Nature vs Nurture and Entrepreneurship

I went down to Philly yesterday and spent the afternoon with students and faculty at Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs, the entity that administers the entrepreneurship major/courses at Wharton and runs a bunch of fantastic "outreach" programs like the Venture Initiation Program

WEP is run by Professor Raffi Amit and as we were making our way from one meeting to another, I said to Raffi that "you can't teach people to be entrepreneurs but you can teach entrepreneurs business." He replied to me that his research into the topic suggests that "there are no unique and defining characteristics of entrepreneurs" which leads him to believe that you can in fact teach people to be entrepreneurs.

That threw me and I've been ruminating on his conclusion ever since. I've been working with entrepreneurs for almost 25 years now and it is ingrained in my mind that someone is either born an entrepreneur or is not.

And I also believe that there are "unique and defining characteristics of entrepreneurs." Here are some of the ones I observe most frequently:

1) A stubborn belief in one's self

2) A confidence bordering on arrogance

3) A desire to accept risk and ambiguity, and the ability to live with them

4) An ability to construct a vision and sell it to many others

5) A magnet for talent

I accept that Raffi may be right. I will get my hands on his research and read it. And maybe it will change my mind on this topic. 

Venture Capital is a lot about pattern recognition. You learn to make quick judgements based on things you've observed in the past. And judgements about people are among the most important decisions we make. So this is a very important topic to me.

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#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Mohamed Attahri

    I agree with your point of view Fred ; I Don’t think you can teach people to be entrepreneurs, just like you can’t teach people to be creative in a specific area.What I do believe though is that things happening in our lives can make us become great entrepreneurs, and I’m not specifically spotting the childhood.

  2. Scott Barnett

    I could not agree with you more Fred – is there a way for you to share Professor Amit’s research with us all? My initial thought is that people that have a few of the attributes you describe (but not all) are “close enough” that they may seem like they can be entrepreneurs, but without enough of those attributes they are missing some of the “secret sauce”.How about a few more attributes for your consideration:(1) Ability to bounce back from failure(2) Boundless energy(3) an ability to wear many hats, sometimes simultaneously

    1. fredwilson

      great additionsi have an email into raffi to ask him for the researchi will link to it when i get it

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Yes! Link!

  3. ssaint

    I think it’s a really interesting topic, not sure where I fall on it though..You might be interested in this ReadWriteWeb article that popped up on my Google reader not long after yours…

    1. fredwilson

      here’s a direct link to Prof Isenberg’s “test” for entrepreneurship skills…thanks for sharing that link.

      1. Tereza

        That’s an interesting list.There’s a test out there called the Caliper Profile. Have you heard of it? Mostly F500 corporations use it for sr exec positions, to test if there’s a match or not.It includes testing for entrepreneurial characteristics and the results I got were very similar to that list.

        1. fredwilson

          I’ve not heard of it.

  4. Cody Swann

    Of course there is a certain personality type that fits this career path. It’s like anything else.

  5. Jonathon Martin

    I think there are some correlation/causation issues here. Many or most successful entrepreneurs may exhibit the traits you describe but that does not mean they are successful because of those traits. It may be, for example, that VCs fund entrepreneurs because they are arrogant. The arrogance makes them better presenters and this instils confidence in the VC. That may well be fasle confidence as the research tells us confidence is largely divorced from judgement (i.e. your level of confidence does not correlate with how correct your judgements are). So the arrogant people get funded and because they got funded they have a better chance of success and we assume arrogant people are better entrepreneurs.I’m not saying this is true, it’s just a hypothesis. I remember Jack Welch saying that he used to make bad hires in the old days because he showed a bias towards people with good English language skills. I think we do that kind of thing a lot.

    1. fredwilson

      There’s a lot of truth in what you say.There was a third person in our conversation, a successful entrepreneur who said when he started his company he was confident it would be easy to build what he built. Turned out to be brutally hard but once hed started, he kept at itHad he known how hard it wouid be maybe he would not have startedThat’s false confidence and the power of it

      1. Katarina Skoberne

        I’d argue that was more to do with persistence which, with courage in the face of adversity, I’d count as necessary traits for a successful entrepreneur. I don’t think real confidence has anything at all to do with arrogance, arrogance is often a display of insecurities. Having said that, I’ve seen intelligent (but sometimes also insecure) people swayed by false confidence, arrogance and the delusional many times – ‘larger than life’ and its illusion have an eternal appeal.

      2. vruz

        On false confidence… it’s heavily informed by the narcissistic psychological type, of which your friend Jerry talked about the other day.The self-confidence trait comes with both pros and cons and some of the cons can be fatal for business if not managed properly. Jerry’s post was very timely and helped me to deal with some issues in my own activity, and I can’t recommend it enough to any entrepreneur and VC who have to deal with this type of people.This is Jerry’s post on “Bullies”, one of the cons of some excessively confident types:http://www.themonsterinyour…and this is the article he linked that was especially helpful in recognising the pros and consNarcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons.…I’m sure you will find it very useful and you’ll start sorting out what’s wrong with certain situations and finding ways to deal with them by managing them, instead of doing it artistically through hunchs and hits of good luck.It certainly has helped me.

    2. Dave Pinsen

      Perhaps VCs would have a higher success rate if they looked for entrepreneurs who had a sense of humility at the tactical level in addition to a stubborn belief in themselves and confidence in their vision? It’s one thing to be confident in your overall vision, but a can’t a confidence bordering on arrogance keep you from recognizing and remedying tactical mistakes? Doesn’t some sense of humility help in making those course corrections?I know in the case of some money managers, at least, their lack of humility has had a painful cost for their investors. I wonder if the same has been true of some entrepreneurs and their investors. I’m thinking of one money manager in particular who told the attendees at an investor conference that he was going to “teach them how to fish, and give them a fish”. That “fish” was a stand-alone mortgage finance company. The conference was in the spring of 2007, a few months before the securitization market shut down. The money manager bought more of the company at that point and rode it down into bankruptcy.

      1. fredwilson

        humility would be nice, but self awareness is probably what you need more than humility

        1. vruz

          you get neither humility nor self-awareness with the narcissistic types Jerry described.only coaching, mentoring and the ‘trusted confidante’ he mentioned can be of help.I’m starting to think the cons outweigh the pros in startup environments. that psychology may still work for big corporations that are already well-established, but it won’t work well with creative types when you’re fighting for hires of stakeholders who put their blood and their lives on the firing line for’s not just about humility and awareness, present and future startups demand humanity and authenticity.

        2. vruz

          I just got this in the mail from Seth’s blog.…I think the perfect timber would be a mix of the ‘linchpin’ type that Seth’s talking about, with some of the good traits of the narcissus type.that person may not exist naturally in this world, but it’s possible it can be made.the old Jack Welch / Bill Gates type is an endangered species, with very little’s not that they are bad or good, it’s that the world has changed and the world is going to be a lot different than it was when these guys were made.only partially borrowing from Seth, I think that:authenticity, and the sort of humble self-confidence that makes everyone play for the project and everyone play nice, that’s part of the perfect timber indispensable people are made of.

      2. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Good/interesting point, Dave. I’ve witnessed more hubris than humility amongst many entrepreneurs ;-)My own entrepreneurial spirit – such as it is – feels rather broken nowadays. Working on re-kindling the Mojo!

        1. Aviah Laor

          just keep the calories low 🙂

        2. Dave Pinsen

          Hubris is what made so entertaining.

  6. Mike Chitty

    So we should be able to find the entrepreneurial gene then?We can identify entrepreneurs in the maternity ward and fast track them.Or perhaps this is errant nonsense?Surely entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of genetic endowments and life experiences.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s raffi’s assertion. But its not just dna but also your upbringing that forms the person and personality

      1. Mark Essel

        Right type of parents, an adventurous background, plus good raw material makes a Builder.Well let’s talk about the features of the best entreprenurial parents then 🙂

  7. Elie Seidman

    I don’t buy the idea that you can teach people the personality traits that make for good entrepreneurial leaders.I’m down here in Philly for the same set of classes etc. (Go Penn!) and after sitting on a panel yesterday afternoon (and will do another one today), I fielded many questions that were basically “will I be a successful entrepreneur?”; wish I had your great list. I’d add two more to the list:1) Can make analytical decisions with imperfect information: Spreadsheets are very important but in and of themselves they won’t give you the answer as it relates to entrepreneurial endeavors. There are plenty of extremely smart people who can’t make the leap from analysis to decision and in a startup, overanalysis at the loss of time and forward progress can be deadly.2) A bias for action – good entrepreneurs constantly move the ball (hopefully, forward) because with everything you do, you have the potential to learn and learning typically comes in small bites so you want as many cycles/bites as possible. You could sit in your office and perfect the deck for the customer meeting or you could meet with five customers with an imperfect deck and learn a lot more about what a perfect product and pitch looks like. Perfection is the enemy of success in many aspects of entrepreneurship.By the way, for all the Philly readers, there is a full day of programs today and I think they may be relatively open to the public? Find the details here: http://www.whartoneconferen

    1. fredwilson

      One of the WEP professors presented some research yesterday that shows the pace of decision making is highly correlated with successful outcomes. That’s not surprising and I didn’t need him to tell me that. But it reinforces your second character trait

  8. kidmercury

    IMHO the answer to who wins the beef between nature and nurture is always both. i’ve changed so much in my life (used to be a lazy person trying to find ways to work part-time and get by) but events in life have transformed me. so nurture, right? as an astrological kook, though, i tend to think major life events are pre-destined, so perhaps the nurturing received is a part of nature’s masterplan…..

    1. Aviah Laor

      “trying to work part time and get by” is an early symptom of an entrepreneur

      1. Kevin Vogelsang

        Interesting comment. I’ve never come across this one, although I’ve wondered this from my own experience. I attribute this not to laziness (more likely it’s the opposite), but to the fact, much of our life in the modern world is VERY anti-entrepreneurial. I think most entrepreneurs do not belong sitting in classrooms. Despite somehow getting into a great college and doing relatively well, personally, forcing my way through school was emotionally a struggle.I think everyone reading this should check out “Hunter vs. Farmer” theory, as it provides an interesting perspective for the entrepreneur.

        1. Aviah Laor

          i think the hidden logic behind is “i’m not going to totally commit, so i leave some vacuum and time to fill with my still hidden ideas”.Hunters and farmers is interesting indeed. In farming you have to be conservative and keep the routine.

          1. Kevin Vogelsang

            I agree with that except for a little different spin: “I’m not going to expend resources on this, because my energies are needed elsewhere.”

      2. fredwilson

        Then my teenage son is going to be an entrepreneur 🙂

        1. Kevin Vogelsang

          It seems to have worked out fine for me. Thus far at least. I had a hard time investing in “classroom education”, but I did some great work outside of classrooms. Took me to and through MIT.

        2. Aviah Laor

          wonder where did he get the idea from 😀

    2. fredwilson

      I should not have put nature vs nurture in the title. Because I agree with you. Its bothThe real question is after nature and nurture have done their thing, is the person an entrepreneur?And of course nurture never stops working on a person

  9. Elie Seidman

    Oh, one more addition. The ability to manage things at both 50,000 feet and also execute in and understand the minutiae.

    1. fredwilson

      At the same time!

  10. Dave Morgan

    I’m with you Fred. The entrepreneurs I know are driven to it; they’re not taught to it. In fact, of the dozens and dozens of tech start-up founders that I have gotten to know well in the marketplace over the past fifteen years or so, I don’t know that any of them “learned” their trade in a business school entrepreneurial program.

    1. fredwilson

      i can’t find the specific research he cited on that list. i’ve got an email out to Raffi and hopefully will be able to post a link soon

  11. Kevin Vogelsang

    While I can only offer anecdotal evidence, I think Professor Amit’s conclusions are a bit too convenient.Like any talent, a skilled entrepreneur is a product of nature and nurture. You have to have certain raw elements to begin with. The same goes for an athlete. They show great potential often from the beginning. Early successes spur them on. They work hard and get better with experience and practice.Genes are not deterministic. They supply a predisposition. Additionally, our brains are not static. Our brain is plastic and changes every day.I’d be interested in taking a look at these studies and seeing their methodology. These types of studies are a big question sociologically right now. All of them I’ve seen come to the conclusion I’ve described above.

    1. fredwilson

      Great comment. You nailed it. Way better than my post

      1. Michael Kogan

        One thing you cannot teach people is how they deal with the stress created by uncertainty. And that, controlling for other factors, is important. Some people panick and some do not.

        1. Brian

          You can teach people how to deal with stress created by anything. The military and security forces/firms in the world do this all the time.More can be taught than we realize. It is the constant repetition that is the key.

          1. Michael Kogan

            Agreed. But the difference between military/security firms and entrepreneurs is that people in the military do not go into a real live mission until they’ve received years of extremely intense training.You are just not going to get that kind of training as an entrepreneur until you actually start some businesses and have them succeed or fail 🙂

          2. JLM

            Having been a paratrooper and a Ranger and having served with elite units, I can assure you that ANYONE can do it. ANYONE. You just have to want to do it. I wish it were not so that there had to be a special gene or aptitude for it, but the big secret is that there is no secret.The most powerful teacher is the example of the troops around you. It is passed along like the secret of a fraternity.I remember being spit dry, bile tasting, dry heaving, flop sweating, open mouth breathing scared shitless and watching a Sergeant calmly pick his nails with a demo knife while smoking a cigarette as mortars walked toward us.He noticed my angst, winked at me and I knew in that instant I could do it. I really had no choice. The fear did not go away but it did not overwhelm me.Months later I was still just as scared but I had learned to pass along that wink.In the imitable words of Stonewall Jackson: “You may be whatever you resolve to be.”

    2. robertavila

      The traits Fred describes may or may not be the “correct” ones but what ever the “correct” ones are they are questions of temperament and personality and not of “book learning”. To the extent that traits such as these can be taught the teachers are more likely to be found amongst Buddhist Monks, Marine Corps DIs,Kung Foo instructors or Tony Robbins ilk and not in college lecture rooms. It has been reported that Latin American Pentecostal Churches ala Max Weber have been doing a credible job of transforming long submissive peasants into entrepreneurs. Personality transformation is hardly a science but it has long been a business in the US (e.g. Dale Carnegie Institute). I would not be surprised if a sweep of the Internet did not turn up someone offering training to instill just the traits Fred outlined…

      1. Kevin Vogelsang

        Love Dale Carnegie’s books.Interesting you mentioned “training” for learning these traits. I’m writing a book (soon to be published) about a specific set of behavioral personas–a set of personas I think are especially important. Interestingly enough, all the traits Fred mentions are exhibited in these personas. I guess it’s no surprise….it’s written by an entrepreneur….

