Updated June 6, 2016

23 Signs You Might Be a Successful Entrepreneur

23 Signs You Have What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur
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Do you wish to start your own business? If you possess any of these 23 traits, you might just have what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur.

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Lemonade Stand © amy gizienski (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

How many times have you watched Shark Tank and thought, "Why didn't I think of that?!"

Or maybe, you thought, "I totally had that idea 2 years ago."

We've all probably all been there. We've had what we felt like are brilliant ideas and fantasized about becoming an entrepreneur.

But have you ever wondered if you could take your dreams further and actually turn your idea into a successful business?

What sets apart those guys and gals standing in front of huge investors on Shark Tank, and you, the one watching them from the couch?

Entrepreneurs are like superheroes for the modern age, creating life-changing products and offering services that make life simpler.

They come in all shapes and sizes, from all different backgrounds and education levels. But they all are more alike than they appear.

They all share certain characteristics that give them the drive and determination to pursue their dreams. Do you possess any of these 23 traits?

1. You're smart

No, we don't mean you get straight A's.

In fact, many successful entrepreneurs are college-dropouts who made their millions through sheer raw talent and ingenuity.

Just look at Mark Zuckerburg and Steve Jobs, both of whom famously quit school and started their companies before the age of 25.

Book smarts may be overrated when starting a business but intelligence is not.

In a UC Berkeley Haas School of Business study, researchers looked at data comparing unincorporated self-employed people with incorporated self-employed people. They found those who fell into the entrepreneur category scored higher in cognitive ability and learning aptitude.

Are you a fast learner? Are you good at solving problems? Do you have a superior memory? If you answered yes to all of the above, you may be the stuff that entrepreneurs are made of.

2. You're confident

It takes confidence to believe in your entrepreneurial dreams and take action.

Many entrepreneurs find themselves up against tremendous odds and an onslaught of naysayers when they're in the startup phase. To fight against it, you have to believe in your product and your abilities to sell it successfully.

It comes as no surprise that entrepreneurs need to have high self-esteem. In the Haas School of Business study, researchers had all their subjects take the Rosenberg Self-Esteem questionnaire, which measures the level of approval or disapproval of one's self. They found that entrepreneurs scored twice as high as salaried workers.

If your big ego is considered a hindrance in your daily life, you should know that entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were in the same boat. Your high confidence and thick skin may pay off when you're going through the inevitable ups and downs of starting a business.

3. You like to ask questions

If you were the type of kid who drove your parents crazy with questions like "Why is the sky blue?" or "Why can't I eat cake for breakfast?" you might have been exhibiting the first signs of entrepreneurial spirit.

What sets many successful entrepreneurs apart from the rest is their ability to challenge the status quo and find new solutions to everyday problems.

Jeffery H. Dyer, Hal Gregerson, and Clayton M. Christensen conducted a six-year study of entrepreneurs and CEOs and found that the most innovative entrepreneurs ask questions like "What if," "Why," and "Why not."

Instead of trying to improve what already exists, they challenge assumptions, find new alternatives, and sometimes synthesize opposing ideas.

Now, who ever said that curiosity killed the cat?

4. You experiment with solutions

Hand in hand with asking questions, entrepreneurs also experiment with finding answers.

In the same study of innovative entrepreneurs cited above, it identified experimentation as an important part of an entrepreneur's DNA and what helps to create an innovative culture within a company.

They define experimentation as tinkering with objects, exploring new places, or mulling over intellectual ideas. Rather than stop at one solution that works, entrepreneurs are always experimenting, coming up with new ideas and looking for better answers.

If you're constantly taking things apart, whether physically or intellectually, your penchant for experimentation is highly valuable as an entrepreneur.

5. You don't give up

Every entrepreneur has a story of how they got to where they are, and a lot of them start with failure.

Milton Hershey started three candy companies before he founded the Hershey Co. Walt Disney was fired before going to Hollywood, where he would eventually start his own animation studio.

