I started and co-founded different companies from scratch. Some of these companies were great experiences and successful exits, while others were not successful at all. Even though we lost time and money, we learned some valuable (and expensive) lessons.
When I was lucky enough to have a couple of exits and some liquidity, I started making some angel investments (now 40+ during my career) and co-investing with VC’s, PE’s and Corporate Venture Capital in different ventures. I learned tons of lessons on this topic as well.
Now I spend my time at Vesuvio Ventures co-building startups, investing, coaching and working closely with great founders. I also work with big corporations who are interested in innovating through investing and partnering with startups as a sort of entrepreneur in residence. It’s a fascinating way to live and execute my own theories when I’m working on day to day execution with founders and also finding realistic and practical ways for corporations to keep innovating and reinventing their business applying startup techniques and disruption formats and creating partnerships between them.
As an entrepreneur, I’m passionate about identifying ways to solve large problems faster and more efficiently and keep improving the way that we can create sustainable, profitable and healthy ventures.
As an investor, I learned that almost the “only thing that matters” in early stage companies is the founder’s quality and how strong, committed, talented and passionate the founding team is around the problem they are fixing. The rest of the stuff (initial idea, investors, advisors, mentors, etc.) could help and add value but is entirely useless without the “founders dream team” executing and doing some magic in the early days.
Now, if you agree with this thesis, at the very end the most important topic, by far, will be identifying how good the entrepreneurs are leading this particular startup. Lately, this is one of my obsessions.
How can we build the perfect entrepreneur?
Which are the most critical skills?
I’m a pretty curious guy. I asked this question hundreds of times to very successful entrepreneurs, investors and corporate CEO’s. I read hundreds of business books, case studies, blogs, podcasts, etc. and today, just by pure coincidence, I found and read this Stanford Business article and decided to write this blog and create my own humble list of key skills that I would like to find in any entrepreneur that I work with. Here are my top five.
1. The killer instinct is the most important skill for me. I think that Mark Pincus’ famous tweet was spot on. Extraordinary entrepreneurs have that killer instinct, they know they identified a problem and will be able to build a solution for that. Early on, they probably don’t know how they’ll solve this problem, when, or how much money they will need. These are all critical questions, but significantly more important is having that killer instinct that will help them succeed, capture, and maximize the following skills.
2. Real passion. You can’t fake passion. You either have it, or you don’t. There is no way to “build passion”. You can feel and identify real passion if you pay attention, ask the right questions, and invest enough time to understand the key motivation from a really successful and unique entrepreneur. If you have this passion, the other skills will be easier to develop.
3. The ability to sell “the dream.” Nelson Mandela said that “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.” Entrepreneurs are dreamers who can translate their dream into a laser focused vision aligned with execution. The combination of all these key topics is challenging to find and separate successful entrepreneurs from the rest of mortals. Convincing initial customers to test your product, the first employees to join your company, and initial investors to back your dream is a gigantic effort and selling your dream as a real business opportunity is a critical survival factor.
4. Attract the “dream team” around your own dream. If the entrepreneur can “sell the dream” as I previously discussed, the next natural step will be using these skills to hire and attract “the dream team.” We could debate forever about different ways to attract these people and create the unique startup culture that will convince them to jump into the crazy adventure and incredible journey which is building a company from a “crazy idea” into something real and successful.
5. Deal with failure smartly and productively. We all fail. Many times and in different aspects of our life. Entrepreneurs fail even more since we need to make constant decisions on unknown territory, building solutions that usually were not there before with limited resources and under tons of pressure from customers, employees, and investors. Failure, at some point of the entrepreneurial life, is inevitable. But identifying failure fast enough, being pragmatic about executing the right pivot for your company learning valuable lessons from previous failures, and building a better product and solution capitalizing the lessons learned while being brave enough to do it again is what makes successful entrepreneurs unique.
I think that it’s important to notice that I did not mention specific management skills as part of this short list. I believe that successful entrepreneurs can “hire” those skills as part of building their dream team and they are smart enough to identify early on what their weaknesses are and how they can rely on the best people executing in those areas. I also avoided talking about the classic “working really hard,” “persistence,” or many other very valuable skills. I focused on the top five “unique” skills that I think differentiate the few success stories from millions of failed startups.
Like many other situations in life, things are easy to say (or write in this case) but difficult to execute. If you are an entrepreneur or an investor looking for the right entrepreneurs or a CEO looking to create “entrepreneurial mindset” in your company, your job is to identify these five skills on a regular basis. In my particular case, I keep trying to incorporate these skills into my day to day activities while identifying people with these skills and trying to learn from them as much as I can.
It’s a fun thing to do and analyze because in the end “building the perfect” entrepreneur is a continuous game that keeps changing in a business world that is reinventing and disrupting industries faster than ever.
Do you have any other critical skill that should be part of this short list? Please share!
originally published at www.marcogiberti.com