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What you need to know about the psychology of being an entrepreneur

There’s no such thing as the perfect entrepreneur, just as there is no formula for business success. If it was as cut and dried as that, there’d be no variety, no competition, no innovation, and we would all spend our day’s carrying out orders, following rules, and, to put it in a nutshell, nobody would be having any fun! Human beings, and most particularly entrepreneurs, aren’t built like that.

That does not mean, however, that we cannot learn from others, listen to advice, study our markets, and plan our business down to the smallest detail. In fact, if we are not doing this, then we can really have no complaints when our business idea turns out to be about as successful as the proverbial chocolate teapot.

Entrepreneurs are profiled probably more than any other social demographic. What makes them tick, how they come up with their ideas, how they behave when they under pressure, and why some achieve pre-eminence whilst other’s founder, are all questions that we ask obsessively, as if by determining these factors we can mimic their success. This kind of research is a modern form of the ancient science of alchemy, and just as likely to be a successful, but, in the course of our studies, we have serendipitously stumbled across many worthwhile conclusions, correlations, and anomalies that can help entrepreneurs achieve their goals.

No entrepreneur likes being told what to do, and that’s their prerogative, so let’s look at some best-avoids that we can say, almost for certain, will significantly improve your chances of success.

Don’t hide behind your idea

An entrepreneur who wouldn’t say boo to a goose is unworthy of the name, it’s as simple as that. If you’ve got an idea that you think can fill a gap in the marketplace, don’t expect that simply telling people about it will be enough to persuade them to become either emotionally or financially invested in it. You must to sell the idea; it has to be a matter of life and death to you to get your message out there. Imagine if Moses had said, “Well, I think I can part the Red Sea, but it’s tricky, and, you know, anything might happen while we’re crossing, have you all brought waterproofs?” The Egyptians would have had the Israelites on toast. End of story.

If you’re idea is as good as you think it is, then people need to know about it. If there is any doubt in your mind, the tiniest kernel of suspicion that it might not be the all-singing, all dancing solution to the world’s problems, that perhaps you forgot to carry the one when you did the maths, forget it, put it out of your mind, start again. Have another idea. Because ideas are what you are all about, right?

Don’t become a hypomanic

In his excellent article on Seth Priebatsch, New York Times writer David Segal suggested that “a thin line separates the temperament of a promising entrepreneur from a person who could use, as they say in psychiatry, a little help”. Psychologists refer to it as a hypomanic episode: your thoughts are racing, you haven’t slept in 8 days, and you have convinced yourself that your latest idea will make you bigger than Jesus. When it starts to become about you, and not about the business, it’s time to sit down and have a little think. See some friends. Get your perspective back. Alexander Zelaznick, professor emeritus of psychology at Harvard Business School, explains it thus: “To understand the entrepreneur, you first have to understand the psychology of the juvenile delinquent. In other words, ask yourself, am I doing this for the right reasons? Is my idea for the benefit of society, or for the benefit of myself? If it’s the latter, put the Quaaludes back in the medicine cabinet, dust off your CV, head outside and breathe deep lungful’s of fresh, fresh air.

Be positive, be realistic

Entrepreneurs are ambitious people. Some will have always been entrepreneurs, so confident in their ability that they have never felt the need to seek refuge in the normal day-to-day of a comfortable, if dull, office job. Others will have quit the desk job only when they have become sufficiently confident that their idea is financially viable, established a client base, and secured the funding they need to carry out their meticulously laid plans. Still others will have dropped out the rat race because they could not get their ideas heard, or were fed up of having them ridiculed. Perhaps this group will have the toughest time convincing themselves and others that they have a viable business proposition, but it is essential that you never give up, always have a smile on your face, and are able to be realistic about your goals. No-one wants to hear that your Company is a pretty risky endeavour, really; no one wants to hear you have created the next Facebook. If you can’t answer an investors questions honestly and with confidence, if you are sweaty, tearful, apologetic mess, don’t get in the elevator. Take the stairs and keep a firm grip on the bannisters.

entrepreneurs, a mixed bunch, with one thing in common: ambition

entrepreneurs, a mixed bunch, with one thing in common: ambition

Find a Co-Founder(s)

If you can’t find anybody who thinks you are onto a good thing, not even a friend, co-worker, family member, or your pet cat or goldfish, then you probably aren’t, and you are in danger of wasting an investor’s time. A Co-founder is a guarantee that at least one other person has faith in you, and that is a godsend for the people you are pitching to. It saves them embarrassment of breaking the bad news that your plastic horseshoe business may not be the winner you believed it was. A Co-founder can be a sounding board, a friend, a positive competitive influence, a sign that you are not “going a bit funny”. Get someone on board, get 10 people on board, or go back to the drawing board.

Prepare your pitch

If you have got as far as pitching, it would be a tragedy if you fail to do your idea justice, so make sure you knock it out of the park! With so much at stake the easiest option is to play it safe, be circumspect and polite, humble and compliant, so don’t be like that! Make sure you have the answers to every question an investor can conceivably ask; if you haven’t thought about it already, they are going to think they will have to do all your work for you, or worse still, that it’s a great idea but you are not the person to front it. Make it stand out, make it bold, make sure you are understood. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat the question if you really need to hear it again, don’t leave room for doubts. Think Eminem in 8 Mile:

“I got every ingredient, all I need is the courage
Like I already got the beat, all I need is the words
Got the urge, suddenly it’s a surge
Suddenly a new burst of energy has occurred
Time to show these free world leaders the three and a third”

When the ancient Greeks felt they had had a great idea, they would go out and celebrate; drink copious amounts of wine, dance, sing, copulate, let it all hang out. And if it still felt like a good idea when they woke up the next day, pockets stuffed full of receipts from bars they didn’t remember going to, strange girls in the kitchen, head pounding and mouth like a sewer, they would go ahead and do it. And if it didn’t, they didn’t. Business logic of the ancients. Think about it every time you pick up your tablet.


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