From the inception of a new business idea to the moment when their business is finally in the black, entrepreneurs face a variety of obstacles, and the most successful are those who can rise above the fray.

Gideon D. Markman and Robert A. Baron conducted a study to find out why certain people are more successful as entrepreneurs. They found that the most successful ones have a higher adversity quotient, or a higher tolerance for failure. A survey conducted by Ernst & Young also found that perseverance was a common trait among the 685 entrepreneurs in their study.

Honestly, starting a business is not the hardest part. But being able to keep going when things don't go according to plan is. Entrepreneurs are not afraid to fail. And they definitely don't give up if they do at first.

6. You take responsibility for outcomes

If something unexpected happens, do you immediately see it as something "meant to be", or maybe even blame it on someone else?

Or do you take full responsibility?

Most entrepreneurs understand that their actions, not luck or fate, are what manifests their desired outcome.

The study published by Markman and Baron concluded that the most successful entrepreneurs are those who have high self-efficacy. The Ernst & Young report also found that entrepreneurs truly believe that events are the result of one's actions.

It stands to reason that those who believe they have control over the future of their business are more likely to take action to get their desired outcome, rather than leave it to chance.

7. You recognize opportunities

Being opportunistic isn't always a bad thing.

As an entrepreneur, it's absolutely necessary for you to be able to identify new business opportunities before the chance passes you by. In fact, rather than seeing change or disruptions as setbacks, successful entrepreneurs see them as opportunities.

Markman and Baron define this skill as "opportunity recognition," or the ability to scan an environment and identify high and low potential opportunities.

Some entrepreneurs are better at it than others, but even if you're not born with this skill, it's something you can improve over time.

8. You're action oriented

It's not enough to just recognize opportunities. Entrepreneurs also have to take action - and fast!

Because of changing trends, fleeting opportunities, and the possibility that someone else might beat them to the punch, entrepreneurs often work quickly to get a project or business off the ground.

In fact, check out these crazy stats:

Amar V. Bhide wrote in his book, The Origin and Evolution of New Businesses, that 63% of the entrepreneurs started their businesses only weeks to a few months from when they had their initial idea. And 60% of them started one without a business plan.

That's good news for people who prefer action more than contemplation (although contemplation has its benefits too). If you're a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person, entrepreneurship is an occupation where your decisiveness and fast reaction time will be useful.

9. You know an entrepreneur already

You know that saying "you are the company you keep"?

Being around entrepreneurs can serve as extra motivation for would-be business owners. And yes, their energy is contagious.

The Ewing Marion Kauffmann Foundation surveyed 2,000 Americans and found that over 35% of people who knew entrepreneurs were entrepreneurs themselves.

Maybe you haven't thought about starting your own business before, but spend enough time with entrepreneurs and you just might get bitten by the entrepreneurial bug.

10. You're a rebel

The most creative entrepreneurs are often rule breakers and risk takers, challenging assumptions and presenting radical new solutions to everyday problems.

Nothing we don't already know. But this is surprising:

Studies suggest that many were also law-breakers at one point in their adolescence.

In the Haas School of Business study, it was found that a high percentage of entrepreneurs reported engaging in illicit activities in their youth, including shoplifting, vandalism, and marijuana use.

Controlling for other factors, they found that in combination with high intelligence, people with this trait were 60% more likely to become entrepreneurs in their lifetime.

This could be good news for people who are worried that their juvenile record might hurt them in their entrepreneurial endeavors. Your "break-the-rules" attitude might actually be an asset.

11. You're a workaholic

Usually this isn't seen as a good thing, but it is if you have entrepreneurial aspirations.

In a study conducted by The Alternative Board, a business coaching organization, they found that 82% of entrepreneurs work more than 40 hours per week, with the majority working 40-49 hours. 97% of entrepreneurs also work on the weekends.

It goes without saying that starting a business takes a lot of work and personal sacrifice, especially because your livelihood depends on its success.

Think of your current work schedule as practice for the major leagues, when you might be putting in 90-plus hours a week to get your business off the ground.

