One of the best things I love about my work is people. I meet a lot of interesting people – in person and over the internet – and after hundreds of conversations, I have come to realize the single most important factor that determines if a business will succeed or not.
No, it’s not the business idea. I’ve seen average ideas perform better than genius ideas. And these days, almost everybody has a ‘great’ business idea that could make a lot of money and change the world.
And no, it’s not capital. Throwing millions of dollars in capital on a business or idea does not guarantee success. Capital on its own can only do so much.
So, what is this factor that could dramatically change the fortunes of a business? What is it that could take an average or common idea and build it into an incredibly successful business? What is this most important piece of the puzzle that could determine if a business succeeds or fails?
It’s the person: It’s the human-being behind the idea that holds the keys to the success or failure of any business. No matter how ingenious or common the idea, and no matter how abundant or scarce the capital, the person is the most important element in any business.
These days, they go by a fancy name of French origin; They’re called entrepreneurs.
The problem is, not everybody who thinks she’s an entrepreneur is actually one. From my observations, I have found there are 10 specific types of people who, despite their best intentions, cannot become entrepreneurs.
No, they’re not cursed. They just have some ‘unhealthy’ habits that affect the way they think and act when it comes to starting or growing a business. And until they change their attitudes, perspectives and beliefs, they’ll always have a hard time becoming entrepreneurs.
I too have some of these habits, and consciously make the decision to fight them every day. You may find yourself in one or several of these personality types. No worries. The most important step is to identify, and then fight them.
Let’s meet the 10 personality types:
1) The Idea Junkie
Idea junkies are typically smart and intelligent people. It doesn’t take too long to figure this out. All you need is a few minutes of conversation with them and you’ll realize just how creative their minds really are. They could analyze a market opportunity in a second, and reveal several interesting insights. The really committed ones have a notebook that contains a long list of business ideas.
Despite their ‘beautiful’ minds, the biggest problem with idea junkies is they live inside their heads.
With all the beautiful ideas they possess, there’s very little action to back it up. And because they hardly take action, idea junkies actually never start a business. I know, what a big waste! Having all that knowledge and amazing ideas and not doing anything about them is horrifying, and should be classified as a crime. After all, a lot of great ideas that could change the world are locked up in their heads and they’re doing nothing about it.
Personally, I suffer quite a bit from the ‘idea junkie syndrome’. And the way I fight it is to challenge myself to take action on my ideas, no matter how little these actions are. By taking action, I actually see that some of these ideas may actually not work in real life, while some other ideas just metamorphose into something totally different.
Real entrepreneurs are not usually the smartest people in the room. What makes them different is action. They always take action.
And when that idea becomes a huge business success, guess who’s the first person to say: “I had that idea first, a long time ago!”?
That’s right, idea junkies will always regret their inaction. Ideas are great, but they’re just not enough.
2) The Victim
I encounter this kind of ‘entrepreneur’ a lot. The Victim is the guy who has a beautiful idea and should have built it into an amazing business but, according to him, there are a lot of people and things that are hell-bent on frustrating him:
The government, for example, won’t provide electricity that he desperately needs to power the factory. The banks have denied his loan application several times and have refused to help him with startup capital. All his friends just don’t get it and aren’t smart enough to support his brilliant business idea.
Some Victims could go as far as blaming their parents for their poor family background. They blame God for not sending a ‘divine intervention’. They blame the weather, the neighbours, their spouse and children.
The Victim blames everything and everybody.
What the victim fails to realise is that he’s actually making excuses, but masking them as blame, complaints and criticism. As far as he’s concerned, he’s the victim who deserves to be given a chance.
Newsflash: Entrepreneurs don’t wait to be given a chance. They take a chance!
Sadly, due to the challenges we face in Africa, a lot of our young and aspiring entrepreneurs have become victims. With potholed roads, massive unemployment, snobbish banks, corrupt government officials, and inadequate electricity, water and security, our continent has become a breeding ground of ‘victims’.
The worst thing about victims is, even when you try to show them the possibilities and opportunities in all of Africa’s problems, they always keep justifying their excuses and how your suggestions won’t work.
My advice: avoid these kinds of people. Do your best to turn them. But if your efforts fail, run! The attitude of a victim can be very contagious.
3) The Star Gazer
For the Star Gazer, timing and perfection are all that matter. She is the kind of person who dreams about starting a business, growing it into a huge success, and becoming a celebrity entrepreneur. She dreams of becoming a serial entrepreneur, and having a vast portfolio of investments in real estate and on the stock market.
When she’s successful, her kids will study at an Ivy League school. She’ll live in a posh part of the city and become a well-connected socialite.
She doesn’t only dream at night. Her dreams are so compelling, she also dreams quite a lot during the day time too. And when she’s really in the mood, she’ll share these dreams with anyone who cares to listen.
