BY MINDA ZETLIN Co-author, ‘The Geek Gap’
Do you believe all entrepreneurs are charismatic and daring? According to Bill Aulet, lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, you’re very much mistaken. Beginning in January, Aulet will be teaching online courses designed for aspiring entrepreneurs as part of edX, an online education initiative from Harvard and MIT.
Aulet is a serial entrepreneur himself. He’s raised more than $100 million in funding for his companies, one of which made it onto the Inc. 5000. Here’s a taste of his wisdom about what doesn’t–and does–make a successful entrepreneur:
Myth 1: Entrepreneurs are born that way.
Some people believe that there is an entrepreneurship gene. This is misguided and defeatist,” Aulet says. It probably doesn’t help that popular culture (including this magazine) feeds us on images of iconic business founders with larger-than-life personalities, but that doesn’t describe all entrepreneurs by any means.
Most people have the capacity to become successful entrepreneurs–it takes will, and willingness to learn. “There are concrete skills that increase the odds of entrepreneurial success, such as management, sales, and product conception. These skills can be taught and learned,” Aulet says. “So don’t let yourself be dazzled by the so-called entrepreneurship gene. This gene has not been and will not be found.”
Myth 2: Individuals start companies.
“While the entrepreneur as a lone hero is a common narrative, it’s just that–a narrative,” Aulet says. Take a closer look at most success stories and you’ll find a diversified team of founders who made it happen together. (We tend to think of Steve Jobs as the iconic genius entrepreneur, but without Steve Wozniak, Apple would never have gotten its start. And Jony Ives and Tim Cook were instrumental in the company’s later success.)
“Teams start companies,” Aulet says. “And a bigger team can often increase the odds of success.” So he recommends putting together a “dream team” that combines the talents you need for your new company to grow and thrive.
Myth 3: Entrepreneurs are super-smart.
Entrepreneurs are highly unlikely to be the valedictorians of their class,” Aulet says. “This doesn’t mean they are not smart. It’s just that they tend to focus on something that deeply fascinates them and then go into hyperfocus mode.”
So don’t assume good academic grades or other indications of general intelligence are indicators of future entrepreneurial success. They’re not. “Focus and dedication make for successful entrepreneurs,” Aulet says.
Myth 4: Entrepreneurs need charisma to succeed.
Again, this myth arises out of popular culture, which tends to focus on entrepreneurs with big personalities, such as Jobs, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg. “More than charisma, successful entrepreneurs exhibit vision, systematic thinking, strong analytic skills, and a blend of humility and ambition,” Aulet says. Charisma by itself, he adds, is no recipe for success.
Myth 5. Entrepreneurs are undisciplined.
After all, they’re always doing wild and crazy things, right? Well maybe. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to buckle down. “Successful entrepreneurs must have extreme self-discipline because they have few resources, no reputation, and a very finite amount of time in which to succeed,” Aulet says.
In fact, he says, self-discipline is an absolute requirement for an entrepreneur. “Entrepreneurs are the attackers against the ‘defenders’–established companies. They have to have the spirit of a pirate with the execution skills of a Navy SEAL.”
Myth 6. Entrepreneurs are in love with risk.
Do you think if you hate risk and fear uncertainty you’re not cut out to be an entrepreneur? Not so fast. There’s no question that starting a company can be a risky undertaking, but that doesn’t mean entrepreneurs love taking a gamble just for the thrill of it.
“Great entrepreneurs prefer intelligent risk-taking,” Aulet says. “They maneuver to remove as much risk as possible and only take calculated risks where they feel they have an advantage and can influence the outcome.” You don’t have to enjoy risk, he says. You have to understand how to manage risk, and know when to take a chance. And when not to.