Guest Post: FI’s Keith Jones on 8 character traits for starting your own business

Keith Jones, director of the Founder Institute’s Johannesburg chapter, writes in his second guest post for HumanIPO what he believes are the essential character traits for entrepreneurs setting up their own business.

Having come to the end of the first Founder Institute semester in Africa, we are very proud to announce we will be graduating eleven companies at Microsoft this week.

It has been quite a journey and I can only take my hat off to the graduating founders, who have worked their guts out through what is, without a doubt, the most stringent, uncompromising and challenging early stage incubator on the continent.

It has been a fantastic learning curve for us all and here are my key takeaways around the character traits needed to become a successful entrepreneur.

You must have an unwavering desire to succeed at your own business. There must be something drawing you on through what will be the most challenging and potentially most rewarding time of your life. It won’t be easy. It is key to note the outcome is your own business, not succeed at the business you have. If your idea gets trashed, pick yourself up and find another one.

High appetite for risk. I see entrepreneurs as risk mitigators rather than risk takers. The risk comes as an unfortunate consequence of your decision to pursue a life of freedom above one of indentured labour. In starting your own business, you do everything in your power to avoid high-risk situations, but they come as a consequence of your lack of resources and your hurry-up driver. This is more a willingness to launch yourself into the unknown, knowing you are under-resourced, than an appetite for risk.  The ‘It’ll be all right on the night’ approach.

Your risk profile. Your ability to take the risks. This is the reality crunch. If you are 20 and living at home rent free or are thirty five and have a home and family, it does not matter what your appetite for risk is or what draws you on, the reality is that the consequences for failure are worlds apart. Can you afford to take the leap into the unknown, now ?

The Feedback Loop. This is your willingness to learn, take on board, internalise and process information you are getting from the mentors, your peers and the market. Having a functioning Feedback Loop will save you years of effort and is usually the key differentiator between mediocrity and success.

A healthy dose of delusion. You have to believe, that based on the stats of 5 per cent of companies succeeding, yours will be one of the ones to succeed. Armed with this information, you also have to believe that you can solve the problem better than anyone else.

An enquiring mind. You need to continuously question the status quo and ask ‘Is there not a better way we could be doing this ?’. This will irritate your wife no end, but will be the key to unlocking the one idea that saves the planet.

Determination. This could also be seen as stubbornness. You need to be prepared to continue beyond the point of no return. It gets darkest just before the dawn. The problem is, also knowing when it is getting darker because you are heading into a cave. This trait, when combined with delusion, can make some interactions with entrepreneurs challenging.

Willingness to help people. I have listed this one last, not because it is the least important, but because it is the most pervasive trait that covers all of the above traits. You need to be open with people, wear your heart on your sleeve and help community members as much as you can. This is what makes the startup community tick and what will open doors for you and pave the path to your success. ‘Pay it forward’ is the order of the day, startups are not easy, the more friends you have and people you help, the more successful you will be, but it starts with you.

As you can see from the list, the traits are a list of conflicts, which is why I listed them in the order I have. The stronger, more positive traits, will, hopefully negate the negative ones, but it is always a fine line.  This is what makes the startup world such a fun, vibrant and exciting place to be. It is filled with misfits and weirdos.

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