The problem with the Star Gazer is, she’s waiting for the perfect time to become an entrepreneur. As far as she’s concerned, the stars must align before she can make the move. Right now, she has a very demanding job and she’s very involved in other activities. She’s just not ready.
When you ask her about making those dreams come true, she’ll say: “Someday, one day, I’ll start. But not now. The right time hasn’t come.”
The thing is, ‘someday’ may never come. And frankly, I tend to believe Star Gazers are far more interested in the entertainment and fantasy that their dreams provide than actually doing anything to make them come true.
4) The Money Doubler
For many people, starting a business is about making money. A lot of money. And personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Money is, and remains, a very powerful incentive and reward for entrepreneurs.
But the Money Doubler’s expectations about making money from a business are totally different. He doesn’t just want to make money from a business, he wants to make it quickly; as soon as possible.
As a result of his high expectations, he’s hardly a patient entrepreneur. He doesn’t realise that a business is like a baby. You need to nurture and give it time to grow. And growing a business until it’s capable of making a return can take time. You’ll have to wait and be patient with it.
But the Money Doubler will have none of this. He doesn’t have time. He’s not patient enough to wait. So, he takes certain actions that frustrate and ultimately kill the business. Most times, he loses focus and pursues other ‘interesting’ money doubling opportunities, and abandons his young business.
When he realizes his mistake several years down the road, he finds that if only he had stayed patient with one business idea, he could have become the entrepreneur of his dreams.
I only hope that by the time he realizes this, he still has the energy and resources on his side to follow through.
5) The Sleeping Beauty
When my son was still a baby (he still is, actually), I loved to watch him sleep. From the way he would spread out and turn in his cot, you didn’t need to look too hard to see that he always enjoyed his beautiful and peaceful sleep.
Touch him, or try to wake him up and then you’d have looked for trouble. Serious trouble. And that’s because you’ve disturbed his comfort. Nobody likes that, including grown people like us. We love our comfort.
The Sleeping Beauty is a wannabe entrepreneur who is stuck in a comfort zone. They know they need to grow and make progress, but they’re stuck in the beauty, peace and sweetness of today’s sleep. This ‘sleep’ could be a regular salary, a relationship, or some other kind of benefit that could cause them pain or discomfort if they lost it. This is why the Sleeping Beauty is a classic procrastinator.
A comfort zone is a beautiful place. But nothing ever grows there.
The first step to starting a business or creating something new is to step out of your comfort zone. People don’t like to step out of a comfort zone because it’s a beautiful, safe and predictable place to be. It’s human nature to avoid risks and play safe.
But for people who feel the urge of entrepreneurship, a comfort zone can quickly become a prison. The only difference is the jailer and prisoner are the same person – you.
The first step to stop being a Sleeping Beauty is to, well, wake up! Yes, there’ll be some pain involved in quitting your comfort zone. But the pain is often worth it, and comes with a reward.
Remember: “No pain. No gain.”
6) The Money Bag
This passage from the holy book forms the bedrock of the philosophy that leads the Money Bag. She believes that with the weight of capital behind her, she has the power to start her business with a bang and blow the competition out of the water.
Even before the business has made a single sale, she’s ‘invested’ in a well-furnished head office, paid for a next-generation website, bought a company car and is splashing full-page ads in major newspapers, magazines and blogs.
The Money Bag’s play is to ‘outspend’ the competition. Even when outsmarting them could be more effective and less expensive.
The problem with spending so much early on in the business is you could run out of fuel just at the point when the business really needs the money. And by then, frustration sets in.
It’s true money can solve a lot of problems. The key is to focus it on solving the right and relevant problems. If not, you could run out of it and then the problems would crush you.
7) The Lone Wolf
Especially in the beginning, entrepreneurship can be a tough and lonely journey. When a business is still young, it’s common for the founder to be the CEO, Accountant, HR Specialist, Head of Operations and more, rolled into one. This situation forces entrepreneurs to be very resourceful and become a ‘Jack of All Trades’.
While this can be a good thing, it can have an equally dangerous side effect. A Lone Wolf is an entrepreneur who still carries an unhealthy burden of the business on his shoulders. As a result, she could feel stressed and overworked, and the business may not grow or perform better. A Lone Wolf is usually a very ‘hands-on’ entrepreneur who would rather do things herself than ask for help, collaborate or delegate.
Often times, the Lone Wolf may not have actually started a business. But because she is unwilling to share ideas, partner and collaborate with others, her idea may never become a real-life business.
The unwillingness to collaborate, partner and team up with other ‘like-minded’ people is one of the biggest obstacles that face young and aspiring entrepreneurs in Africa. By teaming up with other people, we could share the risks and responsibilities of starting a business. The stress is likely to become more bearable, and the team spirit will make the journey less lonely and more fun.
