreneurship and start-up culture surely cannot go amiss.
As a former entrepreneur and someone who invests in high-growth businesses for a living, one of the questions I am asked consistently asked is – what makes an entrepreneur? What are the qualities and skills a person needs to successfully start, run, and grow a profitable business?
Although there is no discernible pattern in terms of the more obvious attributes like age, gender, or geographic location, there is a typical ‘entrepreneurial DNA’ that they all seem to share.
If you don’t care deeply about your business idea and have the passion and drive to manage it through to completion, then you may as well pack up and go home. All successful entrepreneurs have this passion – it gets them through the late nights, the time away from family and friends, and the inevitable failures along the way. An entrepreneur must have the desire and the passion to change the world.
For an entrepreneur, the ability to think strategically when it comes to a particular market sector is crucial. The ability to see the ‘white space’ and understand that a particular need is not being met can make for a hugely successful business. For example, Lopo Champalimaud, founder and CEO at one of our portfolio companies Wahanda.com, could see that a huge opportunity was being missed in the health and wellbeing marketplace. It was one of the only remaining sectors that had not yet made the leap online (think restaurants, travel, hotels).
With over 90 per cent of bookings still made offline, salons and spas weren’t making best use of the huge online penetration among consumers in the UK. Now, with Wahanda, they can book online, saving the time and effort of booking offline. Salons and spas are able to take advantage of the online marketplace, which means increased bookings and less empty capacity. Lopo was able to see the white space in this particular (£10 billion) marketplace and has been very successful as a result.
Ability to build and motivate a great team:
Once your company grows to a certain size you will begin to realise that, while you might find it difficult to delegate, you can’t do it all. As a result, spending time identifying and hiring the best talent is one of the most important jobs of any company founder. Being able to sell your company to potential new hires is critical – once they join, the ability to motivate them to get behind you and buy into your vision is also crucial. After all, talent is everything.
Constant rejection and knock backs are common for entrepreneurs. Not everyone will be as enthusiastic as you are about your business idea. They may not even understand it. As a result, you must have the determination to keep knocking on doors, and willing to learn from those around you. If a sales lead falls flat, there are plenty of other businesses out there that will be interested in your product. If a VC rejects your idea as unworkable, take their feedback on board, refine your business model and try again. Without the determination to succeed, the knockbacks that all entrepreneurs suffer will eventually become too much and your business will fall by the wayside.
A good idea is a wonderful thing. However, to be successful in business, an idea alone is not enough. You must have the commercial acumen to make sure the business can grow and scale quickly. And if you don’t have it, then consider partnering with someone who does. I am surprised by the number of entrepreneurs I meet who have a great idea but a questionable business model. Is there a proven need or demand for your product? Do you have a sales pipeline? What are the profit margins? Where are the opportunities to scale? If you are to be successful, you have to a strong sense of how you will make money, if your idea is going to get off the drawing board?
Entrepreneurs are among the most dynamic, intelligent and forward-thinking people around. They are constantly searching for new opportunities and new ideas, and looking to change the world around the world. While they often come from very different backgrounds and experiences, they all share similar qualities which make them stand out from the crowd and which, ultimately, mean they are highly successful in starting and building profitable and successful companies.