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Do You Think and Act Like Successful Entrepreneurs
By Will Klippgen, Managing Partner, Cocoon Capital Partners
We hear a lot about university dropouts that create multi-billion dollar companies. However, the real heroes of economies in Singapore and around the world are the entrepreneurs behind the millions of small and medium sized businesses. In the ASEAN-6 countries, these SMEs contribute close to a stunning 60 percent of gross domestic product and provide around 97 percent of all jobs.
In the last 13 years, I have been investing in digital startups, and with my business partner, Michael Blakey, we recently launched Cocoon Capital, a small venture firm helping entrepreneurs scale digital businesses out of Southeast Asia - often with the global market in mind. One of the big questions we have been asking ourselves is this: What makes a good entrepreneur? We believe entrepreneurs are everywhere. They are in big companies, they work in government agencies and they work in small startups. We found that successful entrepreneurs all act and think in quite similar ways and we found six main traits we will share with you in the following:
Trait 1: Putting the business before yourself
A fundamental difference between what we call typical employees and entrepreneurial minded people is how they approach work. The typical employee uses politics and tactics to get higher pay and more power, always working hard to please his or her boss and trying to stay out of trouble. An entrepreneur, on the other hand, cares more about the business itself and how he or she can make it increase in value. Entrepreneurs think like owners, employees often tend to think, well, like employees.
Trait 2: Confidence and resilience
Good founders are self-confident. Not arrogant or over-confident. Self-confidence has positive side effects that are important when navigating the stormy waters of fast-growing businesses. First of all, it makes you able to engage constructively with more experienced, competent and smarter people than yourself. Where insecure founders will stonewall, shy away and sometimes, be outright hostile to input, confident entrepreneurs engage constructively to discuss, listen and learn from others. They are also able to take advice in a way that does not steer them off course including disregarding advice they find irrelevant.
We also found that confident entrepreneurs hire people better than themselves. Insecure founders tend to focus a lot on control, and for them, a competent person is a threat, as they also tend to be afraid of their own positions in the company as it grows.
Starting a business is often like stumbling in the dark while looking for the way forward.
Accepting The Fact That Regardless Of What Founders Or Investors Might Believe Is The Right Answer; The Market Should Be The One To Decide
Trait 3: Staying focused
Good founders are creative, full of ideas, but the best founders focus on one problem at a time. Start-ups have very limited resources, and the best teams tend to do one thing at a time. By this I mean one product, one key customer segment or one key market at a time. The sense of urgency that often plays in the mind of entrepreneurs can create a forced sense of having to do everything at once. However, most of the time, competitors move slower than you think, and customers take a long time adapting to new products and services. One of the hardest words that entrepreneurs need to learn to say is ‘No’, even if it means turning down revenue. Short-term opportunities often stand in the way of building a path towards long-term revenue. If you focus on where you want to be in 5 years, and not in 5 months, you will most likely make wiser decisions.
Trait 4: Being a hustler
One of the common complaints investors hear from entrepreneurs is that they never have enough money, but, sadly, early-stage companies will always be short of both cash and other resources. Hustlers are those that can achieve amazing things with nothing, or very little, and put in blood, sweat, and tears with only goal in mind: Success.
One of our successful founders pawned her jewellery, moved her entire office to her apartment and did part-time consulting to get through the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. All the time while hustling for new contracts for the main business; eventually growing it to become the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia. A few years later while raising millions of dollars from prominent investors. Our most successful teams have at least one hustler. Are you one?
Trait 5: “Failing forward”
The fascinating aspect with successful companies is that they usually started out as something different. Finding the product or service that starts scaling like crazy often takes a lot of experimenting. In Silicon Valley, you often hear about “failing forward” – the concept of finding your path gradually by multiple, controlled experiments that most often fail. Our most successful founders adopt this principle at varying degrees, accepting the fact that regardless of what founders or investors might believe is the right answer; the market should be the one to decide. By designing experiments so that the outcome will move the company gradually forward, a lot of time and money is saved, and the risk of moving too far in the wrong direction is minimized. Using this principle, one of our companies soft-launched their website in multiple countries, and only invested in the countries where they saw high organic traction. At a micro level, other companies tested marketing campaigns by spending less than $20 on each ad version and checking traction to find the best performing version.
Trait 6: Ruthlessness
Although it sounds wrong at first, many of our favorite founders are “ruthless” in the sense that they understand that the business should always come first. They are able to let go of the wrong hires and they are the ones willing to admit their own mistakes and take corrective action. Problems do not go away – they need to be dealt with here and now.
How ruthless can you be?
I hope these six traits have been useful. And perhaps it has given you the confidence to launch your own business or take on that internal project and make it a success!
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