        1. Donna Brewington White

          I’d definitely like to read this!!! Do you have a title yet?

          1. Kevin Vogelsang

            I think it’s coming together very well. The working title is “Powerful Personas”. It won’t be published for a little over a month though.Shoot me an email at [kvogelsang11] *at* [] and we can work out getting you a copy once it’s ready. I can get you one for free.Same goes for anyone else reading this.

          2. Donna Brewington White

            I will email you and greatly appreciate this! I rarely turn down free books or free food. In all seriousness, this really interests me. Congratulations in advance.

    3. JLM

      I suspect that both views are true if you are using the right lens.Anybody can learn to fly a plane. Very few can learn to fly it like Chuck Yeager. Fortunately, even fewer need to be able to fly like Chuck Yeager.Sure there is such a thing as natural talent. Chuck Yeager had huge natural talent.But the Pieta was always inside that big lump of stone, it took a talented sculptor to find it and bring it out. It was hidden in the stone but it was there.In all personal development we are like that lump of stone, it takes a bit of work to reveal the character and talent and leadership that lies within. But it is in there and I think it is in all people. Some in the Chuck Yeager proportions. You never really know until someone coaxes it out.In my view, that is why the ability to “coach” or otherwise coax a great performance from an entrepreneur is a critical skill of an accomplished VC. It is low hanging fruit.

    4. toddklein

      I once heard Art Athens, the US Naval Academy’s top authority on Leadership get asked a similar question: Are leaders born or made. He answered this way: He said there’s a scale from 0 to 10. You can’t move someone from a 0 to a 1 or more, but you can move a 1 to 4, a 4 to a 7, etc. The idea is that there has to be a base threshold upon which leadership can be developed. My VC experience supports this view.

      1. fredwilson

        That’s a really good way to look at it.

      2. JLM

        As a trade school grad myself, I can tell you with some assurance that the military still struggles mightily with the issue of leadership and the ability to identify leaders — which in many ways is a proxy for entrepreneurship in civilian life.Military leadership entails another odd quirk — there is an extremely stressful but sometimes fleeting environment in which leadership is often exercised — combat — which completely changes the mix.Some military leaders (classic example being George S Patton) who are extremely effective in combat are almost insufferable in peace time or on a staff. But at the point of the sword, they are brilliant.There is a fabulous book, Partners in Command by Mark Perry, which describes the relationship between George C Marshall and Dwight D Eisenhower during WWII. It is very interesting as Marshall was a fabulous leader in a staff setting and Eisenhower was a fabulous leader in an allied command setting. Neither were really combat field commanders though both had to make important decisions based upon incomplete information and in the fog of war.In business today there is an opportunity to tap into the leadership training that the military — engaged in three wars currently — can provide for free.I use a recruiting firm which specializes in Company grade (Captains and below), trade school (WP, AFA, Anna, VMI, Citadel) grads and generally all with combat experience.Last week I interviewed a seemingly prim and proper young lady who happened to have been an MP in Iraq transporting High Value Prisoners who received a Bronze Star w/ V device for having shot it out w/ three Iraqi bad guys who tried to seize her prisoner. She killed all three from 10′ with a hand gun. I think she would be pretty good in management?The whole world of leadership and entrepreneurial psyche is a fascinating arena and one in which a bit of study can provide a huge reward operationally.

  12. Mike McGrath

    I think the problem is that entrepreneurs don’t fit neatly into any one personality type because they have to be able to absorb influence from all. The 5 characteristics ring true, and each of the 5 can be expressed in different ways that are not always extroverted. Belief in one’s self is an interior condition that is shown by prodding them, arrogance is usually nonverbal (and culture specific in its outward manifestations), living with risk and ambiguity is proven to be inherent, vision takes a conceptual mind, and magnetizing is largely a primitive activity going to base instincts.

  13. jrh

    Are you sure you two are talking about the same thing? At least 99% of “successful entrepreneurs” build stable (even boring) businesses that never attempt to generate venture-style returns. If you’re looking at the top 1% or 0.1%, then you’d probably see very different characteristics from the whole pool. The much smaller group is what’s relevant to a VC.

    1. fredwilson

      good point

    2. John Prendergast

      jhr I agree but even in the boring businesses there are often certain traits that are innate.e.g. To start my first business, as an undergrad I convinced my working class parents to mortgage their home to finance me becoming one of the first Boston Chicken franchisees (despite being a tech startup CEO now). This is a boring business, except when you’re 26 and your parents life savings are in your hands.I paid them back and did reasonably well but I don’t think things like risk tolerance, ability to focus in spite of (or because of) being up 1000 feet on a wire without a net etc can be taught. The skills around finance, math (building a multiple regression analysis to locate good real estate), management skills etc that can make an entrepreneur more successful or have a less bumpy ride can certainly be taught or, maybe more appropriately, can be learned.Great post and discussion Fred, thanks.

      1. Mark Essel

        From chicken to tech startup I love it. I’m going from engineering weenie to tech startup, and I think you have the better background for it.

  14. Aviah Laor

    I’m with the professor here, Fred. I find these lists of entrepreneur traits a bit arrogant. Try to google the blog sphere for these required traits lists, and I assure you that god himself would not cut it. Come’on: every guy that runs a pizza shop, house repair service or a small consulting biz is a brave entrepreneur: has to deal with the whole spectrum of the business (suppliers, customers, sales, accounting, lease and contracts, manage employees…) and they don’t have the safe monthly paycheck.Entrepreneurs do have one thing in common: give them 12 months of corporate job and they will bump their head in the walls and make everybody around crazy. That’s it.

    1. Mark Essel

      Imagine that last paragraph exaggerated over 12 years. I was ready to go live in the wild in 2008. I had no concept of “startup”, but I damn well knew I couldn’t stand pretending to be an engineer for 15-20 more years. I didn’t love it, the lack of influence or direction was strangulating. My mind finally said FU and I took a break (I couldn’t run one more sim or make one more viewgraph). Five months of thinking for myself, and digging into what I find interesting has rekindled my soul. Now I want to Build, and nothing can stop me.

      1. Aviah Laor

        tell me about it. But you are going to hit the track shortly and that’s what important.

        1. Mark Essel

          Been pushing since October, the first idea caught my attention last July. But I’m not seeing results fast enough. I need to work faster when I can steal moments.

          1. falicon

            Don’t get caught up in speed…get caught up in problems, and fixing the right problems. Time doesn’t take away most problems, it just brings around new perspectives on those problems.Google wasn’t the first search engine, it wasn’t all that fast to market (or even mass adoption really)…and even today it hasn’t fixed ‘most’ of the problems with search…they’ve just done it smarter/better than anyone else so far…

          2. Mark Essel

            Thanks Kevin, just lamenting many lost hours to day job flux in December and this week.

          3. falicon

            I feel you there…that in-between period of fleshing an idea out, figuring out a business model, etc. while having to keep the day job to pay the bills is really really draining and frustrating…

          4. John Lynn

            Amen to this. I’m close to the end of said day job and the sweetness of even thinking about saying CIAO is awesome. Keep grinding and get ready to jump.

  15. ErikSchwartz

    There’s a lot of stubborn arrogant people in the world, what needs to be there as well to turn them into successful entrepreneurs is the ability to “hone” that stubbornness. You need to remin stubborn about what works but be able to walk away from what isn’t working. You can only be arrogant and stubborn about the core belief.

    1. Mark Essel

      That comes down to intelligence and instincts. If you’re not stubborn you’ll waste time floundering from one flavor of the month to another.Pick the right fight, and DIG your heels in.

  16. jwaller

    I actually think that there is a combination. There is definitely something in the genes that you must have to be an entrepreneur, but I firmly believe that sometimes it takes something environmental to unlock or activate that gene. It could be a mentor, experience, whatever. I can think of a few particular incidents in my life that unlocked it for me. If they hadn’t happened, I seriously doubt I would be an entrepreneur.

    1. fredwilson

      nature and nurture together. totally agree

  17. Peter Fleckenstein

    Great post Fred. IMHO, every person is born an entrepreneur. Each one of us was born to create, which is the basis of nature as a whole.For example, if you have a tree in your yard go and prune a branch. You will see that not just one shoot grows out of that pruning but 2 or more will grow. That happens because the tree is in a nurturing environment with the right soil and the proper amount of water.Don’t have a tree? The same happens with any plant. Don’t have a plant? Observe the animal kingdom – You will see that animals do not produce one, they produce many. Human beings are the only species on the planet who have free will to decide to create or not.This natural inherent ability to create will cease to exist if the proper environment is not maintained. Too often individuals and societies do and say things that destroy a proper environment, consciously and subconsciously.I believe that both you and Raffi are correct. Raffi is basically saying that each one of us is born with the nature of an entrepreneur – to create. You are stating that is yours and other VCs duty to recognize the spark of creativity that still shines within an individual and then provide the proper soil and water to nurture, grow, and promote creation. Take no offense, but there are many others in life who do the same as VCs, albeit with different tools and in different ways.Thanks again Fred for the great post and a great start to a creative day! 😉

    1. fredwilson

      that’s a very good way of thinking about it peter.

    2. Mark Essel

      Lovely comment Peter. I need to think on this further. Fits well with my ideas on social change.

    3. Rachelle Hruska

      Peter,This is beautiful response. I have never thought about it this way. My sister, the stay at home mother of 3 is one of the most creative people i know. She too is an entrepreneur, as is her husband, who has tediously worked on the building of his tobacco farm in their basement. Thank you for making this association for me.

      1. Peter Fleckenstein

        Thank you so much for the kind words. My day is made so much the better knowing that I made a small impact for you and hopefully others. Of course, that wouldn’t be possible at this moment without Fred writing another great post! Have an awesome day! 😉

    4. Aaron Klein

      Peter, great comment and very true. And I think it’s true that it’s the basis of nature. As you know, my wife is the CEO of the ultimate startup with two new products in development. I work 12 hour days…she and all the other moms call that half the day off. 🙂

      1. Peter Fleckenstein

        Thank you Aaron. I think a lot of VCs & Entrepreneurs would be wise to study the entrepreneurship of wives/mothers. There is a lot to learn from a CEO who never stops. 😉

    5. sddesh

      Fred, its a great thought provoking post.Wonderful approach on the subject Peter. Every human by nature is entrepreneur. A child would not take the first step if not for the urge of ‘trying something new’. Its left to him how he learns it – He can either start running and fall down and learn through major failure or he can support himself holding on to things and learn at a lower risk. That is left to his intelligence. Again a good point you make, observed cross cultures and countries, the societal make of gender biases, certain doubt towards alternative careers, failures observed as social stigmas than learning curves, and ambitious word having a negative connotation suppresses risk taking and entrepreneurship to a great extent. Also basic human needs of survival like food and shelter overpowers ‘doing anything different from routine work’ in mainly developing countries. Thus we might observe that in a free willed country like the ‘US’ there are far more entrepreneurs than in developing nations. And the secret sauce of the Silicon valley is that same comfortable ecosystem different from anywhere else. Intelligence and hardwork is something that coupled with entrepreneurship either makes one in 5 attempts or 100. So if you can give a person freedom from these societal makes, anyone can be successful entrepreneur.

      1. Peter Fleckenstein

        Thank you sddesh. Fred would also point out that NYC has a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem as well. The East/West ecosystems are the more prominent and larger ones. As you stated so eloquently in your reply – “So if you can give a person freedom from these societal makes, anyone can be successful entrepreneur.” – there are many ecosystems across the geographic spectrum.

    6. Donna Brewington White

      I once heard in a seminar on creativity that the level of creativity we start out with significantly diminishes about the third year of school — based on the educational system. I think about this a lot. Someone else said in the comments that we live in an anti-entrepreneurial society (or something to this effect) which I think is related to the creativity-inhibiting aspects of society. So, this makes me wonder — if we all start out with that inherent creativity, what is it that allows some to retain enough of that spark to someday be the individual a VC recognizes? It still leads me to believe that whether inherent or environmental or both, there are some that are more inclined to create, invent, found startups…and so on. And I wholeheartedly agree that others “do the same as VCs” in other spheres albeit not always as lucratively. 😉

  18. ErikSchwartz

    On further reflection, it’s not stubbornness. It’s a denial of the correctness of the status quo.That “I know better than you and everyone else” can come off as stubbornness to those who accept the status quo.

    1. David Noël

      Mo had a good post this week (with great comments too) in where he basically questions the “sense of comfort”. Those uncomfortable tend to deny the status quo, making their actions entrepreneurial. This can be the artist, the pizza guy or the full on-tech entrepreneur.For reference, the post is here:

      1. fredwilson

        being too comfortable is never good for value creation

        1. Mark Essel

          I’m perfectly suited to value creation by that criteria. I’m comfortable with the knowledge that all other roads for me have less meaning.Value is so damn subjective though. What you and I share as high value experiences only has so much overlap.

        2. kidmercury

          well, lucky for us all, it’s about to get a whole lot more uncomfortable. imagine the value creation that’s in store!

          1. Wavelengths

            Crisis = opportunity?

        3. Kevin Vogelsang

          fear, however, is the best

      2. Tereza

        I find a big, massive chip on someone’s shoulder can be really helpful.

        1. fredwilson

          To an extent

  19. Mark Essel

    Dave Pinsen and I had a good back and forth on nature vs nurture with respect to education/learning. The studies I read lead me to believe that as long as the test subject wasn’t given upper bounds on performance, they “scored” much higher than those who were given limits.Thinking about how hard building a business is not the right frame of reference, founders build businesses because they have to (maybe that drive is hard wired/connected to persona).Do or die trying.The will of the great entrepreneurs is what shapes everyone elses expectations. They have unmatched resilience, and the trusty reality distortion field.What makes a great entrepreneur may shift with time. Earning other people’s trust is an incredible driver behind success. If users and customers trust an entrepreneur, he’s pushed by external forces we can’t attribute to genetics. Currency exhange is all about trust. Link sharing is about trust too.This trust factor holds for startups or for BigCos.

  20. Aviah Laor

    I bet we end up this thread with at least 100 attributes, 200 want surprise me, it’s just keep flowing in. Really. Didn’t you read biographies ever? Every great leader or entrepreneur – in reality – missed half of the attributes already mentioned here, or at least missed them in some periods of his/her life.Bureaucracy and a boss makes you crazy?you want more freedom doing it your way? Are you willing to pay the price? than you are an entrepreneur. It’s simple, really.

