Success as an entrepreneur does not come overnight, and it’s not something that appears out of thin air—although luck is sometimes necessary. As a married couple, we’ve built and sold numerous high-performing businesses together, including our current endeavor, a B2B SaaS company called Text Request, which helps other companies adopt texting technology. We’ve also had a couple of failures mixed in. And before all of that, Brian helped new startups go to market through a logistics incubator.
After more than 30 years in entrepreneurship between the two of us, interacting with thousands of founders, and watching even more companies play out, there are nine traits we can definitively say are crucial must-haves of the most successful entrepreneurs. Take these to heart, and implement them in your business.
1. Embody grit.
Grit is not doing the same thing over and over again. It is not hustling relentlessly at the expense of your own health or family. Grit is consistently and steadily working towards something while getting better at it over that time, and overcoming the inevitable obstacles along the way.
Truly successful entrepreneurs are continually pushing through challenges and setbacks to meet their goals. They’re getting better at their craft, as an industry expert, and as a leader. They’re intentional to make sure they improve.
2. Take educated risks.
Risk is inherent to entrepreneurship, but successful entrepreneurs are not blindly making risky decisions. They see the potential upside as exponentially larger than the cost of risk. They have confidence in their skills to make a bet become a reality, and know they can learn whatever else they need to do it. What some may view as incredibly risky may not seem risky at all.
3. Stay focused.
Entrepreneurs always have a million challenges to solve, and a million opportunities to make a buck. But there’s consistently that one “most important thing” standing between you and your key objectives. Anything that is not this “most important thing” is a distraction.
The most successful entrepreneurs know this, and put all their time and energy into that one “most important thing.” When they overcome or achieve it, then they move on to the next “most important thing.”
4. Create a must-have product or service.
The most successful entrepreneurs solve a real problem that lots of people experience on a regular basis and are willing to spend money to make it go away. If your business doesn’t deliver a must-have solution to a widespread problem, you should not be spending your focused time and energy on it. Find another problem to solve.
5. Generate revenue.
Successful entrepreneurs know how to make money. They’re not all salespeople. But they know how to take a must-have solution to market and earn money for it. They know how to speak to their target audience. Too many “great ideas” create products that people are not willing to pay for.
If marketing, sales, or business development are not skills you have, you’ve got two options. Learn them, or partner up with someone who is skilled here.
6. Spend time on a business that can scale.
Scaling a business means establishing product-market fit (the market needs what you offer, and is willing and able to pay for it), then channel-market fit (you can acquire new customers consistently through one or more channels), then scalable unit economics (you make more profit as you sell more). There also has to be a market large enough for you to keep growing.
7. Be comfortable with adapting.
Chances are strong that the idea you start with is not the one you can actually sell, and is not the one you can scale with. That’s fine, so long as you’re comfortable adapting with new information.
At Text Request, for instance, we built our MVP (or “minimum viable product”) for hospitality businesses, only to learn they were reluctant to spend money on it. Then we learned home services companies were happy to spend money for text messaging software, so we pivoted to them, revised our product roadmap, and found traction.
The most successful entrepreneurs know this: if you aren’t getting traction, either your product is a bad fit for this market, or this market is a bad fit for your product. Adapt to where you’re most needed.
8. Keep it simple.
Things aren’t always actually simple, and it typically takes way more work to make something seem simple. But people get confused by, or lose interest in, anything not simple.
When talking to customers, leading employees, and building products, the most successful entrepreneurs know to keep things simple. A clear problem to solve, a straightforward mission, an intuitive product, one basic goal.
9. Prioritize ethics.
You need to do the right thing. You need to treat others as you’d want to be treated. You need to be honest and respectful and address challenges rather than avoid them. The best entrepreneurs do this because it’s part of who they are. And it pays, too.
Entrepreneurs who deceive customers and employees, or who treat them unfairly, inevitably suffer. What may seem like an easy way out—or ahead—in the moment will hurt others. That will come back to bite you. The most successful entrepreneurs have a set code of ethics and do not stray from them.
To sum it up…
There are many ways to build profitable and fast-growing businesses. But I’ve seen the most successful entrepreneurs, time and again, embody these traits and live them out day-to-day. If there’s anything in here you’re missing, I strongly encourage you to fold it into how you live and work.
Brian and Jamey Elrod are co-founders at Text Request, a business texting platform that debuted at #335 on the 2021 Inc. 5000 list, #108 on the 2021 Deloitte Technology Fast 500 list, has been named a back-to-back Best Place to Work, and honored by Inc. as a 2021 Best in Business award winner for investing in the “people and communities around them.”
This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.