Don’t forget, nobody has all the answers. But by connecting, networking, collaborating and partnering with others, you could gradually find your way to the answers you seek.
8) The Old Mountain
This guy used to be a big deal. Actually, he still thinks he’s a big deal. The Old Mountain is an entrepreneur who had a great idea, worked on it, and built it into a successful business or investment. So, he’s actually achieved his dream. He’s now a mountain in the market. He’s become the successful entrepreneur of his dreams.
But in today’s globalized and fast-changing world, the Old Mountain doesn’t realise that he cannot rest on his laurels. He has to constantly look out for changes, trends and gaps in the market that could push him out of business.
The Old Mountain believes that his present formula works, and there’s no point in changing a formula that works so well. He’s now slow, complacent and satisfied. However, by refusing to learn, adapt and embrace continuous innovation, some other young and unknown startup could disrupt the market, make his business irrelevant, and crush him.
Entrepreneurship is not a destination. It’s a journey. To stay ahead in the game, you have to always look out for ways to improve your performance, because every day there are other folks who wake up and look up to you and dream of becoming you. If you choose to remain an Old Mountain, these folks could eventually overtake you.
9) The Leper
The Leper suffers from an acute case of paralysis. Very often, Lepers have a good business idea, a clear vision and maybe a business plan. Compared to most of the other personality types in this article, the Leper has done his homework and is far more knowledgeable and readier than others.
The Leper has his sights firmly focused on the target, and his finger is ready on the trigger. He feels good and excited about the business opportunity. All that remains is to take the shot… He never takes it.
You see, while the Leper has the unique advantage of preparedness, he cannot move. While his mind is active, his arms and legs are paralysed by fear. He is afraid of the risks involved in the business or investment. He is afraid of the ‘what ifs’ and uncertainties he cannot control. He is afraid the business could fail and he’ll be bankrupt, lose everything and end up a beggar on the streets. It’s no surprise Lepers are also classic procrastinators.
People often do not realise just how powerful and paralyzing fear can really be. And people often wrongly think that successful entrepreneurs are special people who do not feel fear. That’s not true. The only difference is successful entrepreneurs have learned to conquer their fear by taking ‘calculated risks’.
Often times, the problem with the Leper is that he spends too much time ‘calculating’ and ‘analysing’ the risks that he never actually takes any action. I like to call it ‘analysis paralysis’.
What the Leper must realise is there are no guarantees in business. Even after doing your homework, you will often have to take a leap of faith to make your business plan come true. No amount of waiting, analyzing or rationalizing will provide guarantees.
Just do it!
10) The Wanderer
Entrepreneurship is a journey, but like a ship that is lost at sea, the Wanderer doesn’t quite know where he is heading. Without a clear destination, it’s not surprising the Wanderer doesn’t get the results he expects despite his best efforts.
These days, the Wanderer likes to describe himself as a ‘serial entrepreneur’ because he’s fascinated by, and interested in, several business opportunities. Today, he’s in agribusiness. The next day, he’s building an e-Commerce website to take on the consumer retail market.
However, while serial entrepreneurs actually exist and can be very successful, the Wanderer has taken on the wrong identity.
Actually, the biggest problem with the Wanderer is her lack of focus and commitment.
Without focus, it’s difficult to finish anything. And that’s why the Wanderer has a string of half-developed business ideas and uncompleted projects lying around. She wants to make progress but feels like she’s stuck in one place despite all the actions she’s taking.
But until the Wanderer learns to focus on one goal at a time and committing all her best efforts to fulfilling that goal, she may never find fulfillment. After one goal is accomplished, she can go ahead to pursue other goals and interests.
Remember that saying about chasing rabbits? It’s impossible to chase and catch several rabbits at once. You’ll only end up frustrated. But by focusing on one rabbit and committing yourself to the chase, only then will you catch it.
Ready to stop wandering? The first step is to sit down, and make a list of all the things you’re “chasing” in order of priority. Instead of chasing all of them like you’ve been doing, just focus on Number 1 on the list. Only move on to Number 2 when #1 is settled. If you do this, you’ll find that you’ll be more productive and yield better results.
Are you one of the above? Which one of these 10 traits affect you the most?
Like I mentioned at the start of this article, all these habits can be unlearned and overcome. You just have to be honest with yourself and identify the ones that trouble you.
So, scroll down to the Comments section below and share your experience. I’ll be looking forward to the conversation.
John-Paul Iwuoha is an impact entrepreneur, SME Business Coach, and founder of Smallstarter Africa. He works with entrepreneurs and investors to start up and grow businesses in Africa. He is also the co-author of ‘101 Ways To Make Money in Africa’, the widely-acclaimed book which reveals several interesting business ideas, market opportunities, and inspiring entrepreneur success stories across Africa. For the latest updates on business and entrepreneurship across Africa, follow Smallstarter on Twitter, @smallstarters