  21. Michael D.

    I agree with you there are certain unique and defining characteristics of entrepreneurs, but you summed it up in your comment “your upbringing that forms the person and personality.” In other words, I believe that most people have the unique characteristics to be entrepreneurs – but it is suppressed at some point in their lives. A kid could have seen a parent struggle to put food on the table, because of an under performing biz. Or the entrepreneuring parent stressed to the kid to get a corporate job with benefits. I also think that once life starts happening (family, home, etc.) – the appearance of risk increases due to other responsibilities.My bottom line is that the “characteristics” are in everyone, but only a few can overcome the suppressed desire (fear may be a better word) to venture out and try.

    1. Wavelengths

      The advances in neuroscience are revealing to us that our thought patterns are closely linked to our neuroanatomy, and some of these traits are evident from birth, well before any time when “nurture” could kick in. Some babies are just more determined or curious or shy or gregarious than others.So some of us are wired from the start to have certain personality traits — and we can probably look at our close relatives for some clues.Neuroscience also reveals that we literally change our brains as we go through experiences, and as we challenge ourselves. You know the feeling when you step off the motorcycle, but it takes you a moment to remember that you’re back on your two feet? Within your brain, for the time you were on the bike, the bike became an extension of your body. It was mapped that way in your brain, and your brain literally changed to handle that info. That’s a tiny example of our capacity for neuroplasticity — the ability to change our brains through our thought patterns.So, my guess is that some of us start out with a more generous stock of helpful traits, but our experiences, our opportunities, our resources, and our choices affect what we can do with our raw abilities.

  22. LimorE

    I think that the same way people who are artists, teachers or whatever other profession someone chooses, hold similar traits, so do entrepreneurs. I feel that people don’t like to admit that and want to assume that everyone can do it. Since its not a ‘defined’ profession, its a way of life and a way of how one works. I could never be a teacher, or an artist, I just personally don’t have the traits to be a good one, and therefore, I won’t even attempt. I’m an Entrepreneur. I always have been, even when I worked at other companies. I don’t think that the people who aren’t entrepreneurs should get offended when someone says entrepreneurs are confident or succeed b/c of it. Doctors are arrogant and confident, but I personally wouldn’t want one that wasn’t. Who wants a shaky hand operating on you? On that same note, who wants an unsure CEO. Sure, experience is part of the game, but so is the delusional sense of self confidence that you can do it.

  23. Rachel Happe

    At the risk of making this a feminist position… which it’s not really, I would like to add the female perspective because I’ve been a woman on management teams a couple of start-ups and am now starting my own thing. I have to say, I find that the whole VC/young entrepreneur vibe makes me roll my eyes a lot. A lot of older, richer men with money stroking the egos of a bunch of younger men who have an idea and think a lot about themselves. Ugh – turns me off of the entire VC model. So I offer an alternative set of characteristics that I feel more accurately portray me (and I think may be generalizable):1) A stubborn belief in an idea or alternately a stubborn belief that there is a much better/more efficient way of doing something2) Confidence (I actually think arrogant people are some of the least self-assured people I know but I digress)3) A belief that the reward vs. risk of starting a new venture is higher than the reward/risk of working for someone else.4) An ability to see and articulate a solution4) An ability to construct a vision and sell it to many others5) A magnetic personality – to attract talent, partners, investors, etc.Just my 2 cents.

    1. fredwilson

      “older, richer men with money stroking the egos of a bunch of younger menwho have an idea and think a lot about themselves. Ugh – turns me off ofthe entire VC model”ouch, but i’m happy you shared that. i’ll try to tone down the testosteronelevels. that may be why there are so few women engaging on this blogvery useful feedback

      1. Rachel Happe

        Sorry – didn’t mean for that to be a personal comment – I’ve enjoyed a lot of the founders I’ve worked with and a lot of the VC board members I’ve known but get them all in a room together at board meetings… wow, lots of preening and hard to separate layers of ego/posturing/issues. It was a bit hard to tell if we were actually talking/resolving real business issues or if people were just trying to one-up each other and be right. Interestingly I found it more emotion-laden than a lot of business discussions with a more mixed audience.

        1. Linnea Geiss

          Just like there are stong managers and less strong managers, there are effective boards and less effective boards. It is everyone’s responsibility to manage that dynamic carefully, including the CEO’s. I think your points are well taken but I don’t know that the gender really is the driving force behind the “preening / posturing”. I know it’s easy to bash the whole thing as a testosterone fest just because it’s mostly guys but I think the ability to be a jerk is equal opportunity for women as well.

          1. Rachel Happe

            Absolutely – I wasn’t trying to suggest that it was all a gender thing generally but that has been my personal experience. The more mixed boards that I have sat on for community-related groups aren’t nearly as competitive in that way. Maybe I sat on two very screwed up management teams – it is possible. And the VC/entrepreneur vibe that I first mentioned is not limited to board meetings – I pretty much stay away from Demo events and local start-up gatherings for similar reasons. And I’m not trying to diss anyone here – it’s just not my cup o’ tea. But in my space (social media) I do have to wonder why more women aren’t represented as CEOs and funded. When Dachis group got funding from Austin Ventures I checked out their website (http://www.austinventures.c… and it looks like a frat facebook. Now maybe I’m wrong and there is no larger gender issues going on here… but evidence points to the contrary. I think last time I looked women start more small businesses than men – they just are not as involved in the VC side of the business and I for one, am just pointing out why it drives me nuts. Again, totally my personal perspective.

          2. JLM

            First, let me say that I agree completely with your characterization of the VC business aura and your natural angst/discomfiture/aversion — you pick the right word. But that’s just a reflection of life and the competitive forces — healthy or unhealthy — that are at work. Everywhere.See the humor and insight into personality that it provides. Use it to your advantage. Preening, in the end, is just insecurity. It’s all insecurity.You want to see some estrogen out of control? Get involved in the Texas debutante imbroglio and see those chicks work their magic. The VC world wishes it could summon such intrigue, daring and efficiency. Those chicks have real balls.But so what? It is a game played by certain rules which attracts a certain type of talent. Get in the game.When you understand the game you can either embrace the rules or operate like a Fifth Columnist and leverage la difference. Wiggle in, play the game, use the leverage created by your knowledge and, oh yeah, bat your eyelids. Do you think that Scarlett O’Hara would have been a success in the VC business? Hmmm, I think so.The smartest person in the room is never the person the rest of the room thinks is the smartest person in the room. Be that person. Have fun.

          3. Tereza

            JLM, I think I love you.Oh, wait — maybe you’re really a woman????!

          4. JLM

            Well, not really but I used to wear a lot of pocket squares when I was a developer. I would love to say I am very much in touch w/ my feminine side but I think I may have misplaced it somewhere.I very much like women and freely admit to having once upon a time fantasized about meeting and knowing all of the Radio City Rockettes. But I was very, very young then and in quite desperate straits far away from home.

          5. Tereza

            You lost it at that closing on the way to your tee time! That was funny.

          6. Carl Rahn Griffith

            Lol – this thread is becoming like ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ 😉

          7. fredwilson

            Nope. We had coffee. He’s all male

          8. Wavelengths

            While I very much respect your comments, I have to say that having to play “Scarlett O’Hara” on top of being savvy about SaaS, APIs, cloud technology, unique visitors, VC etiquette, RDBMSs, GUIs, term sheets, 3- and 5-year projections, tax benefits, and the emotional content of the ad campaign . . .Sorry, but no one asks the guys to do that. And I know that you are right. That is exactly how some women are able to get past the preconceived notions and get accepted so they can finally get down to business. I don’t fault them for that. But it is an additional burden.Hey, guys . . . there’s a lot of talent around that might be packaged in a woman’s body, and perhaps not even the sort of woman you’d talk to in a coffee shop — unless you were willing to take the time to look inside her mind. Women also seems to be wired psychologically to be more likely to want to collaborate, so you might consider that when you’re looking to bring someone into your venture.

          9. JLM

            Having intended to initially inject just the tiniest bit of tongue into that cheeky cheek, I can only say that a woman certainly does have an opportunity to differentiate her approach from the rest of the blue suited Mafia but you will have to work at it. You will have to be guileful and smarter and better prepared.You will have to compete to win.Don’t try to out blue suit the henchpersons, be the most wonderful thing that you truly are — a woman. Be yourself. You’re all tough just like Scarlett — not the Scarlett of the batted eyes, the Scarlett looking at the burning skyline of Atlanta.At the risk of betraying my entire gender, let’s be brutally honest here. Guys never really develop much more than high school. Maybe college frat house. Maybe Army adventures. Sad but true. Men are barely domesticatable and at age 50 they regress even further if some younger blonde laughs at their jokes. We are truly a pathetic lot.And you don’t think you can outwit this bunch of dopes? You’re not even trying. Get in the game and have some fun.

          10. ShanaC

            Oy gevault geshrigin…

          11. Wavelengths

            Thanks, JLM.I’ve seen that burning sky.But, to adapt Scarlett’s phrase, “TODAY is another day.”

          12. Tereza

            I mentioned in a comment sonewhere in the discussion about a test called a Caliper Profile. Corporates use it.Interestingly it was developed over the last several decades by a psych PhD from Princeton who happened to be blind. He found early on he had a much keener ability to assess people’s character and abilities. He wasn’t ‘blinded’ by their looks.He developed a whole consulting firm around it with a full research team. They have 24-ish parameters. It’s a 90+ minute test that includes math and logic problems as well as personality traits.From there list of traits there is a short-list of “entrepreneurial” ones. They include abstract analysis, persuasiveness….similar to the traits Fred listed, though I need to cross-check and am not near my files.It’s very thorough and been used for years. I learned (confirmed) a lot about myself and would consider using it as a tool with potential hires. Not necessarily to reject someone but to understand our gaps/overlaps.In light of this conversation I’d be interested in knowing how gender correlates with the Entrepreneurial traits. They have decades of data….

          13. ShanaC

            What I find even more interesting, is that someone my age, well, we’re getting sick of that behavior and we’re not quite sure what to do. It is not clear how to get past this “club” structure.

          14. Wavelengths

            It’s a fundamental principle of “persuasion” that people like to do business with people who are like them. That’s why a good salesperson will work on finding the point of connection that starts setting up the bond that can make the sale happen: both root for the same football team, both went to an Ivy League school, both have kids who play soccer — whatever . . . (Read Robert Cialdini’s classic, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” for a good primer.) Gender is one obvious point of “like-ness.”So when the prevailing paradigm is that men start and run companies, and men control VC money, women are less likely to be perceived as being “like” those who have the power, money, and so forth.When we are better able to see our “likenesses” beyond the obvious but perhaps inconsequential (in the context) difference of gender, the ratios might shift.Also, you might read the stats from the white paper from Illuminate Ventures. Those numbers suggest that entrepreneurial women can be a very good bet.Credit to Cindy Gallop for this link:

          15. ShanaC

            I find the question to be how do you find new standards of like, or even should we (there are some secondary and tertiary issues involved)…

          16. Wavelengths

            Those of us who are here in “Fredland” are alike in ways that might not be obvious if we were getting acquainted in person.We established points of connection in dialogue, and in the context that Fred establishes, that we might not have been able to find in each other in person, even if we’d all shown up together at the same entrepreneurs’ workshop or other random gathering.We reveal to each other our enthusiasm, our areas of concern, our curiosity — and those are ways that we find ourselves to be “alike.” That’s a much richer context for communication.

          17. JLM

            You raise a brilliant point about the anonymity of the internet. What you see, feel, hear and sense are IDEAS rather than physical location, trade dress, speech intonation, age, affluence, education and personal projection.It coincides with one of the best things I have ever learned — all people are fundamentally good, decent and striving for many of the same things. They all want their dream.The only big difference I have ever detected is this — some folks dream with their eyes open and they are very, very, very dangerous people because they can remember their dreams. And they are awake and ready to act upon them.Beware the day dreamer!

          18. ShanaC

            The question is of course if you stuck everyone in a real room…

          19. fredwilson

            Smash down the doorsThere is no other way

          20. Tereza


          21. Tereza

            You go girl.

          22. ShanaC

            a) pressures on ;)b) I prefer to think of the world in a more jijistu approach. Doors are inherently a screening process, and they have their uses (I don’t want a person who is not interested, not dedicate the time)What you want to do is push down the filters as they come at you with their own weight, if they are unsustainable, they won’t stand up anyway.Besides, it appears to me to be a much friendlier approach, which is useful when you are high pitched and often described as “cute” in social context. You can’t disarm people that way if they aren’t going to let you be butch anyway, might as well go around the situation.JLM is probably right about this one to a certain degree….

          23. leigh

            lol. There are gender things. If you aren’t suggesting it, then I am (tangent or not a great conversation) . It just is. Statistically speaking that is. Makes everyone uncomfortable. Yeah no kidding. Sorry about that. How about we try changing it vs. denying the facts? Statistically speaking and otherwise.

          24. Mark Essel

            “I think the ability to be a jerk is equal opportunity for women as well”Whew, I was gonna say anyone can let their ego grow a little too large for themselves. It’s wonderful having good friends and family that take pride in keeping one’s ego in check 😉

          25. JLM

            Of course the gold standard for women is an SMU sorority girl with a law degree handling her first closing representing the lender. I often think I may have offended her when I told her I had a tee time in 2 hours but who really knows? LOL

      2. kidmercury

        damn boss you got dissed big time. ouch.

        1. fredwilson

          yes i didyou gotta respect the quality of it too.that was very well done

        2. Mark Essel

          My symbol for you Kid is now ! (exclamation point)Ah reminds me of that time you tore up traders on Howard’s blog 🙂

      3. e_irene

        As I said in my reply to Rachel, I did not pick up any testosterone-laden message. In fact, I haven’t encountered any such thing in your blog posts I’ve read to date. If I haven’t commented, it’s because I didn’t have anything meaningful to add to the conversation (i.e. my only responses would have been – great article, thanks!).Also, I am fascinated by the fact that the two lists of qualities say the same thing but in very different ways. I see your statements as direct — succinct & to the point — and Rachel’s statements as soft (not a devaluation, soft is good) — just as assertive but a bit more round about. Perhaps a statement on gender, which in my mind, is a good thing! Vive la difference!~In regards to Amit’s study, I would be interested in his conclusions as well. I am, however, immediately suspicious as it smacks a bit of political correctness. We’ll see.Though now that I think about it a bit more, it could be that he’s right in a way. Perhaps for entrepreneurs in general (as opposed to tech entrepreneurs) his statements are true. Opening up a storefront / starting a small business might be a little different than competing in the tech world. For one thing, a person is not likely to open a store selling shoes when there are already ten shoe stores on the block…

      4. Tereza

        I don’t think it’s your blog. It’s more the overall system.

