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Top 7 traits of successful entrepreneurs you should adopt

Modernizing your brand doesn’t require wearing a hoodie, but times are a changin’ and here’s how to keep up without sacrificing your professionalism.

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young executives

young executives

No hoodies required

When someone says successful entrepreneurial traits that could inject youth into your company, who do you think of? If you said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, you’re in the majority, and you’re probably wondering if you should start wearing hoodies, jeans and flip flops to the office or drinking Red Bull and vodka while you work late into the night.

No, if only being a success in business was that easy! There are dozens of traits that successful entrepreneurs have, but these are seven traits that are adoptable, actionable and can be used in any company or organization to inject youth, innovation or just sheer enthusiasm into the culture.

1. Passion

Everyone says entrepreneurs are passionate, you’ve probably heard this so many times you’re annoyed that it is on our list, but hear us out- passion is more than getting excited about a product, it’s more than burning the midnight oil. Passion is that drive that fuels you in the morning, it’s the belief that you can make a difference in the world with what you are doing, it is the idea that the reason behind what you do is so much more than a paycheck. Passion is found in doing work that you would do even if you won the lottery.

Actions to take: if you or your organization lacks passion, ask yourself why you do what you do? Who do you serve? Why does it matter? Even an agricultural association should be able to write down that they are more than their mission statement, that they spend every day devoted to elevating best practices and connecting even the most rural areas as they protect the rights of farmers, ranchers from Tyson to the tiny organic farm. Ask why. Then, ask why again until you get legitimately excited about going to work tomorrow.

2. Honesty

Transparency has been a hot buzz word in recent years, even used by the Obama administration as they campaigned for office. Being honest isn’t about putting your balanced check book on your blog, it is about being authentic, it is about being honest with yourself about what you are capable of and being honest with your team or your customers when you have fallen short. The secret ingredient to honesty that is always, always, always overlooked in every industry is humility. Honesty sometimes requires apologies, and it requires the ability say that you’re incapable of doing something.

Actions to take: look at your email inbox right now and select the email you’ve been dreading answering. We all have one. Instead of spinning something or putting a press release polish on a response, try some honesty. You’ve let that person’s needs fall through the crack and you apologize and here is what you are going to do to make it right to earn their trust. Or, your dreaded email may be to a client that you have to tell you simply don’t have any news for and although you know they desperately need news, nothing on their account has changed but here is what you are actively doing to help and you will devote yourself to it. Or maybe you need to respond to an email asking for your time and be honest with them that their cause is important to you but your plate is full right now and you aren’t able to devote the attention to them that they need.

3. Informed

Think of the most successful person you know. Do they read books? Do they read the newspaper? Do they read email newsletters and blogs? Or are they already done learning and they’ve quit. Of course they haven’t stopped learning, all successful people have an inherent desire to cram as much knowledge into their brains as possible and it isn’t always work related. Being well informed means you’re in touch with trends and ahead of the curve, you’re raising your competency level every day rather than resting on your laurels.

Actions to take: read at least one physical book each month about business or your industry and subscribe to a monthly print magazine that you read from cover to cover. Subscribe to as many digital magazines (like this one of course) and blogs that your time can possibly handle and read during your down time (on the subway, in dead still traffic, while on hold, etc.). Be a sponge and take in as much information as your brain can possibly handle, then push yourself to cram in more.

4. Accessible

Being accessible is tricky because you’re busy, your day is packed, and we just loaded more on to you by demanding that you read more, we get it. But, every young entrepreneur returns emails quickly and (this is tricky) is kind. The most popular brands and leaders are the ones that remember your name and treat the bagger at the grocery store the same as their investor, as if they are important – not because they’re a lead, but because they are passionate people that will talk about their company at any chance they are given. When you always push people off on to your secretary, they feel unimportant and as if they have no value – successful entrepreneurs work a lot of hours, but much of that is because they are accessible.

Actions to take: if you haven’t turned on email notifications to your phone, do so right now. It will be annoying at first, but as your typing speeds up and you get used to responding quickly, you’ll get the hang of it. If you already have alerts and ignore them, stop it. That kid bagging your groceries is only 16, but he may be a coding genius that could be your next great innovator, and that young startup emailing you asking for coffee may not get that coffee, but may get an email conversation with you that ends in his investing in your company. Inaccessibility implies you’re important than other people, and even if you believe that to be true, stop it.

