Last weekend, I spoke at the National Student Leadership Forum in Canberra about entrepreneurship. Ambitious uni students, nominated to attend by their local MPs, packed the auditorium.
During Q&A at the end, one of them asked: “What are the core qualities an entrepreneur needs to be successful?”
This made me think about my strengths, and those of my entrepreneur friends and mentors. I know I’m not the best manager of people, I’m not great with details and accounts and I can’t write a line of code.
You have to be someone who takes risks, just does it and works hard but there’s more to it than that.
As you might have read in my previous blog posts, I’ve made just about every business mistake in the book. But, two years after I quit music to launch Posse we’re still here and, finally, starting to make real progress.
To answer the student’s question I reflected on the core strengths I think are critical for all entrepreneurs.
This is what I came up with:
1. Winning people over
It’s hard to build a great business on your own. Whether you need to raise investment money, recruit team members or gain customers – every entrepreneur needs to have or acquire the ability to win people over.
I honed my skills in this area working as an artist manager in music. I had to convince the industry, the media and then an audience that the new artist I represented was great and worth supporting.
You’d think this would be easy; people would hear great music and fall in line to be involved.
Not so. I shopped my first artist, George, for two years to record labels and even longer to commercial radio programmers before we got a break.
Every label passed on Evermore and knocked back great success stories like Lisa Mitchell and Matt Corby many times before signing deals.
In music, I learned that the biggest opportunities didn’t always go to the best artists.
It was about the number and credibility of the people who wanted to be involved, the momentum of the project and the excitement about the future.
It’s the same in tech. You might think that when someone hears a great idea they just want to get involved – not so! My pitch isn’t about the awesome features on the site.
It’s all about the team, our momentum and inspiring the person to share our vision.
Winning people over is an art and it’s critical to all aspects of business.
Entrepreneurs see everyday problems and dream about solutions.
They’re interested in people, ask probing questions about the way they do things now and jump to ideas of how to make things simpler, faster, better or more fun.
I have a whole book of unused business plans dating back to 1998. When it became obvious that my first idea for Posse in music had scaling issues, I immediately saw a new and bigger opportunity.
My team and I spent months designing a strategy for this new direction and then dreamed up creative ways to both solve problems and engage our audience.
We took what we learnt from the old business and designed something much stronger for our second attempt. Looking back on this time now, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t been able to come up with a better idea!
Being passionate about continuous creativity is an essential quality of the successful entrepreneur. It’s rare that the first idea is bang on and if you can’t innovate then you’re dead!
I would say this is my personal biggest strength. Someone recently asked me if I thought I was tough to which I replied, ‘No, but I’m tenacious. I’m like a cockroach – you can’t kill me!’
I’m not sure where this comes from, but throughout life I’ve started and run quite a few major projects. None of them has been easy; I can name times in all of them when things looked grim and I thought I’d fail and lose lots of money.
But each time I stuck at it and every time things worked out well.
Posse has been the hardest and longest slog yet but knowing that I’ll never give up gives me a lot of confidence that we’ll make it.
These are my three strengths and I think they’re all you need to be successful. So long as you can keep bringing on board great people, keep winning customers, keep raising money, keep innovating and keep going. You might not get there the fastest, but I don’t see how you can lose.