      5. Wavelengths

        Fred, I find your posts relatively free of gender bias, and I find your endorsement of women-run ventures to be quite refreshing. And I particularly like your encouragement of social entrepreneurship.As to why there are so few women engaging in this conversation, I think Tereza’s comment about the overall system is on target.I’m going to repost several paragraphs from Cindy Gallop’s comment above. I followed her links and found them very enlightening. I also recommend that anyone who reads the link to the “rant” continue down into the comments. There are several exceptional comments about the social double standard around confidence and assertiveness.I believe that this social dilemma where assertive men are perceived as “good” and assertive women are perceived as “bad” puts entrepreneurial, confident women at a particular disadvantage. If a confident, assertive woman has to develop a pattern of subterfuge to get anything done, she might look a bit different from your archetypal entrepreneurial personality. (For example, think of the “southern belle” caricature as an example of how a strong woman might end up camouflaging herself so that she could assert herself in a particular prejudicial society.)The hedging, self-deprecating statements that an intelligent woman might make could perhaps be her attempt to deflect the antagonism that she has faced as a result of those social prejudices. This might be even more true if the woman didn’t have a mentor such as JLM to put her in a safe place, pay her, and shore up her defenses.I believe there’s a huge market opportunity in serving the disenfranchised. And I also believe there’s a lot of valuable intellectual property in people who might not look like the archetypal entrepreneur.Props to Cindy. The rest of this is a direct quote from her comment:”Also this week, Illuminate Ventures released this whitepaper identifying that women-owned and led tech ventures grow faster and fail less:…’A stubborn belief in oneself’ and ‘a confidence bordering on arrogance’ are, alas, traits less often found in female entrepreneurs (and when they are, are often received much more poorly than in men), as per Clay Shirky’s recent (excellent) post ‘A Rant About Women’:……Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, often surprising ones beyond the ‘young, male’ standard model in the tech world, and actually testify to a gratifying truth; you may have no idea of what you’re really capable of until circumstances – sometimes fortuitous, sometimes desperate – drive you to find out.”

        1. fredwilson

          My friend brad feld is quite involved in an organization that is attempting to address this issueI’d like to get more involved myself. I’ve got two young women in my family who would benefitBut I feel somewhat handicapped by the fact that I am not involved in one woman founded company. It seems kind of hypocritical to be championing this when I am not living itAnd there’s no way I am going to make a ‘token’ investment. I need a woman founder to show up with a killer web service and it hasn’t happened to me yet

      6. Donna Brewington White

        Well there is something that runs rampant through this blog community — didn’t know it was testosterone, but whatever it is, it’s quite nice. Don’t tone it down. Let it be what it is. Personally, I have been graciously received by this community. However, the comment you made the other day encouraging a young woman to speak up certainly creates more of an invitation to women. So maybe more invitation, but keep everything else.I do note a lot more comments from women this time around. I may get in trouble for saying this, but the word “nurture” in the title definitely struck a positive nerve for me. Yep, I’m a woman.

      7. Donna Brewington White

        “older, richer men” You should remind them that you are only 48. (I am cursed with an overzealous memory.)

    2. Mark Essel

      You rule Rachel. This list kicked some dust off my thinking.

    3. im2b_dl

      as a biased feminist rhetorical critique studies major… the problem isn’t necessarily the guys in this industry, but a cultural norm as a whole. Aggressive men = positive. Aggressive women = negative. I would say that boys are taught to go for the gold…girls are taught to work quietly and achieve that gold. ..and when women lead it is still ( after all these decades of discussing it) hard for women and men alike to get by the ingrained cultural norms to not be quick to a negative reaction.My personal take on that is, if women or men get it right in the product and market… it becomes less about the gender, image and marketing that overrides our culture in general. Because people in general will buy into the “math” of potential success and fact backed credibility in the company/product, a thousand times more than who or what we are. …even if it seems the wide array is dominated by men or personality types who get the first $. imho but I might be wrong.

      1. JLM

        “as a biased feminist rhetorical critique studies major” — OK, well that is a first for me anyway. Not sure exactly what it means but it damn sure is a distinction.”Aggressive men = positive. Aggressive women = negative.”Smart business people recognize the obvious opportunity that that phenomenon provides as it relates to talent spotting.For years I used to hire the top woman Finance grads of the University of Texas and turn them into commercial real estatae leasing agents, property managers and project accountants (mean trick about the accountants). They were overlooked, underpaid and very appreciative. They also routinely became my very best employees.I owned about 30 some odd apartment complexes and used to hire woman managers whose profile usually was — tall, blonde, college graduated, divorced, single mom, child, aggressive.These women had heard all the nonsense from guys they needed, they owned the challenge of raising a child by themselves, they were well educated, they had to be aggressive to survive. I compensated them well in part by giving them the very best apartment in the complex for free. The physical stability this created — living and working at the same location was enormous.I forced them to take professional apartment management training and had them take physical defense courses. The defense courses tapped into their aggressiveness and boosted their confidence. They carried themselves in a confident manner and this contributed to the development of their natural leadership skills.They were killers and our apartment portfolio returns were easily 5% better than our competition in every competitive matchup.Every disparity in business creates an opportunity. Smart business folks mine those opportunities. I even admit to a bit of self satisfaction in doing what I perceived to be the “right thing”.

        1. im2b_dl

          that’s awesome …and yeah…my major was a little kooked… believe it or not it was a communications study. lol

        2. ShanaC

          This still doesn’t explain what to do before they hit grad school, or why this seems to happen in the first place.

          1. im2b_dl

            it’s a cultural problem and there is subjective and objective stances/norms.. do you believe it is inherently the business world that should be come more degendered by taking on more traditionally feminine attributes/norms…or should women take on more traditionally aggressive male behaviors/norms? may sound tangential and academic mumbo jumbo…but it’s actually important because we see movement in both.

          2. ShanaC

            I used to read sociology papers for fun growing up.I still sometimes do. I tend to be slightly descriptive.Which is why I get to throw out my comments the way I do. We do know that people around my age tend to be slightly more “gender neutral” in the way they answer these sorts of question.It raises a whole slew of secondary questions, since a large chunk of people my age aren’t married, nor do they have children yet. We also know that at least in older generations, women likes to make 75% of what a man does, and that I would hedge this is largely due to career issues involving marriage and children. We also know right now that there are more women in college, but not neccesarily majoring in the hard sciences. (I regret not…sort of)Also currently, if you are under 30, on average in a lot of major cities, the women are outearning the men in most fields…I’m not happy with that either. It makes finding parity in dating difficult on a variety of levels. women have taken place of guys in a variety of fields, probably for less pay over time. (Though interesting statistic I just got, this years incoming NYPD class will have bachelors degrees, over 50%, and it is the class with the highest chunk of master’s degrees…so this might be where they all are going)So there are larger questions at hand here about what do we think the culture should look like because we are going to have to absorb this interesting looking population…I think at the root we are going to have to attack how we conceive of childcare and education for both genders before we even answer those questions. It might be something we are doing early on that sets people up (such as why it is assumed that the woman’s salary if two people are in the same field will go to childcare, always an interesting question)I think also we need to take a much stronger look at courtship rituals. Most men want to be seen as providers and protectors for their families. If we have more wealth parity, we might be switching into a period where the protector role may be emphasized, or at least that is what I see in my mediated eyes.It might need a whole new discussion on what it means to be a man…

        3. Tereza

          JLM you rock. This is an excellent example.

      2. ShanaC

        Yes, but that still doesn’t explain the turnoff from above- is this a structural problem?

    4. e_irene

      Great 2 cents, Rachel! However, though I appreciate the subtle refinements you made to Fred’s points, they are still Fred’s points simply re-worded (with the exception of solution articulation).I did not pick up any gender referents when I read his statements. I felt they described me accurately.On confidence: I think Fred’s point was that when a person is very confident, it can read as arrogance. I know I skate that line often, and in all actuality, as a first-time entrepreneur it’s imperative and natural for me to do so.All of that said, I want to reiterate that I can appreciate your refinements. Despite the fact that I did not read any testosterone-laden message in his statements, I understand how they might project themselves as such.

    5. Tereza

      great post. wish i read it before I wrote my own. totally concur.

    6. Richard Jordan

      I think there are definitely gender issues in the entrepreneurial and venture-backed startup community, and it’s a valid point to bring up. I think more examination of the topic would benefit all of us.But, I think your point two critique is not a rebuttal but consistent with supporting the argument.Confidence. Firstly confidence and arrogance aren’t the same thing – the arrogant will usually find it impossible to build talented teams and often don’t learn. But let’s ignore that conflation… Outward confidence is sometimes a manifestation of some inner insecurities – but entrepreneurs have a huge inner drive. Something eats inside of them that is not satisfied until they make their vision a reality. Jason Calcanis’ recent Penn State talk referred to his feelings at people calling him a fraud and a failure and his desperate inner need to prove that what he knew of himself deep down was right. Those inner demons are just as important as the confidence that comes from self-awareness, knowledge of your own talent and ability to apply it. So whichever of the two is the source of the confidence, or whether it’s some formulation of the two, is not as important as the confidence being there – when allied to the other attributes expressed above.In my humble opinion.

    7. Evilzug

      I really appreciate this comment. I hate how the word ‘entrepreneur’ has become such a loaded word, something you brag about, and I, too, hate the ego that goes with it as well.I also appreciate the constructive convo that became from this comment 🙂

  24. Jamie Flinchbaugh

    I agree with your list of traits, but also believe many of them can be learned. No, you can’t take a bottom 10%-er and make them a top 10%-er. But you can improve and learn any of them. I think it’s learning best on the job. I know I have learned to cultivate my trait #3. I hate risk. But I’ve learned to live within it and accept it as a key element of progress. That was not natural, however.

  25. William Mougayar

    I agree with your initial statement, Fred. What you can teach entrepreneurs are foundational business stuff, but not “being” entrepreneurs in of itself. It’s the act of practicing entrepreneurship that makes you a better one. If you haven’t done it, as they say…it’s just talk…So I find it ironic that “entrepreneurship” is being taught by non-entrepreneurs, although programs like these do offer value, but as long they bring forward real entrepreneurs who can provide real practical lessons, not theoretical ones.I recently listened to Gurbaksh Chahal (author of The Dream & running gWallet now) speak at a DemoCamp, and his 9 lessons for entrepreneurs were priceless. That’s one fine entrepreneur there. Clone him.

  26. Katarina Skoberne

    I recognize pattern recognition creates a comfort zone for Venture Capital, but it also narrows your field of vision – true innovation often does not follow an existing pattern.

    1. Tereza

      Agree! Often it’s cross-seminating existing patterns as well.

    2. JLM

      The second any individual or organization begins to settle into a “comfort zone” that “sure bet” confidence, growth — intellectual, creative, personal, business, competitive — begins to slow down and will eventually stop.President Hilary Clinton can tell you about that.If you’re not pushing up against or clearly outside your comfort zone, then you are getting ready for an autopsy.

      1. fredwilson

        Oh snap. That hillary line is great.JLM – you should read my friend john’s book Game Change. You can read it in a lazy afternoon. You’ll love it

        1. JLM

          I have read it. Great read!I am very much the political junkie. I once used to be Karl Rove’s landlord — almost always late with the rent BTW. A very, very interesting guy.I would love to get a couple of autographed copies. I’ll gladly pay for the books. See what you can do.

  27. LIAD

    neccessity is the mother of invention.if your cold and hungry you’ll invariably do what it takes to put a roof over your head and food on your table.if your social status makes it hard to find a job or your not sufficiently skilled for life in a factory – before you know it you’ll unconciously embark on entrepreneural pursuits one way or another.look at all the ‘immigrants’ who end up running their own businesses compared to the ‘natives’ who are happy doing a 9-5 ad infinitum.perhaps there isnt an entrepreneurial gene, but i for sure think they’re entrepreneurial ‘incubating’ circumstances – sheer need being a primary one

  28. Roy Rodenstein

    Fred, you may get an answer yet on what % is nature vs. nurture. Paul Zak at Claremont University is conducting a study with his grad students of genetic components in entrepreneurship. Robin Chase suggested I participate so I took a look.Paul is director of the Center for Neuroeconomic studies,, and they have done some interesting related work. I don’t know if this study will prove conclusive but it certainly should be interesting. They are looking for more entrepreneurs to participate but I don’t have a good link from them yet to direct people to unfortunately.

  29. cindygallop

    I tend to concur with the views expressed below that entrepreneurialism can be born of both nature and nurture, and can be activated by circumstances. This article in the WSJ earlier this week headlined ”Older Entrepreneurs Target Peers’ cited ‘For more than a decade, Americans in the 55-to-64 age group have posted the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity, beating out youngsters just finishing college and even 30-somethings embarking on second careers, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit in Kansas City, Mo.’ – That suggests entrepreneurialism triggered by circumstance.Also this week, Illuminate Ventures released this whitepaper identifying that women-owned and led tech ventures grow faster and fail less:…’A stubborn belief in oneself’ and ‘a confidence bordering on arrogance’ are, alas, traits less often found in female entrepreneurs (and when they are, are often received much more poorly than in men), as per Clay Shirky’s recent (excellent) post ‘A Rant About Women’:…Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, often surprising ones beyond the ‘young, male’ standard model in the tech world, and actually testify to a gratifying truth; you may have no idea of what you’re really capable of until circumstances – sometimes fortuitous, sometimes desperate – drive you to find out.

    1. JLM

      Very interesting comment. The phenomenon of 55-64 year old American entrepreneur vigor suggests that experienced entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs, those who can honestly say — this ain’t my first rodeo fellas — are a potent force.This jibes with a pet theory of mine that successful serial entrepreneurs thrive because they have developed “coaching” talents and can resist the amateurish tendency to try to do too much themselves.They become Zen, puppetmasters weaving a set of strings with which to assemble, motivate, control and incentivize their team.Perhaps it is entrepreneurial Viagra at work?

      1. fredwilson

        I need a dose of zen. I’m almost fifty. When is it coming?

        1. Carl Rahn Griffith

          Zen would be nice – I just hope I rediscover my Mojo before my 50th THIS August(!).

        2. JLM

          You are already a great Zen master and it has been with you a long time, grasshopper. The force is powerful within you though you may not realize it yet.This blog is the greatest manifestation of Zen in the VC industry. You freely convey teaching attained at great expense and tested through experience to those who seek such knowledge but are unwilling or unable to attain that experience. You are their lagniappe.You share your knowledge freely not stopping to place a value or extract a pricetag on it and thereby more knowledge flows back to you from your ever increasing audience. You are investing knowledge and reaping wisdom.Your calm and gracious manner welcomes the fearful and makes the introverted open like a blossom providing them an insight into the hearts and minds of those who do no share their hesitancy.Beware of 50 for it is the age of your greatest trial and you will be tested to the limits of your values. Bend but do not break and then you will truly be the master of your own universe. You will own your times and your times will not own you.Ooops, my leg is starting to tingle. Got to go.