5. Competitive

There is this notion that entrepreneurs, especially tech entrepreneurs are not competitive simply because they ask for feedback frequently and they are often laid back. Injecting youth into your organization doesn’t mean being cut throat, but it doesn’t mean playing hacky sack on the front lawn every day. Entrepreneurs know that at any time, someone could be 30 seconds behind them with the next big thing and that they have to have to hustle (in a good way). Remaining competitive means studying other companies and not assuming that because they’re smaller or older that they don’t have any market share you can snatch up. Competition doesn’t mean seeing red when your competitor does well, it means pushing yourself harder.

Actions to take: pick one competitor and track your company’s performance against theirs. This could be in dollars, in client acquisition, in investment, or in other results. Keep this at your desk and manually write down the key performance metric you’re charting. Writing it manually will commit it to memory and make you commit to the reality that there are competitors no matter who or where you are. Even Zuckerberg has major competitors.

6. Positive

Have you ever noticed how magnetic truly successful entrepreneurs are? They may not all dress well or be well spoken, but there is something about them that inspires others, and often it is that passion but moreso, it is an unrelenting positive attitude about their company and not a smiling-through-their-teeth kind of positivity, but an I-built-this-wonderful-company-from-the-ground-up and a this-company-is-my-baby kind of positivity. Want that youthful feeling at your company? Be a leader that inspires and motivates rather than asserts authority.

Actions to take: Tomorrow, when you go in to the office, go to the employee’s office that is the lowest on the totem pole and ask what they think of a project they are working on. See if they exude positivity about your company. If they are unenthusiastic or if there is a glimmer of boredom in their eyes, it isn’t their fault, it’s yours. A genuinely positive attitude about a company’s mission is contagious and should shine in everything a company does, no matter how menial. If your staff is bored, you need to stop what you’re doing and inspire those around you by telling them why the company exists, what’s in its DNA. This isn’t a pep talk, this is a culture injection that needs to happen asap.

7. Open

That hip, collaborative environment in Silicon Valley (where everyone has an open door and they toss ideas around openly and get pumped up about a tiny tweak to the website) is real and you can have it too. As a leader, are you open to criticism from staff, customers, press or yourself? Are you open to rejection? Some leaders struggle with this and believe they know best and one in a trillion leaders are right (ask Steve Jobs who never used focus groups rather used his young staff’s ideas mixed with his gut instinct on product marketability). Good leaders ask people they trust for input, but great leaders are open to feedback from everyone, no matter how small.

Actions to take: if this is hard for you, remember that rejection is part of business. Start small. Email a friend in your industry that doesn’t work with or for you and ask for their feedback on the latest changes to your company. It can be a website redesign, a staff change, a simple press release or a new service offering. Practice with someone you trust and build from there with the goal of not being defensive when you get an email (because you’re now accessible, right?) that says your website sucks, rather ask critics what they would do differently.

The takeaway

By being passionate, honest, informed, accessible, competitive, inspirational and open, your company will have the vibrant feel of a brand new startup and inject youth into your company. It all starts with you and what your motivation every morning is, so cram your brains full of information and find a way to tap into the reason why you got into this industry to begin with, then let it flow through everything you do.

Business Entrepreneur

Why receiving big funding doesn’t guarantee startup success

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You finally got that big funding check that allows you to make your dreams come true, but most startups fail because they shoot for the moon.

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The first thing every startup needs to get off the ground is funding. It’s crucial to have enough capital to cover equipment, inventory, and employee salaries, along with other basic expenses unique to the industry. Most startups cover these initial costs through business loans and capital from private investors.

Some business owners perceive getting funded as the first milestone toward success. While receiving capital is critical for success, being well-funded doesn’t guarantee success. Plenty of well-funded startups have failed, gone bankrupt, and all but disappeared.

How could so many well-funded startups possibly go under? The 90% failure rate for startups is due to a variety of factors including bad timing, no market, and most of all – mishandling of finances.

Here’s why receiving big capital doesn’t guarantee success.

Getting investment capital provides false hope

Getting funded can make you feel invincible and cause you to be too relaxed about spending money. It’s a powerful feeling to have plenty of money and know an investor believes in your business. Investors are smart; they wouldn’t throw money at a startup unless they had every reason to believe it will succeed, right? Not exactly.

Startups in big tech areas like Silicon Valley and San Francisco often have an easy time generating large amounts of capital from investors who can’t wait to throw money at the latest startup. Many investors ignore risk and throw their money at long-shot bets hoping to invest in the next Facebook or Instagram. The size of the pot is too mesmerizing not to take the risk.

These long-shot bets carry similar odds to winning a “Pick 6” bet in horse racing. The Pick 6 is one of the hardest bets to win because you have to pick the winning horses for six consecutive races. What if the top horse becomes injured before the sixth race? Investors who toss money at random startups have to pick a startup that will continue to meet all the right circumstances to become profitable long-term. Some of those circumstances are unpredictable.

