Here at Palo Alto Software, I interview a lot of successful entrepreneurs.
Sometimes, I learn how they hit upon a great business idea. Other times, I learn about their experiences with startup culture, or how they conquered a challenging new industry. Sometimes they’re a LivePlan customer, and I get to hear how LivePlan helped them start and grow their business.
All the entrepreneurs I encounter have had different trajectories, different struggles, and different stories to share.
But there’s one thing I always want to know: What do they consider to be the secret to their success?
What is that one thing, that particular aspect of their personality and unique makeup, that has helped them succeed?
I like this question because it brings to light the ideologically-rooted beliefs that entrepreneurs bring to their businesses. It highlights what successful entrepreneurs value—whether that be perseverance, or flexibility, or a keen ability to fix a problem.
The reality is that the secret to success is different for everyone. It was Steve Jobs that said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” It was in his nature to push, and keep pushing; for Jobs, this was his secret to success. For others, the secret is something a little different.
I had the opportunity to ask the entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council what their keys to success have been, and they’ve shared with me what they believe to be the top traits that have contributed to their success.
Similar to Steve Jobs’ focus on perseverance, Justin Lefkovitch of Mirrored Media values the ability to never give up.
“I have a relentless attitude that once I set my sights on a goal, I won’t stop until I’ve done everything to attain it,” he says. “This quality is what helps me to laser in on one goal and not stop working until it is mine.”
He acknowledges that this quality can potentially require tempering in other areas of one’s life; after all, a single-mindedness when it comes to business focus can sometimes result in your personal life taking a hit. “This can be a blessing and a curse as it’s not always the most fun quality in your personal life,” says Lefkovitch. “But, I have found it to be one of the keys to success in my business life.”
“Independence made me a self-starter; it helps me on my road to success,” says Daisy Jing of Banish. “I didn’t allow any negative comment to ruin my confidence because I depend on myself.”
Jing notes that her self-reliance enabled her to navigate the unexpected successfully as well. “I wasn’t ready for a lot of surprises in my business,” she explains. “However, I trust myself and know that I’m smart enough to figure them out as they come. My parents taught me how to be scrappy and, with that mindset, it became easier for me to run my business.”
3. Willingness to give
When it comes to entrepreneurship (or at the very least, in terms of the qualities that make a successful entrepreneur), there can be a tendency toward prioritizing the needs of yourself and your business above all else.
However, Doug Bend of Bend Law Group, PC flips this on its head, as he believes his success is attributable to his ability to think of others first.
“I do my best to proactively think of ways to help others. Instead of asking for this or that, I first ask, ‘How can I help you?’” he says. “I have been amazed at how much I have helped myself by constantly thinking of ways to help others first.”
There is something to be said for setting lofty, high-reaching goals, but to ultimately be successful, it’s important to be able to bring yourself down to earth.
“I had always dreamt of becoming a tech entrepreneur, and was able to accomplish this by working hard and smart to figure out practical steps on making my dream a reality,” says Piyush Jain of SIMpalm, who values looking at entrepreneurship through a practical lens.
“You might desire to be a billionaire, for example, but you need to find a path to achieve that,” he says. “I still use this approach for growth: Find a dream, and connect it to the real world.”
“My ability to adapt plays a key role in my success,” says Alfredo Atanacio of Uassist.ME. “There have been times where I had a plan laid out perfectly and something would happen and change the whole scenario.”
It’s these “make or break” moments that often define success, and Atanacio discusses how the ability to adapt has served him well. “In moments like that, you either adapt or you let things end,” he says. “I’ve had to adjust, reconfigure, and change, but that has given me the opportunity to succeed.
6. Seeing the big picture
Think of it like walking a tightrope: On the one side, you have only the smaller details, and on the other, just the broad strokes.
To be successful, you have to walk this tightrope effectively, marrying these two extremes. Focus too much on one, and you risk falling.
John Hall of Influence & Co. attributes his success to his ability to focus on the big picture, without getting drawn too much into the smaller details. At the same time, he makes sure that the micro elements of running a business are accounted for.
“People are often reactionary and used to pushing things through; having the ability to see the big picture of something means so much more,” he says. “That means challenging traditional processes that appease an immediate need, especially if they won’t yield the most strategic result. To encourage this, I ask my team questions behind their direction, which keeps everyone focused on strategy.”
7. Perspective on failure
Are you the type of person to throw in the towel at the first sign that something isn’t going exactly as you planned? If so, you may want to focus your attention on changing your relationship with failure.
To Jeff Jahn of DynamiX, failure offers not only the often-discussed opportunity for growth, but also functions as a natural, inherent part of the business process. Moreover, he is able to decouple the idea that business failure equals failure on a personal level.