          1. Tereza

            Be like bamboo.

    2. Wavelengths

      I took your last three paragraphs and quoted them in response to a post by Fred, which he made in response to Rachael Happe.Thanks for your comments and for the links. I found the information refreshing and encouraging.

  30. Tom Labus

    Whether people are born with the skills or taught is less important then being exposed to the ideas and concepts of starting and running a business. I think the courses should be available to all students and grads since many will find themselves needing to start a business during their careers.Those people who would be doing it anyway find a way through this but the vast majority don’t have a clue and being exposed to these courses will be a great help to them.

  31. Amber Rae

    It’s also ingrained in my mind that you’re either born an entrepreneur or not. Perhaps this is short-sighted but in observing the world around us, people either execute against their ideas or they don’t. People either inspire action in others or they bring them down (or somewhere in between). Perhaps what it boils down to is the ability to execute in a way that resonates with the masses?In taking a step back here – if what what Raffi suggests is true – that all people are entrepreneurs, why aren’t all people successful at entrepreneurship? Also – what are the defining elements taught in entrepreneurship?Raffi is a professor so I’d gather he likely believes strongly in classroom training. As a doer, I believe in real-life, hands-on experience. Not to say that classroom training is irrelevant but in my experience, anything I did outside the classroom (starting a business in college, the classes in which I actually worked with real companies facing real problems) taught me FAR more than any class. Classes often teach theories; working with real companies facing real problems provides tangible experience so we can create our own theories.In thinking of the most successful entrepreneurs, not only do they execute and inspire a vision that’s remarkable but they simply care and that passion is contagious. They also WANT to lead. Gary Vee, Tony Hsieh, Richard Branson… it could also be argued that the product they offered fit a market at the right time, someone took note of this leader, jumped on board and things took off. The characteristics of Gary, Tony, Branson, etc. could be found among many others but not everyone has the confidence, perseverance and unwavering ability to ignore everybody when necessary. Successful entrepreneurs don’t sit back and wait (and they don’t take no), they make a way. They also think their success is inevitable (and therefore “roadblocks” are simply opportunity).Another characteristic I’d add to your list: being aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses & outsourcing / appropriately allocating resources against weaknesses

    1. fredwilson

      i agree with you about the value of real-life hands on experienceinterestingly, raffi was an entrepreneur before he became a professor

      1. Amber Rae

        that actually makes a lot of sense… that he was an entrepreneur before he got into teaching entrepreneurship… seems that should be the way it happens!

      2. Tereza

        that makes a big difference. That shades the original post for me very differently than when I read it the first time. I assumed he was a pure academic.

    2. Drew Meyers

      “As a doer, I believe in real-life, hands-on experience. Not to say that classroom training is irrelevant but in my experience, anything I did outside the classroom (starting a business in college, the classes in which I actually worked with real companies facing real problems) taught me FAR more than any class. Classes often teach theories; working with real companies facing real problems provides tangible experience so we can create our own theories.”I totally agree. I got a job at Zillow straight out of undergrad at UW in 2005 and I’ve continually been asked the past few years whether I’m going to go back and get my MBA. My answer is always “probably not”, largely because of the point Amber made. I feel like I got a better education at Zillow working on & solving real problems than I would get by getting a MBA. Oh, and by the way, they paid me for that education rather than the other way around.

  32. John Sharp

    A very thought-provoking post. I believe the core trait an entrepreneur must have is the ability to view the factors you list – arrogance, blind confidence, risk-taking – as positive, rather than negative, traits.For many non-entrepreneurs (a group that may include one’s spouse, plus a majority of family members and friends), it can be hard to view these traits positively.My wife, who is tremendously tolerant of my own leanings in this area, is amazingly supportive. That she views my own entrepreneurial traits as “positives” is enormously empowering.

    1. Wavelengths

      If you also have a conscience to keep you in check, then you have a powerful combination.The fact that your wife supports your vision says that you are loved. This is also a good thing for an entrepreneur to have in his life. And the fact that you say her support is empowering shows that you have the humility to give you balance as well. You sound like you have a good foundation for your ventures.

  33. andyswan

    Perhaps we’re all born entrepreneurs, and it is society/family that suppresses us.

    1. kidmercury

      society is definitely a conspiracy to get you to put your head down, not think, not fulfill your potential, and just do whatever govt, school, and television tells you to do. in the new world order that comes after the truth sets us free, we’ll all be entrepreneurs.

      1. Aviah Laor

        with no TV

  34. vruz

    I think both of you guys are right, I don’t see a contradiction of terms there really.(talk about being ambiguous!)I think that entrepreneurs are born for the most part, but the path of self-discovery and finding one’s place in business can be a long one.

  35. mikeyavo

    Harnessing passion, fighting fear and the confidence to know that you and your team will eventually get things right are all innate traits that link most entrepreneurs imho.

  36. falicon

    To me there is one thing that teaches entrepreneurship…necessity.It’s not unlike the Tom Hanks movie “Castaway”…throw a guy on an island by himself for a few years and he’s either going to learn to do what he has to to survive or he’s going to die. I think this is the reason that many entrepreneurs come from such humble beginnings…they started on that island and they really only had two choices (accept it or change it).So I guess I’m saying I think it *can* be taught…but the reality is that I think it *won’t* be taught…because the real course would be a bit too extreme for most people (ie. the curriculum consists of throwing your life into an idea full time, at any cost, and sticking with it until you make it work — your grade, like your well being, would depend on if you made it work)

    1. Mike

      I can say from my own personal experience that this is exactly right. I kept trying to find the perfect job only to find out that, as someone said earlier, 12 months at a desk job and I was driving everyone around me crazy (ok it was 3 years but still).Frustration (and a very supportive wife) forced me to finally act on the ideas in my head. Now I’ve managed to become a freelance consultant to pay the bills while I build my first startup.And why? Because I had to.

    2. JLM

      Excellent point.Just like no revolution was ever started on a full stomach, no startup was ever launched from a feeling of contentment.The rags to riches theme of the American dream is tethered in the raw courage it took the first Americans to brave a sea journey that killed almost 15% of those who undertook it.We are all motivated by our insecurities. Beware the little man in a big man’s world. I think it is a pretty safe bet that Bill Gates did not date the Prom Queen?

      1. fredwilson

        True about Gates. But at the 20 something parties I go to these days the geeks have the most beautiful women with them. The hedge funders are flipping out

        1. JLM

          Those chicks probably just understand the implications of the tax code and applicable tax rates as it relates to hedge fund carried interests v capital gains on founders’ stock, huh?Hey, it could be true! LOL

        2. Donna Brewington White

          I think that the comment from JLM contains a clue to another characteristic for your list — something having to do with discontent. Earlier I commented that a lot of leaders I know fit your list — however, many of them are also quite content with the status quo. Most entrepreneurs I know, are not. In fact, quite to the contrary.

  37. Ovi_Jacob

    Mark Suster, an LA based VC (GRP Partners) just finished a series on Entrepreneurial DNA on his blog, Both Sides of the Table – great reading for anyone really interested in exploring the issue further and examining specific characteristics.http://www.bothsidesoftheta…I am not sure about the nature/nurture arguement, yield to the experience of others in the debate. One trait I have observed is passion. The top notch entrepreneurs ar all infectiously in love with what they are doing. Ultimately the onus of seling falls on him/her.Great post, thanks

  38. Rob K

    I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. There are many aspects of entrepreneurship that can be taught. There are a few that cannot be. In addition to the ones you describe (the first two we used to call “a willingness to walk across hot coals”), the one that cannot be taught is the instinct to ACT when you see a business or personal problem that others are not solving. We all come across these every day/week. But only some people will act on them.

  39. mattb2518

    Two different comments.First, I’d add three key traits to your list:- pattern matching is a key trait, though it may just be foundational to vision creation- networking is also key, though again you could lump it into being a talent magnet- self-awareness/ability to take feedback is a critical companion to stubbornness and confidence (which someone noted in the comments already)Second, I’d note something that someone back in my VC days said to me that has a parallel ring to it: “You can’t teach a business person how to be a technologist, but you can teach a technologist how to be a business person.” Companies that get this right with their tech leaders always outperform those who don’t

  40. Keenan

    Fred, aren’t the traits you suggest universal traits of the successful. Whether this type of person is in a corporate setting or an entrepreneur? I don’t see how they create a entrepreneur. I see how create successful people.I see nurture play a roll in where people choose to apply these traits. Our society, although changing, as promoted, and taught, the idea that you go to college and get a job. Our social norms have traditionally been the safety of working for the man. Therefore, nurturing people away from being entrepreneurs.I’d be willing to bet the data would show first generation immigrants, and the children of entrepreneurs would produce HIGHER percentages of entrepreneurs per group than the general population. This would support nurture over nature.

  41. weisul

    I admire your open-mindedness. I too would tend to disagree with the Professor, but will be interested to see your follow up after you’ve read the research.Jim Collins, who is just beginning a big project on entrepreneurs, says he believes that as a group they tend toward arrogance, but they balance that with a paranoia that keeps many of them from letting their arrogance get the best of them.

  42. Rich2001

    I would like to add one additional characteristic to a visionary with business acumen and enduring belief – adaptability.The nature/nuture argument is interesting. Recent history has shown a considerable number of people ‘forced’ to become entrepreneurs, due to the business environment. We all know many who have become very happy and successful, while others have been unable to overcome the obstacles.I also believe that the entrepreneurial characteristics you have outlined are ideal for starting a successful business, however, may not be those required to grow it.

  43. Dan T

    I co-founded a business with two colleagues. We were all disillusioned “producers” and settled on the following credo for early joiners – you needed 3 three things: passion, committment and belief in yourself. Surrounding ourselves with people that shared these traits made the challenges less daunting and the process a lot more fun.

  44. pflint

    This is a really interesting question and one that is at the core of almost every hiring decision when building an early stage company. Related to this question is: can an intrepreneur become an entrepreneur? If a founder or a candidate is coming out of a larger more corporate environment, has no early stage experience but has very relevant industry or technical experience what are the filters by which we would judge their ability to be successful? In my experience having been on founding teams of successful companies and recruited many executives to early stage companies I believe that you either have the DNA to be an entrepreneur or you don’t. Many people say that are or want to be, but have they exhibited past behavior in college, at work or in life to show us they can be?A few other characteristics to add to Fred’s great list are:- A proven ability to iterate on ideas and/or product quickly- Ability to accept risk without the big safety net- Works well in small collaborative teams- Makes financial decisions as if the money was coming out of their savings account.

  45. Eric Leebow

    It boils down to vision and tenacity, and getting back on your feet again after you’re rejected. Every entrepreneur faces rejection, and they will say it’s not going to work, yet the stronghearted, the brave, and the visionary stick to their vision, and follow through. Tenacity is something I say every day, and a work ethic shows this. I spoke to a guy the other day, and he’s starting a search engine which is different from some of the leaders, yet it’s a good idea, proof of concept, and he told me that every day there would be someone to say that he’s not going to go up against the giants. The answer to this, what keeps him afloat is his tenacity, and to figure out a way to innovate in order to differentiate his site just a little bit from the others. People aren’t perfect, neither is technology, and this same holds true for entrepreneurs. Every leading entrepreneur has had something up against them, before becoming a household name. They all can share their stories of trials and tribulations, but they keep at it despite any obstacles. If anyone says they did it all on their own, it’s a misconception. You need great people, family, friends, and supporters. There will always be nay sayers, yet the ones who say it bet are the believers.Here’s a great story, of what I’m explaining Red Mill. He recently shared with the world his secret to success.

  46. andrewwatson

    Bo Peabody said in his StarupRiot keynote that entrepreneurs are sociopaths. I don’t think that’s too far off… 🙂

    1. Wavelengths

      Unfortunately, that’s a common misconception. A sociopath may be charming, charismatic, full of big ideas, and a seemingly great salesperson. But the sociopath lies (mis-states, misrepresents, falsifies, etc., etc.), and takes pleasure in creating disruption rather than building something that will create value, create jobs, reward investors, and do good in the world. The problem is that a “socially skilled” sociopath can look like the perfect embodiment of an entrepreneur, until he/she drops the camouflage.A sociopath can snatch defeat from the brink of victory. A sociopath will kill “the golden goose” just for the fun of it. I’ve witnessed it, in start-ups.

  47. bijan

    pattern recognition is a big dealbut some things never cease to surprise me and that’s entrepreneurs.there are times where you can see the raw talent just burst out of the personyet I’ve worked with a number of folks over the years that I never took as a natural born entrepreneurs.take Mick Mountz at Kiva Systems. he worked at apple, webvan and for me at Moxi. Crazy smart and thoughtful but I hadn’t thought of Mick as a founder at the time.turns out he’s a fantastic entrepreneur and CEO at that.

    1. fredwilson

      so that’s our challenge. we can’t let our biases get in the way of backing agreat entrepreneur who just doesn’t exhibit the same patterns we’ve learnedto recognize

    2. JLM

      More success has been generated in life by — “monkey see, monkey do” — the example of successful people influencing their subordinates and inspiring within them the moxie to take a crack at the brass ring.Perhaps your example was just what was needed to make this guy leap off the end of the diving board?

  48. pflint

    Fred, this is a really interesting question and one that is at the core of almost every hiring decision when building an early stage company. Related to this question is: can an intrepreneur become an entrepreneur? If a founder or a candidate is coming out of a larger more corporate environment, has no early stage experience but has very relevant industry or technical experience what are the filters by which we would judge their ability to be successful? In my experience having been on founding teams of successful companies and recruited many executives to early stage companies I believe that you either have the DNA to be an entrepreneur or you don’t. Many people say that are or want to be, but have they exhibited past behavior in college, at work or in life to show us they can be?Here are a few other characteristics that I would add to your great list that I look for when trying to determine if someone is or can be an entrepreneur:- A proven ability to iterate on ideas and/or product quickly- Ability to accept risk without the big safety net- Works well in small collaborative teams- Makes financial decisions as if the money was coming out of their savings account.

    1. fredwilson

      well you’ve certainly been at the front lines on this for a long time peterso i’m heartened that you tend to agree

  49. Papalupa

    I felt like the post ended abruptly. I was expecting more. Did you have more to say? Some examples from your long career perhaps?

