Here’s a test of whether your entrepreneurial aspirations are the real deal: Imagine how you would react if the first 20 people who heard your idea shot it down, or if you failed at your first five attempts to make a go of it.
If those scenarios sound discouraging to you, then chances are you aren’t cut out to be an entrepreneur. On the other hand, if you didn’t scare that easily, you just might have what it takes. Here are some questions that can help you further assess your aptitude.
1. Do you believe?
It may sound corny, but it really does start with believing in yourself and your business idea. To hear researcher and author James V. Koch describe it, the classic entrepreneurial personality seems to combine the self-confidence of Muhammad Ali with the sunny-eyed optimism of Little Orphan Annie. Koch, who is a professor of economics and president emeritus at Old Dominion University, co-wrote with James L. Fisher, “Born, Not Made: The Entrepreneurial Personality,” based on a comparative study of more than 200 CEOs.
“We ran into entrepreneurs who had failed four or five times in a row, and they were absolutely convinced that this next time they were going to strike gold,” Koch says.
That confidence ties into another essential entrepreneurial trait: the willingness to take risks.
“You take someone like Thomas Edison, who had all kinds of failures, or Walt Disney, just to take two prominent names,” Koch says. “They weren’t easily discouraged. They were willing to take risks.”
2. What’s your motivation?
Even above making money, entrepreneurs are driven by the desire to do “something of significance,” says Jon Down, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Portland in Oregon.
“They don’t view what they’re doing the way a lot of people may view their jobs — as a means to a paycheck that allows them to do other things outside of their work,” Down says. For the entrepreneur, the work itself is the goal.”
3. How do you see the world?
Bill Wagner, author of “The Entrepreneur Next Door,” says successful business owners tend to be “more strategic in their thinking … more big-picture oriented,” as opposed to being more tactical and focused on details. That wide-angle perspective comes in handy for handling the broad range of challenges that will fall squarely on their shoulders as company chiefs.
“They have to have the ability to walk into almost any environment and figure it out,” Wagner says. “They have to have an ability to strategize, to be innovative, a good troubleshooter and problem solver. They have to have the ability to see a solution before most other people even recognize that there’s a problem.”
4. Do you know what you’re getting into?
When clients come to Down with a business idea, he tries to find out whether they really understand the life of an entrepreneur.
“I advise them to go speak to some entrepreneurs … so they can hear them talk about what it’s been like in terms of putting in long hours, not drawing a regular paycheck,” Down says.
Many businesses fail because their owners didn’t adequately assess the market for their ideas. “They think it’s the best idea ever, and maybe they are able to attract funding for it, but it turns out that … there aren’t customers out there who are willing to pay for it,” Down says.
A poor match or lack of communication between business partners can also derail a startup, according to Down. Your mutual enthusiasm for the venture may not last if you don’t each have a clear understanding of what you expect from one another and the business.
5. Will you stick it out?
You must be prepared to ride out each stage of your company’s development. Once you’ve attracted seed money from investors who were impressed with your pitch, “You’ve got to deliver on what you’ve talked about,” Down says.
Whatever your business is selling, says Carol Dougal, co-president of the Women’s Business Development Center in Chicago, “You have to be able to stick with that product or service and not get bored with it.”
You might think that your passion will be enough to keep you going, but Dougal says plain, old-fashioned perseverance is more important.
“You can have a three-week passion or a one-year passion, but (for a business to succeed) it’s got to hang with you for the duration,” Dougal says.
6. Is it in your DNA?
Finally, there’s the question of whether you have to be wired with all of the right stuff to be a successful entrepreneur, or whether you can learn the necessary traits. The title of Koch’s book spells out his view that entrepreneurs are born, not made, and others interviewed for this article generally agree.
Dougal says she has seen many people faced with job layoffs begin to discover their latent entrepreneurial talents with the help of business development programs. “I think need and support can push people into identifying those qualities in themselves,” she says.
Learning accounting, how to write a business plan and how to approach investors can certainly enhance your chances for success. But as Koch says: “It’s very difficult for an M.B.A. program or an undergraduate bachelor’s program in business to teach someone to be a risk-taker.”