Entrepreneurs are superheroes. They strive to solve the world’s problems, inspire social change and improve quality of life. They perform heroic feats with scarce time, limited resources and against all odds. Yet, most entrepreneurs toil away in obscurity and often shy away from media. Young people grow up idolizing the figureheads of mainstream media, which today is limited to musicians, athletes and movie stars. I want my children to know there is another class of superheroes in our midst, entrepreneurs. So, I dedicated my two years as a Kauffman Fellow to identifying the patterns of these amazing role models.
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I have been a venture capital investor since 2007 and I have worked with incredible entrepreneurs and investors almost every day since. Over the past two years, I have interviewed CEOs and investors of the most successful startups to determine the character traits most highly correlated with entrepreneurial success. At some point it hit me -- these entrepreneurs are truly heroic archetypes, and that the results of my research should be expressed in the form of a graphic novel. So today, I am unveiling the entrepreneurial superpowers that matter most along with the announcement of my graphic novel, Silicon Heroes, which launches today on Indiegogo. My goal for Silicon Heroes is to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs with the characteristics and skills that power startup success. All profits from the Indiegogo campaign will be donated to Girls Who Code and Code.org.
Startups are emotional roller coasters that test the mental fortitude of founders. Every day brings new and unexpected challenges -- and entrepreneurs can hide under a rock or they can rise to meet them. Successful entrepreneurs have a fire inside of them that motivates them to push farther and faster than normal. Passion is not just love for your product, team or market. It is the intensity, work ethic and determination that enables sustained effort over a long period of time. Lastly, passion is infectious. Passion can be the glue that brings a group of strangers together and galvanizes them to success on their startup journey.
Great entrepreneurs are always recruiting. They are recruiting talented people to their team, recruiting investors to fund their dream and recruiting customers to their product vision. Charisma comes in many forms but ultimately, it is the ability of an entrepreneur to motivate people to align with his vision of the future. At the earliest stages of a company, this involves recruiting founders, finding seed capital and signing up the initial beta customers. At later stages, this can mean leading acquisitions, securing partnerships or evangelizing the vision at a conference.
Speed is one of the only advantages a startup has over a large incumbent. The lean startup framework centers around the mantra of "build, measure, learn" -- build a prototype quickly, measure how users engage, learn from the experiment and then iterate quickly. Cycle time is a critical component for how fast a startup can move through these steps. As a result, the best entrepreneurs set up their company’s organizational structure and decision-making processes to maximize speed. Another critical aspect of speed is coordination -- once a decision is made, an entrepreneur needs to make sure everyone is on board and rowing in the same direction.
Startups are constrained by resources and time. The best entrepreneurs manage these two limited resources through intense prioritization. Founders need to focus the majority of their energy on the most impactful levers that can drive their business forward at any given time. There are simply too many non-essential activities that will take time but not ultimately make a difference. Focus is required to constrain resources into the highest priorities and execute.
Entrepreneurs are constantly encountering new challenges. The best founders exhibit a type of mental agility that allows them to fly through constant adversity with ease. These founders actively seek out advice from mentors, help from their networks and new ideas from books. These founders have an insatiable appetite for learning and are never defensive when given outside counsel. Furthermore, these successful entrepreneurs are able to synthesize new information quickly and creatively apply it to their business. This mental agility is particularly critical for first-time entrepreneurs, as they are constantly on the verge of ineptitude as their businesses scale quickly. Entrepreneurs who have achieved this level of intellectual agility reach new heights by standing on the shoulders of their network until they can fly.
Strengthen these superpowers to achieve your aspirations.
Successful entrepreneurs will possess some or all of these superpowers. These elements of character should excite future entrepreneurs, because all of these traits and skills can be learned, fostered and developed. The key is the self-awareness to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses and invest in developing the superpowers you need to achieve your aspirations. Anyone has the potential to be a successful entrepreneur with the right role models and help along the way.
Are you the next superhero?