    1. fredwilson

      i ran out of time!

  50. BoochZilla

    I have to agree with Fred on this one and even more with Kevin Vogelsang. The “Early successes spur them on. ” Those early successes come from having some natural ability and a predisposition toward that style of approach and thinking. Having some early bright spots in anything only encourage one to keep rolling with what works.I have had people ask me about entrepreneurial qualities before. I sometimes use the term “irrationally optimistic” to describe myself. Sometimes it can be a negative, though. It’s valuable when my co-founders are there to pull me off the clouds on occasion.I think sometimes entrepreneurs think they can “will” the things they want to happen and have no doubt they will “find a way” to make them happen. It’s that style of thinking, that a person can’t necessarily turn off, which helps when the little extra push is needed to take the big leaps.I also am a firm believer that an entrepreneur can have all of the qualities mentioned but the gasoline on the fire is the ability to SELL their vision and influence others to help build a team around their cause. A one man show is not the best or easiest way to go after it.It goes without saying that it is all for naught if you or your team can’t execute, though.Just my opinion… this post very much struck a chord with me.Anthony Bucci

  51. Peter Cranstone

    Put it this way – if you don’t have the above 5 points you won’t make it. A VC once told me that Entrepreneurs have the following two things in common…1. Something to prove2. Sticky (can attract others)That and the above 5 sum it up. Don’t show up to a meeting without them.

  52. Michael Lewkowitz

    Honestly, I think entrepreneurship is an innately human thing. It’s born in curiosity which we are all born with. Our upbringing and environment play huges role in our capacity and privilege to be able to pursue it. Our experience at being entrepreneurial then enables the instinctual decisions which are so critical in doing it successfully. Unfortunately though, many aspects of most people’s lives beat down that curiosity, leaving us with few people who have developed entrepreneurial experience.In other words, I don’t think you can teach people to be entrepreneurs. Knowledge and tools don’t make an entrepreneur. Attitude and experiences do.In my experience, the best thing for wannabe entrepreneurs is to go out and do and the next best thing is to find ways to unlearn the stuff/attitudes that have dampened our entrepreneurial capacity throughout their lives. For some that maybe a good coach, others it may be sport. It’s certainly not learning something new though.

  53. J. Brent Large

    I also think patience is important, bundled with what everyone else is saying. Ironically I just blogged about it today as well.

  54. FlavioGomes

    I agree with many of the comments. I did a talk about this to group of MBA’s. In a nutshell its constant nurturing of an entrepreneurial nature. The typical traits apply: Confidence, fear AND fearlessness (alot of entreprenuers while they don’t show it…are motivated by fear) and a desire to matter.As an entreprenuer, I believe another unique trait or perhaps motivator – for me at least – is the realization and acknowledgement that life really is extremely short, “that the point of the entrepreneurial journey is really not to arrive” but to continually explore and develop a meaningful and positive existance for you and many others around you…before you die. I choose to do this through business as I have the ability to set my own goals, my own boundaries and my own desires. Someone once asked me what my greatest achievement in business was? For me, it was providing other people a living, an opportunity to be good at what they do, and enjoy it while they’re doing it.Just my viewpoints

  55. kulsingh

    I was an entrepreneur before going to b-school. When I took entrepreneurship classes at b-school I started questioning my entrepreneurship instinct wondering “Maybe I am not cerebral enough”. From the beginning I relied on my gut instincts and suddenly a professor was defining entrepreneurship within a science. It took me a year or so to realize my gut instinct was always the right way.My point is applying science and academics to entrepreneurship is like applying science to art. Science cannot properly model creativity, art, or entrepreneurship. It is more spiritual than scientific. The equivalence is the fact that science is great at understanding the brain but not the mind…where the mind is left to Buddhism. That spiritual, unscientific process is embodied by entrepreneurs (artists, etc) who trusts their gut versus their head…take an unpopular path just because it feels right even though pragmatically its not.Don’t let an academic throw you just like it threw me when I was in b-school. In the end, an entrepreneur has an optimism and vision that others simply don’t have and can’t see. You can’t teach optimism, vision, or creativity. Fred, you are right and the professor is wrong in my humble opinion.

    1. Tereza

      I think you are right about the instinct, the intuition.What b-school and possibly more structured business experiences provide is the toolkit, so when you’re out entrepreneur-ing and issues arise, you can whip out the right tool for the right situation, or know you should call someone to help you.Like you, I was also an entrepreneur before b-school. Probably earlier, though. It was early days of Eastern Europe. The experience was tremendous but it was the Wild West and f-d up in a lot of ways. Since it was my first job, I didn’t always know what was normal or acceptable in “the real world”, which was the reference point for the people I reported to. Some people took advantage of that, and it was not pretty.At b-school I learned technical skills. I came in with strong verbal and writing and was completely unchallenged as far as improving those were concerned. Non-technical skill development came from club leadership, extracurriculars. Anything that emulated real work, where people needed to get things done.

      1. kulsingh

        Being an entrepreneur in eastern europe early days must have been an amazing experience. Alan Greenspan wrote in his book The Age of Turbulence how it was fascinating to see a world with no infrastructure for capitalism and entrepreneurship (both which require inherent trust) decide overnight to be market-based. He obviously had a unique perspective on that. With no accountants, private lawyers, laws, or inherent trust in each other how do you engage in entrepreneurship? I have traveled extensively through eastern europe and I always seek out entrepreneurs that arose during those times. That is a case study to show that entrepreneurship is innate. You can teach people the rules so they understand trust and basic rules…but not that inherent sense of entrepreneurial spirit. I think its cool you experienced that!

        1. JLM

          Another interesting aspect of the resurgence of E Europe is the difference between a socialist government and a capitalist government. Obviously W & E Germany are the laboratory in which this experiment is most clearly seen but it is true throughout E Europe.Capitalism is the petri dish in which entrepreneurism is nurtured best.When one’s efforts to create wealth can be reaped by the creators, then the floodgates will be turned open.A great lesson for the contemporary US, no?Unleash the hounds of capitalism rather than making war against successful capitalists!But, hey, that’s just me and I could be wrong.

          1. Tereza

            In E Europe (in some areas more than others) years of communism had the unintended effect of cultivating a pretty deep distrust (healthy scepticism?) of institutions in general.Many emigres I’ve known who snuck out during the dark years have (1) a more risk-seeking profile than their cohorts who stayed, and (2) really want govt to stay out of their pants. For the younger ones, there’s a strong sense that anything is possible.These characteristics both sound pretty entrepreneurial to me.Re: the Women’s thread, NYT had a good article on working mothers in East vs West Germany today, and it’s structurally and culturally considerably better in the East…such as available daycare, pay equity, etc. A remnant of communism. How ’bout them apples.

          2. JLM

            While the raw comparison at the dawning moment of the unification of Germany is what it is and in my view stands for the proposition that the form of government has a direct limiting impact upon the development of the workforce, their productivity and the creation of personal wealth — the subsequent remediation of the East simply reaffirms the proposition that it was, in fact, the nature of the government which was the determinant factor.The big difference between the East and West was also shown in the amount of domestic labor that the West was able to obtain through its greater financial muscle.There was no need for institutional level services in the West because the W Germans had the wealth to employ nannies, housekeepers and other domestic help which enabled families to live a more comfortable life even if it meant both adults elected to work full time.I had relatives who reclaimed manufacturing facilities in the East after the re-unification and they produced the same goods in the East as they did in the West. Only the younger generations of E Germans were able to reach the productivity levels of their W German brethren. More importantly, only the younger generations were willing to try.The issue of pay equity is a particularly interesting one and I will have to study that a bit as I am ignorant on the subject.

          3. Tereza

            Your productivity data is great data — and not surprising. I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying. Trust me, I’ve been bred to be rabidly pro-capitalist. My experience is mostly Czech, Slovak and Hungarian. I saw firsthand the ‘lost generation’ for whom many who were raised in the old system couldn’t adjust to the new.Here’s the NYT article from 1/17. I think you’d find it interesting — old traditions which paradoxically the FRG held onto which the DDR abandoned. Since West Germany was progressive in many ways, it’s odd they are so behind their European peers vis-a-vis working women.

  56. riemannzeta

    You and Raffi are sampling from different populations. Raffi is probably measuring all people who start their own business. You’re measuring everybody who seeks venture capital to start their own business.

  57. Garrett Melby

    I was involved in lot of the first gen incubators back in 1999 and they all failed because their business model guaranteed insurmountable adverse selection. “Entrepreneurs” who would give up a piece of their company as the price of admission were by definition lacking in characteristics 1 & 2. You can’t teach stubborn self-confidence.

  58. NICCAI

    Should have read all of the comments, but aren’t most of the characteristics you mentioned the result of nurturing? – risk aversion, ego, etc. I’d say that entrepreneurs ARE born – but born as a result of different nurturing inputs. The mix that creates these traits is complex, however, giving the mindset the appearance of “birth.”

  59. thewalrus

    great friday post. one of my favorite examples is steve nash. despite a lack of elite athleticism, he became NBA MVP through years of constant improvement (focus, determination, hard work). one could argue he was born with innate court vision and hoopsIQ, but i really think his ‘love for the game’ is his defining characteristic – why else would anyone spend all those hours in the gym when popular wisdom says the odds are against you?in that sense i would add ‘love for the game’ to the top of your list. people are amazing at learning and accomplishing anything if they truly decide to put their entire being into it. as for the rest of the list, thanks for the support, one person’s character flaws are another persons tools for success….now if i could only convince my wife that these are good character traits 🙂

    1. JLM

      In life it is often the I WILL not the IQ which prevails. Your example of Steve Nash is brilliant.The other interesting thing about Steve Nash is that while his position as a point guard requires leadership skills, he is truly a leader in his intellectual approach to the game. He makes the other players better because he gets more out of their talent than they get out of their own talent.I read an interesting story about his interaction with a player who was mired in a slump. He told this guy he would only pass him the ball where he (Nash) knew he had a very, very high percentage shot.The guy popped out of his slump. And told the anecdote about how Nash had coached him out of the slump.When Nash was asked about it by a reporter. The reporter wanted to know how he had selected where to pass to the slumping teammate and Nash just smiled knowingly. In actuality he had done no such thing. He had simply inspired confidence in his teammate.A mark of a true leader.

      1. fredwilson

        That’s a great story about nash. He will be a great coach if he wants to be

  60. some guy

    As an entrepreneur and investor who started his first business 30 years ago, I don’t believe you’ve hit on the unique and defining characteristics of entrepreneurs. You’ve merely listed the characteristics YOU LOOK FOR in an entrepreneur and so it isn’t surprising you’ve observed these characteristics.Your list reads like the 1990s stereotype of entrepreneurship. Perhaps you are on the search for the next Steve Jobs? He is the archetype for your list. So far, there is only one like him.Some of what you list is desirable and a couple of them are not.1. A stubborn belief in one’s self is not necessary and can be detrimental. Belief in oneself is critical. This comes in various degrees. I’ve seen entrepreneurs with so much belief in themselves that they forget it is about the customer and what s/he wants.I’ve had to fire founders whose stubborn belief in themselves couldn’t be squared with the desires of the markets and/or the investors. You may still call those people entrepreneurs, but they weren’t successful ones.Belief in one’s self must be balanced by rational thinking. Often it is not.2. An adequate measure of confidence is necessary for a person to attempt anything. A rational confidence is really desirable in an entrepreneur.A confidence bordering on arrogance can be detrimental as it can cause founders to confuse rational risk with irrational gambling. The best example of this I’ve seen in one of my companies was the founder during the bubble days who demanded the BOD fire the CEO while the CEO was putting together the IPO because only the founder could make the company great.3. Tolerance of risk and ambiguity is essential. I recently had to fire a co-founder who started to fall apart under the stress. It was unfortunate. He was a good person, but he was the wrong person for the company and the company was the wrong environment for him.4. Of course it is great if an entrepreneur is able to construct and sell a vision to many others. But it is only necessary that this ability exists within the founding team. Some people are great at visions, but not at sales. Others are great evangelists, but not necessarily able to create the vision themselves. Yet others know how to create the technology/team/etc. to implement the vision, but are not the people you want in front of the customer.If you concentrate on the ability to construct and sell a vision as a defining characteristic of an entrepreneur, you deny the label entrepreneur to the technologists and other creative people who take the same risk as the front man. Without Steve Wozniak, there would be no Steve Jobs.5. A magnet for talent is good and again must exist within the founding team, otherwise you wind up dead in the water.

    1. AngelA

      Thanks for this post. As a woman tinkering with becoming a founder, I am put off by these “tests” and “lists” that don’t seem to match my personality. I guess if I’m looking for a test to tell me what to do, I need to rethink my ambitions…

  61. Rhatta

    The question: Do I believe, as Dr. Amit’s data concludes, that there are no defining behavioral characteristics common to entrepreneurs and, therefore, someone can be taught to be an entrepreneur?First, there are a million disparate ways to define what an entrepreneur is. A small family business owner, retail franchisee, independent CPA, mid-cap CEO or product manager at a 5-person technology start-up are all entrepreneurs. However, the profile of a high-growth (VC-backed) technology entrepreneur is very different from the entrepreneur who opens a Quizno’s or owns and operates a lifestyle business. So I would want to know how Dr. Amit defines entrepreneur before throwing out your 25 years of experience.Second, there is definitely one common trait linked to any sort of entrepreneur: failure. I know this sounds obvious, but we’ve found that most assessment tools look for characteristics that tell you whether or not you’re cut out to be an entrepreneur, not whether or not you’ll be a good one. And most entrepreneurs fail. Therefore, our analysis set out to find characteristics that separate successful high-growth technology entrepreneurs from the rest. So, does Dr. Amit look at all entrepreneurs or just those that have achieved some definition of success (for us, a wealth-creating exit)?Our analysis* tells us that successful entrepreneurs consistently achieve excellence in all things, which we’ve called Adaptive Excellence. This means that you can identify 3 or more distinct examples in their background where they’ve achieved excellence to a meaningful/significant level. High-growth entrepreneurs need to be excellent (not mediocre or even adequate) at many things (adaptable) to be successful. The examples do not need to be strictly professional in nature. Reed Hastings (… has founded and sold/IPO’s 2 successful companies. But he also chaired the California State Board of Education and served 2 tours with the Peace Corps. His background is one filled with excellent achievements in a wide variety of pursuits. Therefore, what we look for is not so much a set of behaviors, but a demonstrable track record that is the outcome of a variety or combinations of behaviors.As for those specific behaviors, I’ve seen dozens of different lists on this blog and elsewhere and they all look great. Mark Suster’s Entrepreneurial DNA (http://www.bothsidesoftheta… really resonates with me. There are a lot of recurring themes (making decisions quickly based on limited info, passion, tenacity, etc.). But there is no definitive, agreed-upon list or combination out there – which makes for a lively comments section!. And I agree that many of these characteristics are not easily learned. Our point is that we look for the results that are driven from these characteristics, learned or otherwise, instead of the characteristics themselves.*…. We interviewed dozens of executive search consultants, VC investors, entrepreneurs and HR/talent experts. We also analyzed our portfolio of over 45 investments to see what characteristics in the CEO/founder correlate with success.