12. You know how to collaborate and delegate

Steve Jobs was a notorious control freak according to his former employees, but Apple Inc. wouldn't have existed without his partnership with Steve Wozniak.

For most entrepreneurs, it's difficult to give up control when they're putting their careers, dreams, and finances on the line. But the most successful entrepreneurs are those who learn to collaborate and delegate work to others.

Gallup conducted a study of 2,500 entrepreneurs and identified 10 traits that the most successful entrepreneurs possess. Among them was the ability to recognize that they can't do everything.

Successful entrepreneurs need to know when to take the lead but part of having good leadership skills also means knowing when to delegate tasks or relinquish control. It's important to work well with others and put trust in the people you manage.

That said, we're now going to say something that may seem conflicting:

13. You take responsibility for creative work

We just said it's important to trust your team to do work without you, but researchers have found that the most successful entrepreneurs do the majority of the creative work themselves.

As the CEO of your company, you want to call the shots when it comes to the creative work so that it aligns with your goals and vision.

In the study conducted by Dyer, Gregerson, and Christensen, only 15% of the entrepreneurs took control of the creative process, but they were the executives of the most innovative companies.

If you want to simply manage your employees and encourage creativity, delegate the creative work to other people. But if you want your business to be known for your innovation, take responsibility for the creative process yourself.

14. You have good decision-making skills

Every business decision that an entrepreneur makes can affect the company's success.

Acting too rashly, or not acting at all, can make or break a business' bottom line. Changing markets and unpredicted obstacles require that entrepreneurs know how to think quickly on their feet and make important decisions with limited information.

Researchers at Syracuse University investigated what they called the "entrepreneurial mindset." They found that entrepreneurs possess a variety of cognitive abilities that help them analyze changing information and make critical decisions at a moment's notice.

Simply put: entrepreneurs should be able to make good decisions, and fast.

Entrepreneurship isn't for the faint of heart, and those who want to start their own business should have a good track record for sound decision making.

15. You overcame adversity in your childhood

You probably didn't think there was a silver lining to the bullying you experienced in grade school, did you.

Research shows that overcoming adversity in childhood helps prepare entrepreneurs for challenges they face when starting a business. A case study published by the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology found that many entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs (like entrepreneurs but within the confines of an employer) experienced hardships while growing up, which gave them the coping skills and resilience necessary for success in business.

There's a positive spin to most all situations. If your childhood was less than stellar, you most likely developed a strong character that will come in handy as an entrepreneur.

16. You're goal oriented

If you'd rather watch TV and drink beer than join the rat race, entrepreneurship may not be for you.

Entrepreneurs are ambitious, often risking their careers and financial stability in order to make their dreams a reality.

In a study conducted by Target Training International, a business consultant and research company, they studied 17,000 working adults and found that serial entrepreneurs tested above average in goal orientation, which they defined as being able to identify a goal and focus their efforts to achieve it.

A different study out of Clemson University compared the psychology of 767 entrepreneurs, small-business owners, and corporate managers and found that entrepreneurs were more motivated by achievement than their counterparts.

Do you have clearly defined goals and are you working towards them? If so, you're already one step ahead of the curve.

17. You're persuasive

Maybe you were the captain of the debate team or were somehow always able to talk your way out of detention.

If your powers of persuasion haven't helped you get into law school yet, you can put them to good use as an entrepreneur.

The study conducted by Target Training International found that the one trait that serial entrepreneurs excelled in more than the average adult was the skill of persuasion.

From pitching your business idea to investors to convincing potential clients that they need your product, your success as an entrepreneur rests on your ability to persuade others to buy into your business.

18. You're a natural leader

While you don't have to be flashy and charismatic to be an entrepreneur (just look at Bill Gates), you do need to exhibit leadership skills and be comfortable taking the reins. After all, it's your vision and your company that's on the line.

So what makes a good leader?

