7 Habits of Highly Effective Entrepreneurs

February 5, 2014

Most investors like to say they would rather invest in an “A” entrepreneur with a “B” idea than a B-entrepreneur with an A-idea. I generally agree, but what constitutes an A-entrepreneur? They typically have domain expertise, operational experience and strong business acumen. They are driven, willing to takes risks most wouldn’t (more on that another time), and optimistic almost (but not quite) to a fault.  Yet, there is more.

Over the years, as both an entrepreneur myself and more recently as an angel/professional investor, I’ve observed 7 habits of highly effective entrepreneurs (shamelessly borrowing from Covey). These habits are engrained in entrepreneurs’ thoughts and actions, long before they ever meet an investor; and they’re habits that anyone can embrace.

  1. Focus on Culture

While it may sound less important than the product or business model, the culture of a company plays a major role in shaping its success. Entrepreneurs that put tremendous thought into company culture tend to have a much better success rate. A clear, well-established culture means that employees know what’s important and valued, and act accordingly. Ultimately, those core values translate into your customers’ experience. Spend the time to think through the kind of  culture you want, well before you start the company.

  1. Build the Right Teams

One of the benefits of establishing your company culture first is that it gives you the opportunity to build your team to fit the culture. Building a culture takes much less energy and attention when you have people who intrinsically embrace the culture you want. Highly effective entrepreneurs know the right hires will tend to attract others who also embrace that type of culture, creating a virtuous recruiting cycle. They also hire for the long run — not just for today — avoiding the temptation to settle for people who aren’t A players and don’t fit the culture. They look for teammates who will be able to contribute to the company they envision two years from now, not just today.

  1. Be Transparent

Your employees, customers and investors are all adults — so treat them that way. The most successful entrepreneurs are very transparent. Communicate openly and often about what’s going on with the business.  Not only will you lead more effectively, you will earn greater trust and commitment.

  1. Relentlessly Focus on the Customer or Consumer

Most businesses will tell you that they are focused on the customer (or consumer depending on the business model focus). However, what differentiates highly effective entrepreneurs from the rest of the pack is the ability and drive to understand what the customer or consumer needs and wants in context. In other words, understand WHY those needs exist by continually asking the question “Why?” If you can figure out why the customer is trying to accomplish something, or why a user might like something a particular way, rather than just what they say they need, you will likely get to a better and different solution, ultimately leading to a truly great customer experience and outcome.

  1. Establish Influential Support Networks

As a new business, there are many forces directly and indirectly working toward your demise.  To start, a new business has no brand or track record.  Highly successful entrepreneurs focus on building a network of people who truly care about their company’s success and survival, and who can help create a larger brand image than the company otherwise deserves in its infancy. They are able to establish a group of selective advocates and  establish relationships with those external champions who are well positioned to guide them and influence others.  These advocates can include investors, analysts, the press, bloggers and other public opinion leaders, partners, lawyers and accountants, to name a few. The more people interested in and invested in your success, the easier your path will be.

  1. Set and Communicate Clear Goals and Metrics

Start-ups succeed only when the team is aligned and striving for a clear set of goals. Successful entrepreneurs set clear goals and metrics that are repeatedly communicated to the entire team. Regularly measure yourself and your team against defined goals – things that get measured tend to get done!

  1. Be Maniacally Focused

In my experience, the most effective entrepreneurs, particularly at the beginning, are relentless about eliminating distractions, and ignoring the shiny new object in the corner. They keep themselves and their team focused on the key priorities and deliverables, and don’t succumb to the temptation to spread resources thin by chasing a potentially exciting new product opportunity, a customer that doesn’t fit in the initial target market segment, or a partnership that isn’t going to leverage the immediate needs and goals . Staying focused allows you to get all the power and intellect behind a single goal or idea, so that you can break through the noise, clutter, and market inertia and actually get the highest priority items accomplished -- those most crucial to ensuring the company’s success.

Bonus Habit:  Listen more, speak less.  Ask more questions, give fewer answers.  Some of the best entrepreneurs I know are like Spock – they do the Vulcan mind-meld on everyone they come in contact with.  It’s also a key attribute of highly successful sales people – keep that in mind when you start hiring some!