    1. Tereza

      Really interesting comment. Excellence in several different areas — that is new to me and makes a ton of sense. Great insight.

  62. C.H. Low

    I cannot describe the exact characteristics of an entrepreneur, but I’ll know one when I see & talk to one! And they include many of the attributes described in any number of combinations.

  63. ShanaC

    One thing I think is rally missing:The ability to give in massive quantities. A friend of mine and I were talking about this recently: You have to be selfish and introspective to really give, or else you won’t know when to say No and what your limits are.By giving you often have to be the list above: However you have to do it with respect and awareness of the other people around you. It requires awareness of the other and your position to them to really give: Because an unwanted gift, that lacks awareness of others needs, can often be one that hurts the most.

  64. Tereza

    Some quick comments on the back end of this discussion, with my female, Wharton, and mom lenses:1) A stubborn belief in one’s self-and-2) A confidence bordering on arroganceIn our culture, women who exhibit (1) and (2) are generally subject to a full-on smackdown. Not okay. So women who do stubbornly believe in themselves and are borderline arrogant are generally conditioned to hide it. And if they don’t, we generally think that something’s wrong with them or that they are unpleasant. I’m not going into whether that’s right or wrong, but it is what it is.Nonetheless the underlying characteristics are critical: tenacity and confidence. So with women entrepreneurs, you may need to look in different places and ask different questions to get the answers you need, to fit the pattern.I’m a Wharton alum. I loved the place, but have to say that culturally, it was not an easy place to be an entrepreneurial person. Thankfully it’s a big enough program to have a sizable clique of entrepreneurially minded people (who were fantastic). And thank goodness for the Follies, the hideout for all of us weirdos. But there is such a huge number of hedge fund wannabes that don’t “get” entrepreneurship, or business in general. To them, anything that’s not Finance is BS. I’d really like to see that change. If Raffi can do it, then when I make my gazillions, a huge chunk will go back to Wharton.Looking at your list, though, as a parent, has me wondering — aren’t these characteristics seeded in childhood? Grad school feels late to me.

    1. ShanaC

      Do you think this pushdown is structural into the nature of social/business institutions, and if it is, what do you think are good ways to change it (both hard and soft).I keep thinking about these sorts of issues now… I keep wondering if tenacity and confidence and the differences in expression by a wide variety of people might be blinding when it comes to pattern recognition of what tenacity and confidence is. I think very good definitions probably will get people over the issue and probably will make us aware of what is the post-gender point of view.

      1. Tereza

        Good question. I think soft skills go a long way. But I also find the term “soft skills” frustrating. Because they’re not that soft. There are rights and wrongs in that arena. Maybe it’s that on the receiving end of “soft skills” they feel soft, but if you’re doing them well they are a LOT of work, persistence, patience, persuasion… The work around soft skills is never, ever done. And the hardest part is often you have to do them when you don’t feel like it, but you do it because it’s the right thing to do.Does that make sense?

        1. ShanaC

          Yup. Oddly yes. For some reason, feeling a stronger mastery in that department has been a really high priority in my life. I keep thinking when I am ready with that, then I know I can start anything or do anything…weird I know…

    2. fredwilson

      So true about wharton. When I chose vc over investment banking 25 yrs ago, my friends arranged an interventionI think you are right about characteristics 1 and 2 and women. I’m married to someone who has both in spades and she has suffered from displaying them many times. But our two girls/young women are just like her. I’m optimistic they’ll be seen in a different light as they enter the business world

      1. Tereza

        I’ve been lurking on Gotham Gal and she is terrific.we can all wait around for society to change and some will (and a lot is). But as importantly or moreso each woman just has to work thru her own personal style, thru trial and error. They’ll be better for it anyway.For women in business and entrepreneurship there is way more to be optimistic about than discouraged about. The opportunities are outstanding.

      2. ShanaC

        I wonder what your friends are thinking now…

  65. rebeccastees

    Desire to change the worldAbility to perceive a gameCuriosityAutonomyOpen to New Information IntegrityI often think about the freedom in failing. I daydream if my biz tanked, then I could do it another way or do something else…… And usually that freedom is such a pleasant thought that it gives me new energy to transform my commitment (current business) so it’s more engaging to me. Also, it helps me to revision my own values and priorities which improve my leadership.

    1. fredwilson

      dreaming of failure. Excellent!

  66. Richard Jordan

    Call me a nurture skeptic here… Perhaps it’s true that one isn’t literally born an entrepreneur but I suspect one is made one at a very early age. I was buying candy in bulk and selling it at an illegal school tuck shop in the pool room at 11 yeas old… I am not sure any concerted effort had gone into teaching me entrepreneurial skills at that age – my dad was an army medical officer at the time, so it wasn’t like I learned at home.Most entrepreneurs I know have similar stories. I just don’t believe you can arrive at college and learn to be an entrepreneur. You can learn the science and art of building successful startups and turning them into successful companies. But to be an entrepreneur? Not buying it…Is the research easily linked to so one can take one’s own look at the data?

    1. rebeccastees

      My Dad constantly told me “No one is the boss of you.”

      1. Richard Jordan

        Sounds like great advice.

        1. fredwilson

          It sure is

    2. Wavelengths

      I was buying 100 lb. sacks of flour and baking bread to sell to the neighbors. Mom was a nurse, with a strong sense of hygienic practice, so my bread was also clean and good. But the health department wouldn’t allow that kind of entrepreneurial venture these days. (BTW, I created a job. I paid my little brother to go door-to-door to sell to the neighbors.)One of my treasured documents was a letter from the local college president, complimenting me on my bread.Bread: flour, water, yeast, a little sugar to nourish the yeast, hard work, patience while the dough rises, punch it down again and knead it some more, and then the time to bake it. Don’t forget to take it out when it’s ready. Oh, and make sure you have a market that is ready to buy your product.A recipe is a recipe.

    3. fredwilson

      I just had a flashback to my childhood. Thanks for that

  67. rebeccastees

    “those who can learn, unlearn, and relearn”-Alvin Toffer

  68. JLM

    I think that everyone has a bit of entrepreneurial talent within them and that just like the revelation of character, it is the friction of life which reveals it.Every man or woman has at least 5 careers within them and not all will have an entrepreneurial nature but once the entrepreneurial is rubbed free, watch out. You are a ruined employee thereafter.I do think there are also a huge number of inclinations and skills which can be a learned response.I think there are couple of interesting elements about successful entrepreneurs which I have found to be almost universally true. I do not mean to imply they are either essential or defining just that they are prevalent.Entrepreneurs like to solve “the” problem. This may manifest itself as stubborness or stick to it tiveness or dogged determination. But they don’t like to retire from the field of fray until the problem is solved.Entrepreneurs are unusually coachable. They can absorb lessons tangentially and while experience is a great teacher, they can learn from someone else’s experience. When they are not coachable, they are fatally flawed.Entrepreneurs are curious, voracious readers, thoughtful in the pursuit of the development of the driving theorem of the business solution. They build the business case for themselves first. This is why they seem so confident, they have first convinced themselves.When entrepreneurs are not quite sure, they are willing to experiment. They will try every single type of gelato before making their final selection. They are flexible.Entrepreneurs are courageous — a distinctly different characteristic than risk embracing. They are willing to make the second parachute jump after learning what to expect on the first one. The first jump is very, very easy. The second is a learned decision and requires a spot of courage.Entrepreneurs are at peace with the chaos of their own existence. They may be making order from chaos but they are comfortable with chaos — not perpetually but for a period of time until the order begins to appear.Entrepreneurs are team builders and coaches themselves.The very best entrepreneurs exhibit an unshakeable integrity and honesty and therefore when they have a setback or the product does not work they admit it, fix it and drive on. Entrepreneurs do not bullshit themselves.These are the traits of SUCCESFUL entrepreneurs but not all are successful. And sometimes some are a bit successful but not fully successful.

    1. fredwilson

      So true about convincing themselves first

  69. Blago

    I would add “ability to get things done” and “decisive” . I believe success is driven 50/50 by idea/solution to problem and execution. Maybe can be included under “magnet for talent” but even most talented people can be ineffective if top management doesn’t get his part of the work done, postpones or constantly changes decisions. Nothing worse than bottleneck created by CEO.I didnt read all comments, so I hope this is not repetitive.

  70. Dave Troy

    I recently wrote a post outlining the research of prof. Saras Sarasvathy on this subject. Check it out: believes entrepreneurship is a pattern of logic for solving problems, and that it can be taught. I go further and believe it’s contagious. See what you think.

  71. C.H.Low

    Another point of view by Philly Startup Leader & Dreamit Ventures Incubator Co-Founder; and Congressional candidate Steve Welch’s new book – “We Are All Born Entrepreneurs” –

  72. JenC

    Such a great post Fred. Daniel Isenberg recently did a piece on HBR – Should You Be an Entrepreneur? ( with a quick “yes/no” test. What surfaced to the top is your item number 1 – A stubborn belief in one’s self – although I think such belief is key to success in any area of life – personal or professional. What I found interesting is that he did not have the qualifier “I like to take risks”. Isenberg instead framed the discussion around a matter of choice between two different sets of risks – something I found rather interesting and a different perspective (from what I had in my head, at least).And Rachel, I do understand what you mean – but I have seen women do the very same thing…is the “stroking of egos” or the “preening” different from women who “flirt” to get something accomplished? It might just be a matter of approach. I also believe that as women in the current workforce begin to re-evaluate their professional choices, we will see an increase in the number of women as entrepreneurs and in the VC world. And, similar to when women entered the workforce outside of administrative roles, there most likely will be a change in the overall environment.

  73. Alicia Navarro

    I agree with you, Fred, I think ‘entrepreneurship’ is a calling, not something you can learn. You either have no choice but to submit to the yearning to create and conquer with no safety net, or you want that safety net. There probably are many systems, incubators, programs etc that take some of the risk out of entrepreneurship to a degree, and that might attract smart risk-averse people to be an ‘entrepreneur’, but to my mind, if its too safe, you aren’t an entrepreneur, you are a businessman.And to the debate about why there aren’t more women entrepreneurs or readers of this blog, I truly believe its no ones fault. Its hard to be an entrepreneur, you have to be strong enough to want to do it, and to accept the hardships that it entails. There just aren’t as many women as men that want it, in my view, because if they wanted it, there is nothing stopping them. If anything, its much much easier as a woman. There are always challenges in life, being a woman in a Western educated country is by a very long stretch not the biggest challenge successful people have faced.That being said, there are challenges: VCs are largely men and perhaps in some there is a latent subconscious doubt that a woman in her late 20s, early 30s is dedicated enough to give up family to focus on the business as completely as perhaps a single man would be able to. Whilst frustrating, I can empathise with this viewpoint, but rather than complain, I just want to go out there and succeed, and add to the body of experience that starts to shift this subconsicous mindset.

    1. fredwilson

      you can be a role model to others alicia

  74. Aruni S. Gunasegaram

    Having taught entrepreneurship myself at the UT Austin McComb’s school of business and falling into the entrepreneur category myself (2 tech start-ups), I tend to agree more with ‘you can teach entrepreneur’s business’ rather than you can teach people to be entrepreneur’s as you define their characterists. There are many entrepreneurs out there in high-tech, to restaurants, to non-profits, to retail, to motels, to singers, to artists that limiting them to the characteristics as you define them is limiting. I think your chracteristics of entrepreneurs tend to define those in high-tech.Now I think that all of those people in those different industries have a drive to make a difference or an impact on their world and that is, to me, a defining trait. Whether they are confident or arrogant or otherwise doesn’t really matter to me. Confidence comes with practice which helps with one’s belief in oneself.As for the gender discussion, as I mentioned earlier make it a goal to invest in more women led businesses whether in tech or not. Hire a women venture partner. People hire, work with, and are attracted to people who are similar. Once women were more accepted in the medical profession, there has been a drastic increase in women doctors. In the accounting profession which used to be mostly men, now at the mid manager and lower level it’s almost 50/50 women…women still have a harder time getting to partner because of the lifestyle.I’ll be interested in reading about your research into this topic.

  75. Donna Brewington White

    Fred, the more I “listen” to you on such matters, the more I wonder if some form of assessment tool is in your future. I’m not selling any, so this is not self-serving (although I am certainly leaning in this direction more and more).When I look at your list, I recognize that these are qualities found in many top executives and others in key leadership roles. Certainly they are employing learned knowledge and skills, but there are inherent qualities that make some from the same MBA program — let’s say — rise to the top. Do you think that many (most? all?) great leaders are entrepreneurial whether or not they ever actually found a startup? I guess your job is often to gauge these abilities even though they haven’t yet been proven and may even be quite raw, which is why “defining” and might I add “predictive” characteristics would be important. Obviously, you are investing in more than companies, you are investing in people.

  76. Alex

    I agree that people can be taught to be entrepreneurs. Especially in today’s economy, people are becoming self employed and since they can’t find a job, they are starting a business. They are being taught entrepreneurship. This is in fact an interesting study. At we relate all different types of topics to entrepreneurship and explain how ANYONE can be an entrepreneur.

  77. paramendra

    Fred. I will have to side with you on this one. But look who you were talking to. This guy teaches courses on entrepreneurship at the top business school in the world. He thinks he can teach it to anyone. If he were to realize it is the born entrepreneurs who sign up for his classes in the first place, he might give you more room, otherwise you are preaching atheism to a priest.

  78. Ed Addison

    Fred — entreprenership can be learned. It is not like traditional classroom learning. Instead it is about reconditioning yourself to think and act like your 5 elements above suggest. I know this not from research, but from the fact that I was not born an entrepreneur, but I taught myself to be one when I was 33 after working 10 years in industry. That required changing fundamental attitidues. I didn’t learn in school however – I read books and did sould searching and forced myself. I have been an entrepreneur ever since (20 years now). The last time I worked in industry in a traditional job was 1989.