“The key to continued growth for me has come in understanding that failing to execute an idea or vision doesn’t make me a failure,” he says. “We are people, and we’ll get things wrong. Even when we get them right, external factors can come into play to prevent success.”
Failure, to Jahn, should be seen not as a seismic, catastrophic event to be avoided at all costs, but as “just part of life.”
“The failure should be seen as a stepping stone on the way to success, rather than a reason to stop pushing forward,” he says.
8. An open mind
We’ve talked a lot about being flexible and adaptive, and an important aspect of flexibility involves continually opening yourself up to new ways of doing things—whether that be new best practices, changes in your industry, or fresh prospects that you hadn’t initially planned to seek out.
“I stay open to possibilities and take the initiative to understand all aspects of business and how I can best use my skill set to help my business grow and excel,” says Nicole Munoz of Start Ranking Now. “If a new avenue opens up for marketing my business, I study how the experts achieve it and model my own strategies based on best practices.”
Munoz adds that continually opening yourself up to learning is not only a valuable skill to have, but one that will enable you to stay on top of your industry and remain successful. “If you stay in a constant state of learning, you’ll never be left behind,” she says.
If you got into business seeking power or prestige, you might want to reevaluate your motivations. Blair Thomas of First American Merchant argues that, when it comes to business success, a sense of humility is essential.
“You should build and exude confidence in your professional endeavors, certainly,” he says. “But what’s more important is you should remain humble and be willing to learn from mentors and partners.”
Ultimately, when it comes to remaining humble within your business endeavors, Thomas puts it simply: “Always take accountability for your mistakes.”
10. Listening skills
In the same vein as humility, a solid desire to learn from those around you and willingness to hear the advice and feedback of others is a very important quality of successful entrepreneurs.
“Like many startup business owners, I did not have any formal business training or much experience,” John Rood of Next Step Test Preparation explains. “We wouldn’t have gotten traction if I didn’t ask for advice on every element of the product and the business.”
Rood also adds that this doesn’t just mean seeking the input of experienced mentors and advisors—it also means listening to your staff. “This also goes for once you hire employees,” he says. “Learn to solicit—and then strongly consider—the feedback from your early employees.”
11. Personal accountability
“As an adolescent, I listened to Tony Robbins’ ‘Personal Power’ tapes and learned an invaluable lesson: We each have control over our ultimate destiny,” says Kristopher Jones of LSEO.com.
To Jones, this imbued him with a sense of personal responsibility, and a desire to take control over his own business trajectory.
“Our destiny isn’t something inherited, but earned,” he says. “Much of my success has come from taking personal responsibility for my ultimate destiny. I don’t make excuses for why I don’t have something, but instead take massive action and get it.”
It’s no surprise that thorough organization and a well laid out plan is a top trait that successful entrepreneurs value. Here at Palo Alto Software, we are huge fans of the staying organized via the planning process as a success route—from the concept of Lean Planning and LivePlan, to our emphasis on holding monthly plan review meetings.
Angela Ruth of Due credits her success largely to her organizational skills. “I am highly organized and have been that way since school,” she says. “I regularly check that I have everything prioritized and am moving ahead. I also set goals and objectives and check them off as I go.”
Ruth argues that her organizational skills have helped her become more successful by expanding her output. “The more organized I am, the more I’ve been able to get done, which creates greater success,” she says. “It enabled me to get two degrees in the time others take to get one, and it has helped me move up the career ladder.”
“Undoubtedly the single most important characteristic I have benefited from in my role as an entrepreneur has been the ability to see through a decade of rejection, hard work, and sacrifice—never getting ahead of myself or giving up,” says Diego Orjuela of Cables & Sensors, LLC.
This is a skill that is slightly different from the unrelenting perseverance referenced by Jobs. An entrepreneur with patience can not only push through and never give up, but can do so in a measured, balanced way. This means not being afraid to take things slowly; set your eyes on the end goal, and don’t get overwhelmed by the distance it takes to get there.
“An entrepreneur needs to be able to patiently see things through to the end and not give in to stress or pressure, as there will be a lot of that,” says Orjuela.
14. Problem-solving skills
Problem-solving skills are inherent in starting a business; arguably, being able to solve a problem is why you went into business in the first place.
“Every entrepreneur has a business problem that needs solving,” says Tyler Hanway of Consumer Brands, LLC. “I genuinely enjoy fixing things no matter how small or insignificant they may be.
Tyler believes that the ability to solve important problems is an important skill to cultivate, both from an entrepreneurship standpoint as well as on a personal level. “Identifying these issues and proactively working to mend them has helped me succeed in my business and personal life.”
What do you think the secret to entrepreneurial success is? Reach out to me on Twitter—I’d love to hear your thoughts.