Target Training International study, defined a good leader as having a compelling vision for the future and being able to convince others to take risks to support that vision. It comes as no surprise that their study showed that serial entrepreneurs display more leadership abilities than the average person.

In simpler words, being a good leader means:

Someone who can set goals, motivate their employees to work towards that goal, communicate effectively, and make the hard decisions for the good of the company.

Unfortunately, leaders are natural-born, not made. If you're lucky enough to possess these qualities from a young age, you could find your calling in entrepreneurship.

19. You're tolerant of ambiguity

Do you cringe at the thought of facing the unknown, or do you thrive on uncertainty?

If you answered the latter, entrepreneurship might be right up your alley.

When one starts a business, nothing is certain - the source of funding, how the public will receive your product or service, and even if you're going to make it through your first year.

Studies show that entrepreneurs have a high tolerance for ambiguity, and some even find uncertainty desirable. A study by Luca Rigotti, Matthew Ryan, and Rhema Vaithianathan proposed that the most ambiguity-tolerant individuals are willing to assume more risks, and therefore, have the most innovative companies.

When launching a business, don't expect to know all the answers. Yes, there are uncertainties and the potential for failure. But entrepreneurs know that nothing ventured is nothing gained. Control your fears and push through them. And when you rise above it all, it's what makes entrepreneurship that much more rewarding.

20. You have people skills

This doesn't mean that you to be the most popular person in the room.

In fact, there are plenty of examples of introverted entrepreneurs (Zuckerberg comes to mind) who still found success without being social butterflies.

However, entrepreneurs who have a high level of social competence are more likely to succeed in business. A Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute study found that entrepreneurs were more financially successful when they possessed above average social competence.

So what does this mean?

You don't have to love attending parties, but you do have to be able to communicate effectively with other people, relate to them, hold up in social situations, and express yourself clearly.

21. You're open to feedback

Thank you for your opinion, but I know how to run my own business.

Oof. That's the worst possible attitude to have.

If you agree with that statement, you might not be comfortable with the criticism you'll face running your own business.

At all stages of a business, you'll face criticism. This will come from family, friends, potential investors, customers, and your employees. You have to have thick skin to make it as an entrepreneur, but that doesn't mean you should ignore criticisms.

On the contrary, many companies that engage with their customers and ask for their feedback experience greater success.

For example, Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, claims that their best-selling flavors were suggested by customers, which spurred their "Do the World a Flavor" contest in 2013, where they asked customers what flavors they want to see.

As the founder of a company, you might think you know what's best, but being open to feedback from employees, a trusted mentor, and clients may help your business' success.

22. You're a good mediator

Do you seem to always be that person who resolves family disputes or conflicts within a group of friends?

You'll make an excellent entrepreneur.

An important aspect of being a leader is being able to bring together disparate groups of people around a common goal. You may have to mediate between disagreeable employees or clients.

Jeffry A. Timmons wrote in his book, New Venture Creation: Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century, that entrepreneurs excel at conflict resolution and must get along with various personalities who have conflicting goals.

If your family and friends turn to you to mediate their arguments, you've already gotten plenty of practice at putting out fires and creating harmony between conflicting parties.

23. You want to be an entrepreneur

If you've been reading through this list and recognize none of the above qualities in yourself, don't fret.

Some experts suggest that more than any other quality, the desire to become an entrepreneur the most important trait of them all.

In a study from Manipal University of Indian women entrepreneurs in the textile and apparel industry, they found that their desire to fulfill their dream of being an entrepreneur is what motivated them to start a business, more so than other motivational triggers.

While all of the above qualities are helpful when starting your own business, these skills can be learned and cultivated over time. Your sheer determination to be an entrepreneur can make all things possible.

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Comments about 23 Signs You Might Be a Successful Entrepreneur

  • Tim Seidler
    on January 26, 2015 12:56 PM said:

    I like how many of those boxes I can tick as yes. The note about Zuckerberg being an introvert also particularly appeals to me as I'm generally much happier not talking to people, but do enjoy talking shop endlessly.

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