  79. Mark Talaba

    Hello Fred. Both you and Professor Amit are correct. Entrepreneurs do share a lot of common attitudes and behaviors, and most entrepreneurs can benefit by learning about businesss (whether via Wharton or by ‘Hard Knocks U’. But I think that you will both be very interested to know that there is a new way measure and predict how a person will behave on a team. The measures can accurately identify entrepreneurial (and other) ‘teaming’ characteristics, and can also be used to optimize the structure of entrepreneurial teams (i.e., by predicting quality of performance, and aligning specific teaming characteristics with the allocation of job responsibilities. This completely new Role-Based Assessment technology was created by The Gabriel Institute in Philadelphia, and is being adopted by VC and Angel funds to assess the teams seeking funding, and also management teams in troubled portfolio companies. I’m sure that TGI’s CEO, Dr. Janice Presser, would be happy to fill in the details.

    1. Tereza

      Interesting piece in Tech Crunch a few minutes ago on how Indians broke the entrepreneurial “glass ceiling” through intentional, generous mentoring from entrepreneurs who had ‘made it’ to the up-and- comers.…There are women’s programs that do good things but I’m not aware of any that do this type of mentoring to women, per se.It would really add value.

  80. JF Marti

    As an entrepreneur myself I only believe in 3 “truthes”:1/ Everyone can be an entrepreneur, therefore entrepreneurship can be teached. 2/ Entrepreneurship is a response to a previous failure (be it personal, professional or unconscious one).3/ Rule of the corporate game: there are 2 differents leagues, the entrepreneurs and the others. I don’t mean to be pretentious here, just the way it is perceived especially by VC’s. The sooner you understand this, the better for your carreer.

  81. josepherba

    This is the “age-old” question of entrepreneurship. From my perspective it starts at your own definition of entrepreneurship. As a university lecturer with 30 years of industry experience, I follow a path that defines entrepreneurship as a mindset that involves to a greater or lessor degree, innovation, calculated risk-taking, proactiveness and finally, execution of a plan; regardless of the “environment”. So if you’re executing a degree of these traits, within an existing company (corporate entrepreneurship) or doing so in the attempt at starting a venture, you’re of an entrepreneurial mindset. Now can you be taught these traits? I believe so, just as you can be taught accounting or finance or marketing skills. Will you be good at these? Who knows, but you. Entrepreneurship is process-driven. So I don’t buy the argument that you’re either born to it or not.

  82. deancollins

    It’s pretty hard to “teach” pig headedness beyond all reasonable reality.I think most entrepreneuers give up way to early.There is no way i could give up on http://www.LiveChatConcepts… even if i wanted to – it’s cost me a lost personally (not monetarily) and i think thats what seperates people who do and dont make it in any field not just in the startup space.

    1. Anonymo

      With you 100%, Dean. Entrepreneurship is a hard road, but if you fail, you just try something else.

  83. Len Feldman

    Of the five characteristics you mentioned, #2, confidence bordering on arrogance, is the most likely one to come flying back in the entrepreneur’s face later on. Successful organizations have a natural tendency toward arrogance, but that leads them to believe that their success is due solely to their own efforts and abilities (no luck, market conditions or competitive failures involved). Or, they believe that as long as they keep doing what they’ve been doing, everything will be fine. Either mindset sets up the organization for failure.I’d rather see founders who are confident, but humble enough to know that they don’t know (or control) everything.

  84. Craig White

    True entrepreneurs have the vision and motivation within themselves. The skills,tactics and methods for success can be learned but True Entrepreneurs have the 3 characteristics mentioned above of confidence,stubborn belief in ones self, and desire.

    1. Wavelengths

      So do con artists.If you want a true entrepreneur, then look for those qualities, but add the quality of integrity — real honesty and empathy, for both the prospective customer and for anyone who invests in the venture.Between 1% and 4% of the population will “fake it until they take you.” (And the numbers may be a bit higher.) The percentage is higher than those affected by autism, and the damage they do is beyond calculation — to investors, to customers, to spouses and children, and on and on.)More than a decade ago I was marketing consultant to a start-up that should have been an industry leader, even in today’s market. When I tracked down the founder several years ago to find out what happened, I learned that the CTO had destroyed the company, just when it was poised for success. He was highly charismatic, but he was a fraud. The worst of it was that the business concept was valid, the technology was valid, everyone behind the company was valid, but the CTO was a “nut job” who got off on taking everybody down. Huge wreckage everywhere.”Really crazy” doesn’t always look like “crazy” in the way that you expect.When you are looking for a true entrepreneur, pay attention to whether that person has a heart and a conscience. There’s a whole lot of entrepreneurship that can be taught or bolstered by paid experts. But you can never work your way around someone who is a con artist at the center of the enterprise.

  85. Tereza

    This discussion topic is a gift that keeps on giving. Another angle just came to me.Imagine that there’s a 50% chance that you’ll flame out on an endeavor, no matter which path you take (the entrepreneurial one, or the corporate/established one).So then let’s imagine that you do flame out. Wouldn’t it be way better to flame out on something that was totally innovative, fun, and trying to change the world? Failing while swinging for the fences just doesn’t seem like that bad an outcome. But the fact is if you’re a Type A person and you’re passion and ego are on the line, you’ll do your damnedest to make it a success. There’s just a bit more juice in it.On the other hand, imagine failing while doing something really conventional and boring. Ouch. That’s devastating and scares me to death.

  86. geristengel

    My experience teaching at The New School, consulting and starting several entrepreneurial ventures confirms what Professor Raffi Amit’s research found: entrepreneurs can be made. There are entrepreneurial characteristics that by enlarge can be learned (read…. Even the most natural of entrepreneurs needs to fortify him or herself of risk being left in the dusk.

  87. Kelly

    I always keep in mind the quote by the late Anita Rodderick, Body Shop Founder who speaks of entrepreneurship as every day being about survival, which I think is the most accurate description of what it involves. From here you can work back and see if you have the traits to stick at it knowing that this is the reality.

  88. Venkat

    Wow! The discussion on this post seems to have ignored the broader nature/nurture question entirely and dived entirely into the gender differences aspect. Or maybe there is gender-neutral stuff somewhere in the 279 comments so far that I haven’t found in a quick scan.For what it’s worth, I strongly suspect you are right Fred. Don’t mean to use academic pigeonholes here, but Raffi Amit seems to be a pure business management type academic. I can’t believe you can shed ANY useful light on this N vs. N question through that lens at all. At best you’d get some correlations in self-reported or objective personality tests/assessments.N vs. N is always a genetics question, and I think the characteristics you point out need to be investigated by biologists and biologically-oriented evolutionary psychologists. Business scholars can speculate, but ultimately must defer to biological empiricism here. I can’t quite recall the refs, but I HAVE seen research cited that correlates these questions to biology in systematic ways. And yes, gender differences in entrepreneurial characteristics can and have been subjected to that lens as well.But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. Maybe Raffi does use biological basics. Looking forward to your blog about his research once you are done with that.

    1. Tereza

      Venkata, when you have time to read through, I think you’ll see there was plenty of discussion within the 279 comments on the non-gendered aspects of NvN.Generally when there’s a spike of interest in a thread it represents that a nerve has been tapped. That’s a good thing. It means we’re onto something. There’s no “right” or “wrong” — it just is.To those of us who participated in the gender threads, it meant a lot. A lot of great people who usually don’t came out for the discussion. Please don’t dismiss it.The best part is, it’s a fabulous opportunity to double your readership!

      1. Venkat

        I am not dismissing it. I am just not as interested in that drill down as I am in the general question. And I don’t know what you mean by “double your readership.”

    2. Wavelengths

      You make an interesting point.You might look at my comments, because you might have missed the fact that I am something of an ally, although I will not completely agree with you.In recent research, psychologists who look at the genetics believe that there may be genetically determined traits that can be turned on or off by factors in the environment.Therefore, stated simplistically, someone who might have been a great entrepreneur could be shut down by environment, or someone who might not have been a “10 out of 10” could have been encouraged at the right time by the right environmental factors (perhaps certain “neural switches” being turned on or off. This says that the less-than-brilliant might-be entrepreneur could still be the right person at the right time with “just enough” to step forward and make an entrepreneurial difference.Gender is less of a consideration here, although testosterone tends to fuel “power and control” behavior.As you might see from the discussion, a good entrepreneur will moderate any personal tendencies toward operating from “power and control” motivations, in service of the higher goal of creating a good business that will thrive.

  89. tgruen

    My research suggests that there are four defining characteristics of an entrepreneur: initiative, goal orientation, resilience, and tenacity. Without high levels of each of these, the likelihood that one will be able to successfully launch a business is extremely low. I also agree that Fred’s #5 characteristic is key, but it is not just hiring talent, but effective partnering as well. From Prof. Amit’s perspective, he is correct in that there are no defining personality characteristics of an entrepreneur. One can have high or low levels of any of the “Big 5” personality traits, and still be successful as an entrepreneur. Hovever, the type of business one chooses must match their personality traits.

    1. Wavelengths

      I would add “integrity.” By that, I mean “honesty.” And I would go further and say, look for someone who is kind (empathetic) when there’s no payoff, no one to see, no one to impress.A former luminary on Wall Street would have met your four criteria, but his actions brought down billions of dollars, and countless lives. In my non-professional opinion, that man was operating from a particular personality disorder that is not quite “criminally insane,” but which has been termed “morally insane.” Worse yet, the man had the uncanny ability to inspire trust, while he callously exploited and defrauded everyone around him. The repercussions go far beyond the loss of the money that was placed in his hands. The worthy non-profit foundations that lost their capital, and the “least of these” people who were looking to those non-profits for food, shelter, and a hand up . . . the cost to the public and to society is incalculable.People who are evaluating entrepreneurs should look for a quality of empathy, which underlies the ability to have a conscience. If a person has no conscience, you can never trust them to be honest.You might think you can motivate such a person through greed, and harness them with contracts. But even that is not true. If someone has this very real personality disorder, they may thrive on the chaos that they can create, even if they lose money and prestige in the process.Anyone looking at working or investing in the start-up environment should consider carefully the “heart” of the entrepreneur as well.

  90. Chris Phenner

    Charlie Rose hosted back-to-back interviews with Geoff Colvin of Fortune Magazine and Malcom Gladwell in one episode. Both of their books pull together a lot of primary research on this topic. What I found so striking about the CR episode is how they were asked a lot of the same questions (independently) and came up with such similar answers to ‘what makes excellence’ happen — 10,000 hours of experience was one contributing factor they agreed upon.Meta-commentary at the link right below, with each interview’s video separately:http://brandautopsy.typepad…Colvin:…Gladwell:

    1. Jack

      The reason that both may have agreed to the 10,000 hours of experience, is because that was the result of a study done at Cambridge. Search for The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology), and in that 900 page tome, you will find all the information that Gladwell seems to have generously been inspired by.

  91. Alain Theriault MBA

    Although I tend to agree with your take on the subject as far as a good predictor of the capacity to succeed in a wider range of startups, there are many sets of “unique and defining characteristics of entrepreneurs.” The context in which the startup takes place, the location , the topic, the timing, the team around, being incubated or not, will call for a new combination of knowledge, know-how and skills set to make it a success. Muhammad Yunus once said that we are all entrepreneurs, on a global scale, in the right context, he is probably right 😉

  92. oladayo

    Fred,Like the point you recently made on Vivek W’s post on TC, those you outline here are cogent and probably correct too — especially the characteristics listed. Vivek has a point, though, as does Prof. Amit. But it is amazing how we are all running in circles; virtually saying nothing much at all. The quintessential issue here is not whether entrepreneurs are born or made; remember…entrepreneurship is not leadership — as in CEO — but rather vision, guts, and compulsion as in Founder. The issue is how you define entrepreneurship and it’s contextual relevance. Answer the following: What would you call over 45% of the Sub-saharan African population that must, daily, walk miles with their herd, cross a border, make a compulsory sale that very day (and they too often do, otherwise no food for the next day), head back before dusk, drag their feet heavily in baked hot sand, and then deliver their earnings to their family upon arrival (and oh…they repeat that cycle, resuming just before dawn)? You call those folks entrepreneurs or not? Are they born to do that? If they were born in Palo Alto or grew up in Missouri, would it be the same story? Yes, I know…they’re not racking up servers or users, nor are they scaling companies or looking out for bottom line earnings; they’re not even building anything at all. Nata. They’re just “living”. But, boy, have they mastered the art of “living”. Well…so, do you call them entrepreneurs? When you look deeper, you will realise it is all about context, place, and situational dynamics. I dare say these people are not entrepreneurs as we know the term, but deep within them lies the very spirit that is needed to do great stuff in the SF, Bangalore, or Wall Street. But again… let us pause and think…are these people born to do those things…or are they made to do those things? One may say “yes”, but that’s another issue. Yet, we may all be shocked how many of them may totally slack off if they suddenly found themselves in America. So, would you still say it is a matter of nature strictly? Or, one of nurture? In all, one sees that there is indeed a pattern that ties all people who “make stuff happen”, but the question is this: are VCs using the Silicon Valley / NY yardstick to appraise these patterns, or are they actually using the true albeit inexplicable yardstick to appraise these patterns? You begin to realise — from that question — that VCs have the power to reinforce what they want, just by how the invest. They can dictate the patterns they wish to recognise; it’s so self fulfilling. We are all entrepreneurs (regardless of your definition), but it is the “situation”, past or current, that unleashes that trait. I venture to say that there are countries where over 90% of the populace “has to” entrepreneurial and it is the VCs who — although filled with utter conviction — cannot so easily scholastically articulate what they look for in founders, that ultimately win big. But who am I and what do I know? Just my 2 cents!

  93. ptoddkelly

    I’m glad to see these points. Turns out, It think you’re right. I see these same traits in myself and my other entrepreneur friends. I think you could add unabashed optimism to the list as well.

  94. Amber Rae

    it’s also a hell of a better story to tell, isn’t it? life is, very simply, a series of memorable moments that tell the story of our life.

  95. Tereza

    To me it depends on where. My first one was in E Europe and was pretty lawless at the time. It was crazy and at times damaging in really not-good-story kinds of ways. A class would have helped. We were flying blind, and some people were carrying kitchen knives. (I’m being figurative here)On second thought, a comment board or largely community to tap into would have been enough.

  96. Mark Essel

    Hypomanics. Nice find Charlie.

  97. Aviah Laor

    off course. this one small step.

  98. Aviah Laor

    :). I agree. But seriously, what i wanted to say is: if you feel these issues, it’s enough. Go open your business, and don’t bother too much if you have the magical entrepreneur attributes mix.

  99. Aviah Laor

    The 1st customer is a huge step.

  100. Wavelengths

    Necessity is a mother . . .

  101. Tereza

    probably not venture-funded businesses thought. or?