Three key traits of a successful entrepreneur

18 July 2015

As famous entrepreneur and investor Richard Branson turns 65, Deniz Ucbasaran, Professor of Entrepreneurship suggests it is an entrepreneurial mindset which allows successful entrepreneurs such as Branson to take action when faced with uncertainty.

Here she highlights three of the central features of the entrepreneurial mindset:

1. Look before you take the plunge: Experienced entrepreneurs pursue opportunities with discipline. Many successful entrepreneurs consider a range of opportunities before they select one. So how do they select? First, they look for fit by asking the question – “is this an opportunity for me?” That is, does the opportunity allow you to build on your strengths and interests? If not, it is difficult to add value and stay motivated. Second, they ensure they are moving into a market which is growing or where trends suggest it will grow. It sounds obvious, but one of the biggest mistakes made is to move into a static or declining market.

2. Focus on what you can afford to lose: How do you decide if an entrepreneurial opportunity is worth investing your time and money into? While some make endless financial projections about what financial gain they might receive from their entrepreneurial endeavour, these projections can be very unreliable when entering new or volatile markets.  Instead of focusing on the upside potential of an opportunity – which is largely uncertain - highly experienced entrepreneurs focus on the downside. They can know with some certainty from the onset what they can afford to lose. Once you have thought through “what is the worst thing that can happen”, it makes it easier to decide if it is worth taking the plunge. If you do decide to take the plunge and it doesn't work out, having set a limit on your loss can make moving on easier, both financially and emotionally.

One of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time Steve Jobs
A leading example: Successful entrepreneur Steve Jobs

3. Think lean. We hear of the rag to riches stories but there are good reasons why successful entrepreneurs start lean. First, starting on a shoestring provides focus and discipline; you will only focus on spending money on things that will add value. Second, starting lean forces you to be alert to information that gives you an idea of whether it is worth investing more. All entrepreneurs make certain assumptions at the onset, but not all entrepreneurs question and re-evaluate those assumptions as the business develops. A lean operation forces you to do that latter. This is particularly important for those seeking external investment. Increasingly the burden of proof is on the entrepreneur – you need to prove you have a viable product / service before investors will look at you. If you have done this on a shoestring, it gives investors confidence. Third, you are more likely to attract people who are committed to your cause when you start lean. Finally, starting lean makes it easier to walk away – the best entrepreneurs who when to pull the plug and move on.

This is an extract from the upcoming Core magazine. The full feature Hallmarks of the entrepreneurial mindset is one of a number of articles set to appear. To register your interest in Core 3, or request a copy of Core 2 please contact marketing at

Alternatively, to read more about Core and download your free copy of Core 1, click here.

Deniz Ucbasaran teaches Entrepreneurship & NVC on the Executive MBA and Entrepreneurship and Business Venturing on the MSc Management.

Read more about the Entrepreneurship & Innovation group at WBS here.

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