There are a few entrepreneurs who seem to always be ahead of the rest, and are able to sense where the market is going tomorrow. Investors reverently call this the ability to “see around the next technology corner,” and fight for a place in line to put their money down. Everyone wants to support the entrepreneur with the courage to make bold decisions, and can make it happen.
Elon Musk seems to be highest on this list these days, with his record-setting order rate on the new Tesla Model 3 all-electric car, and well as groundbreaking progress on SpaceX and SolarCity. Steve Jobs of Apple and Richard Branson of Virgin Group are other popular examples. Most investors probably have one or two more favorites, but their list is always short.
So what does one have to do to get on the list? No one expects an entrepreneur to be “always right,” and definitely no one is looking for aspiring entrepreneurs who are willing to make random jumps into the unknown, based primarily on passionate dreams or a revelation from a life-changing event. They do expect to see all the key attributes of an entrepreneur, and a few more:
- Dominating presence without the arrogance. These entrepreneurs are outspoken and opinionated, but not afraid to put their money where their mouth is. Steve Jobs never denied his failures, but didn’t hesitate to risk it all on a next turn of technology from computers to consumer products. His new product presentations were legendary.
- Exhibit almost superhuman energy and focus. According to many, Elon Musk has worked for 100 hours a week for more than 15 years, with incredible productivity. Richard Branson’s adventurer escapades are legendary, while at the same time founding over 400 companies. Steve Job’s focus on incredible design has set new standards for all.
- Good at business, but driven by making the world a better place. Too many founders that are driven by good social causes forget that they have to make money to deliver on their vision for the long-term. Maintaining that balance between doing good and doing business is a key to success that investors and customers watch carefully.
- Build relationships with the best of the best in their domain. Lone scientists may uncover some great technology, but a team is required to build a solution and a market. That team has to cover the range from top designers, savvy financial managers, to good marketing and sales leaders. Leaders make a team greater than the sum of the parts.
- Pushes beyond the limits of known function and design. Only a few entrepreneurs have the intelligence and perseverance to not only envision, but actually build, solutions that defy conventional design and performance limitations. They have to ability and patience, as well, to communicate and awaken customers to a need never felt before.
- Enjoy continuous learning from “stretch” experiments. These entrepreneurs are self-learners, having long ago foregone the conventional learning vehicles of schools, consultants, and incremental improvements. They challenge themselves and their hand-picked team to “impossible” tasks, like reusable rockets, or a computer in a wristwatch.
- Always on the offense in strategy rather than the defense. For most entrepreneurs, playing defense is the default, since it doesn’t require being proactive and it’s hard to consider killing a cash cow. Steve Jobs couldn’t wait to push out the Macintosh personal computer, even though the Apple IIe was still doing well in the market.
The entrepreneurs who work at “seeing around the corner” are the ones who work 80 hours a week or more, just to avoid the predictable 40 hour per week regimen. They don’t worry about getting it right the first time, or every time, because they relish the heightened learning they get from failure. They get their satisfaction from the journey, as well as the destination.
As a mentor and advisor to aspiring entrepreneurs, my advice is to hone your development of these extended attributes by first working in a challenging startup environment under the tutelage of a more experienced entrepreneur that you respect and trust. It helps to know the difference between a corner and a brick wall before you charge ahead.