No business owner wants to view their startup as a long-shot bet. However, the reality is that many startups are. You can’t gauge your potential for success based on how much funding you receive.

Having plenty of cash encourages premature scaling

When you’ve got the cash to scale your startup it seems like a waste not to dive in. Just one look around the internet reveals plenty of videos and articles encouraging entrepreneurs to scale their business. Advice online gives the impression that if you’re not scaling your business, you’re falling behind. However, scaling too soon can tank your startup.

Research conducted by Startup Genome found premature scaling to be the number one cause of startup failure. Nathan Furr from Forbes.com explains this finding and what it means for businesses. Premature scaling is defined as “spending money beyond the essentials on growing the business (e.g., hiring sales personnel, expensive marketing, perfecting the product, leasing offices, etc.) before nailing the product/market fit.” Furr says any business is susceptible to premature scaling – not just startups.

The problem is that premature scaling depletes your cash reserves more quickly. This leaves you with less cash to fix mistakes and readjust as you go along. Failure is what happens when you don’t have the necessary cash to fix mistakes and move toward success.

How to make the most of your funding and increase your odds of success

To increase the odds of developing a long-term successful startup, here’s what you can do:

• Save as much money as possible. For instance, you don’t need a giant office with expensive furniture right away. Work from home and hire a remote team until an office is absolutely necessary.

• Make sure the cost of acquiring each customer makes sense. Know how much money you’re spending to acquire each customer. Track all marketing efforts and eliminate the avenues that don’t generate paying, loyal customers. If the cost to acquire a customer is more than what they spend with your company, revisit your marketing strategy.

• Aim for an order-of-magnitude improvement with your innovation. Skip Prichard advises startups to strive for a 10x increase in the value of whatever innovation is being provided to the world. For example, if your company is offering a lower price for a greater value, aim to increase the value 10x. Attract the early adopters who want big improvements and they will validate you.

Money is a tool – use it wisely

Celebrate when you get your funding, but keep that money in the bank for necessary expenses. Money is a tool that doesn’t guarantee success, but if you budget wisely, you’ll have a better chance at beating the startup odds.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to know when a candidate is a true fit for your startup

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Knowing whether a potential hire is a good fit for your startup is a difficult one, so we suggest asking these 3 questions at your next interview.

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startup hiring practices

Hiring, in general, can be a daunting task. Knowing whom you like to fill the role can seem pretty ethereal until you put pen to paper. The struggle is even bigger for smaller companies, such as startups, as they’re not only looking to fill a role based on skills, but they’re also looking to find someone who will jive with their existing employees and culture. And while culture-driven corporations like Apple do this to a degree, too, it’s nowhere near as delicate as hiring can be for a startup.

Startups often struggle in bringing on new hires from beginning to end. A lot more is at stake when you’re hiring for a small company. Any missteps can be detrimental to profitability, productivity, efficiency, and even business projections. But if you’re a startup looking to hire, look no further.

Writer and former Google Vice President, Jessica Powell, has some great questions to ask your potential future hires to limit any possible setbacks.

It’s important to realize that Jessica’s experience is pretty limited to corporations and that she’s spent much of her time at one of the biggest of them all – Google. Therefore, as a seasoned businesswoman with vast experience in startup life, I’ll be adding some colorful insights that should help both employers and employees even further.

1. In her article, Jessica alludes that an employee’s resilience is a big part of being able to handle a startup, and I completely agree. Startups are typically very touch and go. Even if the startup appears successful, policies, processes, and even something as critical as re-allocation of budget are all subject to scrutiny – often until a time when the company sells or goes public. This is exactly why Jessica recommends employers ask resilience-related questions, probing for “weaknesses and missteps”.

Our favorite question related to resilience that she suggests employers ask in interviews is: “Some people tend more easily to put responsibility or blame on others, and some people tend to put it on themselves. Where would you see yourself? Can you give me an example of when this happened?”

We like this question because it’s incredibly important to know if a new potential employee has perfectionist tendencies and is incredibly hard on themselves, or if they are incredibly hard on their co-workers. If you’re speaking with someone who already puts the blame on themselves half the time, you may be looking at a self-starter who has the potential to lead – very important when considering future scaling, especially because many startups like to promote from within. If they’re more on the perfectionist side of things, you may also be speaking with someone who is incredibly resilient. Why? Because they’re already hard on themselves, which often times leads to allowing others to be hard on them. That means they’ve probably experienced a lot of defeat, but they keep on going, which, in my opinion, is exactly the type of employee startups need.

