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Entrepreneur characteristics

Steve Jobs had several notable entrepreneurial characteristics, but not every self-made billionaire is the same.

The death of Steve Jobs saw huge media coverage and an outpouring of emotion across Facebook and Twitter.

For those of us who were geeks before most people had heard of the word – let alone before it became a bit cool – it was all rather surreal.

Don’t get me wrong – I was adding to the eulogies, too. Steve Jobs has inspired me since I first encountered the Apple story back in the early 1980s, when I was reading books like The Hacker’s Handbook and programming my dad’s clunky PC to simulate a Pentagon computer. It began a love/hate relationship with technology that continues to this day.

Steve Jobs was the inspiration behind my attempts at entrepreneurship, too. If it weren’t for Jobs, Branson, and a handful of others, I’d never have considered that business could be as revolutionary as art or rock and roll.

Most people saddened by the death of Jobs don’t think about business like that, of course. They simply buy the products and feel a kinship, in defiance of Douglas Coupland’s prescient warning that: “shopping is not creating”.

The genius of Jobs’ Apple was that he made consumption feel like creating.

Once only a small band of Apple aficionados felt this way when they used Apple products, but now half the world does.

Hence the adulation and grief people expressed at the passing of a fairly ruthless businessman whom they’ve never met, and maybe never even thought that much about.

The characteristics of entrepreneurs

One positive side to Steve Jobs’ death is that many more people will hear his inspirational messages. Perhaps a few will then go on to become entrepreneurs.

My favourite of his quotes comes from his now widely cited speech to graduating Stanford University students in 2005:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything ­– all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Yet while many will be inspired to ‘go it alone’ by Jobs’ bold words and the driven way he lived his life, others may be less likely to try, because Jobs’ C.V. reinforces a narrow view of what an entrepreneur should be.

People who might be very credible in business could look at Jobs’ showmanship and his manic obsession with quality and secrecy and think: “Nah, that’s not for me”.

But that would be very wrong.

The reality is there is more than one way to skin a cat – and there’s more than one way to skin a hundred cats a week to turn a profit.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ entrepreneur. Steve Jobs was no pile-them-high box shifter, Richard Branson is no mild millionaire next door, and Warren Buffett is definitely no gruff Duncan Bannatyne.

And that’s worth stressing because the popular media’s view that an entrepreneur must be a swash-buckling thrill-seeker or else a dedicated nerd puts off many people from considering starting a business.

I’m the first to stress the many reasons not to start a business. But thinking you’re missing out on some clichéd entrepreneur characteristics isn’t one of them!

Role your own mogul

We humans love to categorise, though, and we also like to have role models. It’s usually the same for those who start businesses.

True, a few entrepreneurs grow unthinkingly into the role from their everyday activities, while others become entrepreneurs because they just couldn’t work for someone else. They’re unemployable!

Yet even these ‘accidental tycoons’ usually cite success stories – if not outright role models – that they admire.

For this reason, I’d suggest that anyone thinking about starting a business gets reading. After digesting a few good biographies, you’ll appreciate there’s a wealth of different entrepreneur characteristics, and no billionaire can claim to have even half of them.

Here are ten good books – and ten very different entrepreneurs – to get you started:

Like anyone else, entrepreneurs have a huge variety of flaws too, but I think we’re all best concentrating on our strengths and finding people who can compensate for our weaknesses, rather than trying to do everything.

That said, you can flip most entrepreneur characteristics to reveal a potential failing – so risk-takers can be overconfident, numerical people too obsessed with detail or budgets, and so on.

Finally, I don’t think a ‘huge desire for money’ is the defining characteristic for most entrepreneurs.

Obviously it’ll be in the mix for many, but there are quicker and easier ways to make a bit of cash than starting a business if that’s your main goal.

Most people driven primarily by money will go into sales, property, or finance, depending on their aptitude, rather than risk having no money at all due to a failure in business.

And there’s no shame in that, as long as it’s true to their desires. As Jobs (and many before him) also said:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

Part Two will be a spotter’s guide to common types of entrepreneurs. Subscribe to make sure you read it!

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • 1 ben October 7, 2011, 1:46 pm

    Yes, it seems like Jobs is the ‘Princess Di’ of the internet

    Prince of iHearts perhaps

    He made expensive and highly proprietary consumer electronics

    Inspiring stuff

    (I’m more of a Woz fan)

  • 2 Brave New Life October 7, 2011, 4:01 pm

    “True, a few entrepreneurs grow unthinkingly into the role from their everyday activities, while others become entrepreneurs because they simply couldn’t work for someone else. They’re unemployable!”

    This got me thinking. Can you imagine Steve Jobs sitting ni a cubicle taking orders from his boss? Or Richard Branson? Or Warren Buffet? There is just no set of circumstances that would have led to gus like that to NOT be entrepeneurs.

  • 3 The Investor October 7, 2011, 4:33 pm

    @Ben — Yes, an apt comparison. I naturally think I’m entitled to a bit of mourning from afar regarding Jobs, as someone who has followed him for well over 25 years. But even typing that I realize it sounds like some kind of ridiculous point scoring, which is even more Di-esque. (“She waved at me once, and *almost* gave me an autograph”).

    Perhaps we just have to accept that certain people in the public life touch a lot of consciousnesses – maybe because they’ve replaced other hard-coded rallying points such as church or tribal affiliations?

    @Brave New Life — Absolutely. There’s a thin line sometimes between the nutter on the street and the entrepreneur in the hot seat. As someone who is borderline unemployable myself, I can confirm this is not mere speculation!

  • 4 The Investor October 8, 2011, 6:47 pm

    The dark side of Jobs. Genius has never been perfect.

  • 5 Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey October 10, 2011, 3:28 pm

    I do not own any Apple product though I must admit that I get flabbergasted whenever they release a new product. Moreover, I also know that the demise of Steve Jobs is not only the loss of Apple but also of the computing world, regardless of his “dark side”. All of us have our own “dark side”, anyway.

  • 6 The Investor October 10, 2011, 6:19 pm

    @Cherleen – Agreed. His ‘dark side’ hardly involved murder, and nobody has to work for Apple. I bet most of the people he worked with closely consider it the luckiest break of their lives, however tough he could be at times.

    As for the conditions of Chinese workers etc that some have blamed on multinationals like Apple (and thus by proxy on Jobs), I thank my lucky stars I was born in the West and not in China, but does anybody really believe they were better off slaving in a rice field for 12 hours a day under hardline communism? It’s a journey for them, and I think the influence of the likes of Apple is a positive side of their development. No reason for us to be complacent or ignorant, but let’s remember the Chinese weren’t a nation of poets, ballet dancers, and leisured retirees before Apple et al arrived.

  • 7 Matt October 18, 2011, 7:05 pm

    your making the assumption that one has to risk it all to be in business….

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