The following is Part V of a multi-part series on value, segmentation and pricing by guest contributor Steven Forth, Partner at Rocket Builders and eFund Member. Read Part I here, Part II here, Part III here and Part IV here. This week, a change of pace. Steven shares his perspective on the most important character trait needed for an entrepreneur.
Back in November I suggested that courage is the most important character trait for a start-up entrepreneur. This provoked some response from the community. In the comments section Steve Woodhouse suggested that naiveté is actually more important, while Amelia Newbery felt that ‘patience’ is the key.
“That is why I believe patience is key. Passion needs to be tempered with an understanding that a patient and persistent personality will eventually come out on top.”
Naiveté and patience. They sound kind of attractive. And there is some truth that people who start companies have to be willing to act despite the risks being taken. Which is sometimes seen as naïve. Most of us know the statistics on start-up company success. There are lots of numbers out there, but no matter where you look they tell you that your start-up will probably not make it. And Amelia is right, that success will require patience and persistence. When you are starting out most people will not understand why what you are offering is needed (that is why segmentation and value propositions are so important), and most of the people who do understand will choose to wait and see if you make it and if you can sell to other people.
You have to just keep on calling.
There were some other responses that came in by e-mail.
Mike Volker, one of the leaders of Vancouver’s angel community and both the NACO (Canada’s National Angel Capital Organization) Angel of the Year and the BC Angel of the Year in 2009, had a different perspective.
“For me, the most important trait is INTEGRITY. Without that, nothing else matters.
Next is Intensity & Immediacy – my 3 I’s.”
Integrity, Intensity, Immediacy. This resonates. You can’t reliably do deals with a person who does not have integrity. But for me this is table stakes. I want to hire, do business with, and invest with people who have integrity. But for me this also comes back to courage. Most people have integrity in their day-to-day dealings. Without that society would breakdown pretty quickly. But to maintain integrity in high-stakes situations, that takes courage.
Intensity is also critical, it balances the patience that Amelia talked about. Driving forward against the odds, delivering even when you are exhausted, firing up other people, it all takes a special intensity that start-up leaders have to bring to the game.
And then there is immediacy. If you are working at a start-up there is not time to waste. You have to be completely present to your team and in your market.
So of Mike’s three I’s, integrity depends on courage, but intensity and immediacy are important additional dimensions.
Jack Gin, another prominent Vancouver angel and the chairman of precision agriculture start-up Semios has a different approach.
“I think it is wrong to single out one character trait as most important for an entrepreneur. I will support an entrepreneur if he is “the package” … with the ingredients that would give me the confidence to consider investing in him her. Other traits also important … drive, determination, focus, work ethic, ability to sell, natural desire to sell, resourceful, ability to get help, inspirational, confidence, integrity, likeable, successful in life, energetic, energizing.”
Fair enough. At a start-up you have to do a lot of different things, and it is a bit silly to think that anyone character trait will capture all of them. If you want to lead a start-up you have to make sure you are growing, and growing in all sorts of ways all at one.
I am going to propose one more character trait that start-up leaders need: a fierce desire to learn and to change; to change the world; but also to change yourself. Doing a start-up will change you into a different person. And this is true even on the second or third time you do it.
Steven Forth is a Vancouver consultant, investor and serial entrepreneur. He is a partner at Rocket Builders where his work is focused on market strategy including market segmentation, pricing and the design of revenue generation systems. He invests through eFund where he occasionally leads due diligence teams. His newest venture is TeamFit, a VentureLabs start-up building a platform for team building and collaboration.