2. Jessica also goes over how ambiguity in the workplace (again, something very common for startups) can affect new hires, which is why she makes it a point to ask pointed questions that not only gauge the potential hire’s comfort with ambiguity, but also what they value their work environment and career and “to see how they approach complex problems”.

We actually have 2 questions we think startup employers should ask in the ways of ambiguity. The first is pretty basic: “Do you love your routines or do you like to do things on the fly? How much structure do you like in your work day?”

We love this question because startups are often moving so quickly that any employee needs to be accustom to changes be made on the fly. It’s a question that basically assesses whether or not something is a go-getter and can work with unknowns. Let’s say you’re an employer hiring for a sales role. What someone who has never worked at a startup might think is that they’re 100% supported with consistent documentation, training, and pay.

What they don’t realize is that startups often shift gears pretty quickly, so any collateral they may have provided you (I’ve worked for startups where this wasn’t even offered), for example, can quickly become out of date – and with the limited resources some startups have, it could be a month or longer before someone actually gets you what you feel you need to do well in your job. If that’s too ambiguous for you as an employee, you may consider working in a more corporate environment.

The second question is one that I see fit for anyone above entry-level, but mostly for those potential hires who are looking for an upper management or leadership role. Reason being, this question brings experience into question and obviously, if you are entry-level, you don’t have much yet. The question is: “Where was your favorite place to work and why?”

There’s a lot that an interviewer can learn about an interviewee with this question. Not only does the topic of past employment come up, but it also asks the potential hire to dig deep and explain why they liked their past role. This can often lead to other probing questions, such as “why are you looking to leave your current role” and “was there anything about this role you didn’t like?” Depending on their answer, an employer can quickly see if the interviewee’s past experiences, and their preferences, line up with what the employer is looking for.

There are many more great questions you can ask in interviews, but when it comes down to figuring out if someone is fit to work at your startup, starting with these questions can push you past the average, cliché questions at warp speed, making room in the often time-crunched interviews for solid and valuable data on the potential hire.

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Business Entrepreneur

Which city has your back when trying to start your business?

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Have you ever wondered which city will support your big idea, and help you achieve your dreams? Well here are the top 10 entrepreneur friendly cities.

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So, ya want to start a business? (Even if you don’t, just play along.) Well, then it’s important to know the best city in which to start a business. Take a moment to come up with your top-10 predictions prior to seeing what Inc. Magazine and Startup Genome had to say are at the top.
The top 10 are as follows: 1. Austin (what’s up?!), 2. Salt Lake City, 3. Durham, 4. Denver, 5. Boise, 6. San Francisco, 7. Charleston, 8. San Diego, 9. Phoenix, and 10. Miami.

10. Miami:

  • is number One in rate of entrepreneurship
  • number 19 in high-growth company density
  • number 22 in net business creation.

Much like the weather, the startup scene just keeps heating up.

9. Phoenix:

  • is number 2 in net business creation
  • number 7 in population growth
  • number 9 in job creation.

Many have flocked to the Arizona city for warm weather and lower costs of living.

8. San Diego:

  • is number 7 in rate of entrepreneurship
  • number 7 in high-growth company density
  • and number 7 in early-stage funding deals.

Three rated sevens in a row? Somebody call Monica Gellar!

7. Charleston:

  • is number One in net business creation
  • number 6 in high-growth company density
  • number 10 in job creation.

In the Souths of Carolina, founding tops funding.

6. San Francisco:

  • is number One in early-stage funding deals
  • number 2 in wage growth
  • number 8 in high-growth company density.

All of this in spite of the pricey cost of living.

5. Boise:

  • The capital of Idaho is number 2 in population growth
  • number 3 in job creation
  • number 3 in net business creation.

According to the data, you can buy four houses in Boise for the cost of one house in San Francisco. Breaking that knowledge out at my next cocktail party.

4. Denver:

  • is number 2 in rate of entrepreneurship
  • number 4 in high-growth company density
  • number 8 in wage growth.

People have been moving to this Colorado city like crazy

3. Durham:

  • is number 3 in high-growth company density
  • number 8 in net business creation
  • number 10 in job creation.

This North Carolina hub was once known for big tobacco

2. Salt Lake City:

  • is number One in high-growth company density
  • number One in job creation
  • and number 3 in population growth.
  • This spot is popular with adventure seekers

    1. Austin:

    • is number 3 in population growth
    • number 27 in net business creation
    • number 4 in early-stage funding deals.

    The American Genius’s home town is leading the nation in job creation and high-growth company density.

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