The Secret Ingredient That Makes Someone a Great Entrepreneur

on February 22, 2017

As we celebrate entrepreneurs this National Entrepreneurship Week, it seems that there is one fundamental question that underlies the entire discussion:

Just what does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?

I’ll tell you what I think is the secret ingredient (having studied the question for, well, forever) but before I do, consider first the usual suspects:

For starters, there is the issue of vision. The concept of entrepreneurial vision is ubiquitous for a reason, for, without a vision, there is nothing, literally nothing. I mean, think about it – what does it take for someone to create a business from scratch? How does a person leave a job with steady pay, good benefits, work colleagues and all the rest to start a business out of thin air? It means that that person sees something that others don’t, that they have a vision for the business, for their life, indeed for the world – a vision that often others cannot see.

Yes, vision is critical . . . but it’s not dispositive.

To be a great entrepreneur also necessarily entails courage and commitment because part of the job description is that you have to be willing to take a risk. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg puts it this way:

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

Elon Musk of Tesla fame explains it like this:

“Failure is an option here.”

So, yes, risk-tolerance is needed too, but again, that is just part of the story. These things are all parts of a great recipe; each is needed to make the dish. But, that said, for my money, the secret ingredient, the one that brings the whole dish together and the one that separates the best entrepreneurs from the rest, is teamwork.

I recently read the autobiography of basketball legend Bill Walton. Walton shared the story of how coach John Wooden recruited him to UCLA. It is a lesson about a lot more than basketball.

The 7-foot redhead says that Coach Wooden told him this:

Billy, I have seen you play and you’re the kind of spirited and enthusiastic player that we like at UCLA. But if you want to be a champion and everything you do, from now on – forever – It’s not [going to be about] how good you are. The determining factor is going to be who your teammates are – and how good they are . . . Because ultimately, your level of achievement, accomplishment, happiness, and success in life is not really based on what you do. It’s dependent on how good those other players around you are.

What I know is that, like Coach Wooden, great entrepreneurs are great team builders. They have a vision for sure, and they take risks to see that vision come to fruition, but the way they do that is by creating a great team – by finding people who buy into the vision and are willing to work hard to assist the entrepreneur.

Certainly, that is what we are seeing during this Entrepreneurship Week. For instance, and for starters, this week is being hosted by Microsoft. Having worked with Microsoft for years, one thing I know is that it is not only a company grounded and founded in entrepreneurship, but equally, it is a business committed to helping their small business and entrepreneurial teammates succeed. Whether it is though standard-bearer products that make us more productive, or newer products that make teamwork easier, Microsoft clearly gets that the entrepreneur is only as good the strength of his or her team.

The same can be said for the other companies and organizations that are helping put on this Entrepreneurship Week. From my own paper USA TODAY to the Small Business Administration to Small Business Connection, what we see is that there are a lot of people out here who want to be great teammates and help entrepreneurs succeed.

So, during this Entrepreneurship Week, let us salute you, the great entrepreneurs who foster great teams in pursuit of great goals. Thank you for all you do, and we sincerely hope your next step will be a slam dunk.