The following is Part IV 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, and Part III here. This week, a change of pace. Steven shares his perspective on the most important character trait needed for an entrepreneur.

image credit S Khan.

Courage. It really is that simple.

Not that courage is a simple thing. It comes in many forms and the people with the most people often don’t know they have it or that is what they are showing.

What kinds of courage does a start-up entrepreneur need?

You need the courage to…

Hold to a Vision

Start-ups are too hard to be worthwhile if you are going to do more of the same. In his book Zero to One entrepreneur (PayPal & Palantir) and investor (Facebook and LinkedIn) Peter Thiel invite us to ask ourselves

“What do you believe that very few other people believe?”

Answering this question will give you insight into where you can find your biggest opportunity. Most people will not understand or believe in your vision at first. Marketing research won’t give you a vision, most of the time it won’t even support it. Customers cannot tell you what your vision should be (though they can help you validate it and learn how to communicate it). And most investors, advisors and mentors won’t get it at first. They will tell you ‘No’ or more likely ignore you.

Listen to Others

You have a vision and you can communicate it, convince others and not just yourself. But you also have to be able to listen: because part of your vision, especially in the details, is certain to be wrong. And the only way to learn this is by listening to people – potential customers mostly – but also to other people on your team, to experts, to competitors. It is important to listen, to really listen, to the people who doubt who have made the effort to understand your story.

Recognize Mistakes

And because you are listening you will find you are making mistakes. So admit them. By admitting what you have got wrong you can make necessary changes. This is has become a bit of a cult in the Lean Start-up methodology popular today. This is not new. Learning followed by action then reflection is central to any improvement cycle (in recent memory there are has been The Reflective Practitioner, the Deming Cycle (Plan Do Check Adjust), OODA Loops (Observe Orient Decide Act). Reflect , recognize mistakes and change. You can even do so publicly, as I did here: On Making the Wrong Design Decision (And Working to Fix It).

Carry On

Sometimes it is just hard. But you won’t get it done by giving up; even when giving up seems like the rational thing to do. If you were completely rational you wouldn’t be starting a company. Training as an MBA, an accountant, an expert in risk, senior management positions at a large secure company: none of these prepare you to lead a company. Sports can though, and not just team sports, any sport where you have to play, or ride, or run through it. So can art. Art is another place where courage is needed to continue to create.

Carry Others

And sometimes it is even harder for the people around you. You have to spend time, and give people time, to understand what is happening, and where you all are going, and how.

MIT has a new model for leading under uncertainty. They suggest that leaders will need to be good at four things:

  • Sensemaking: making sense of the world around us, coming to understand the context in which we are operating.
  • Relating: developing key relationships within and across organizations.
  • Visioning: creating a compelling picture of the future.
  • Inventing: designing new ways of working together to realize the vision.

Start-up leader have to make time for each of these.

Need some inspiration? Listen through these sets by New Orleans Jazz clarinetist and vocalist Doreen. Make sure you listen all the way to her telling the story of how she came to be playing on the streets after Hurricane Katrina, and how she really learned Jazz. Her website is here.

We have started the search for the 2015 Ready-to-Rocket companies. Check out the 2014 lists here and see the mid-year review press release.


StevenForthSteven 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 Nugg, a VentureLabs start-up building a platform for team building and collaboration.

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