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The world of entrepreneurship and start-ups is one of excitement, achievement and disappointment. Comments are often passed as to how ‘lucky’ entrepreneurs are. They have financial freedom, mobility and are in control of their own destinies. The reality is the smarter we work, the luckier we become. To help aspiring Kiwi entrepreneurs, Graham Dockrill does some myth-busting around what it takes to be successful.


The most important attributes of any entrepreneur are to think differently, to challenge the status quo and follow through on your ideas. And sell! (More on selling later in this article).  This characteristic of seeing the world differently is not something you can easily teach. You can enhance it, you can foster and nurture it and you can grow it.  Ultimately, that drive to change the world and to make a difference is something that comes from within.  Whether it’s nurture and environment, or a predisposed ability is something that has been long debated. Where entrepreneurs really come from, and what drives them, can become a philosophical debate very quickly.  However, there are some preconceived myths that can be dismissed.

Myth 1: Entrepreneurs are born that way
Some people believe that there is an entrepreneurship gene. At a young age you can identify strengths and natural abilities. Mine was business. I distinctly remember reading old copies of the Wall Street Journal on my high school bus at the age of thirteen and subscribing to Business Week. For those that have known me since childhood, I have always taken a keen interest in the business world.  As a thirteen year old introvert, coming to terms with thinking differently and seeing the world differently to your peers (through the lens of a business eye), took courage.   

Regardless, the idea of an entrepreneurial gene is misguided and defeatist.  It probably doesn't help that popular culture feeds us on images of iconic business founders with larger-than-life personalities. Most people have the capacity to become successful entrepreneurs – it takes will, and a willingness to learn. There are concrete skills that increase the odds of entrepreneurial success, such as sales, management and product conception. These skills can be taught and learned at any age.


Myth 2: Individuals start companies

I have never started any business in isolation, to do so would be a disaster.  No individual possesses all the skills and attributes to successfully found and run a sustainable business. While the entrepreneur as a lone hero is a common narrative, it’s just that, a narrative. When you research most success stories, you’ll find a diversified team of founders and trusted advisors who made it happen. We tend to think of Steve Jobs as the iconic genius entrepreneur, but without Steve Wozniak, Apple would never have gotten its start. And Jony Ives and Tim Cook were instrumental in the company’s later success.  An individual may have an idea, but it takes a team to turn that idea into a business.

Myth 3: Entrepreneurs are super smart

To be a successful entrepreneur you don’t have to be the smartest. In fact, it’s very unlikely you were the head of your class or the dux of your school. This doesn't mean that we are not smart. Intelligence can be measured in many ways, so don’t assume good academic grades or other indications of general intelligence are indicators of future entrepreneurial success. They’re not. Entrepreneurs focus on something that deeply fascinates them and then go into hyper-focus mode, sometimes obsessively, requiring all their cognitive and mental agility. Focus and dedication make for successful entrepreneurs.


Myth 4: Entrepreneurs need charisma to succeed

This is a common myth and again draws itself from popular culture which tends to focus on entrepreneurs with big personalities, such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg. Far more than charisma, successful entrepreneurs exhibit vision, systematic thinking, strong analytic skills, and a blend of humility and ambition. Charisma by itself is no recipe for success.

Myth 5. Entrepreneurs are undisciplined

As entrepreneurs, we’re always doing wild and crazy things. Not all our ideas are good ones and not all our innovative products and services make it to market. But that doesn't mean we don’t know how to buckle down and get on with the task at hand. Successful entrepreneurs must have extreme self-discipline to achieve their goals. We have few resources, no reputation, and a very finite amount of time in which to succeed. In fact, self-discipline is an absolute requirement for an entrepreneur.

“Entrepreneurs are the attackers against the ‘defenders’, established companies. They have to have the spirit of a pirate with the execution skills of a Navy SEAL.”Howard Anderson, MIT Sloan Academic 


Myth 6. Entrepreneurs are in love with risk

There’s no question that starting a company can be a risky undertaking, but that doesn't mean entrepreneurs love taking a risk just for the thrill of it. The most accomplished entrepreneurs prefer intelligent risk taking. We will always maneuverer to remove as much risk as possible and only take calculated risks where we feel we have an advantage and can influence the outcome. You don’t have to enjoy risk, even a true gambler doesn't enjoy risking it all. You have to understand how to manage risk, and know when to take a chance. And when not to.

I believe you can’t teach someone to take a risk, however you can teach someone to measure risk and make informed decisions. You can’t teach someone innovation, however you can teach someone to see a world of opportunity and abundance in which to innovate.


If you enjoyed this article, you’ll probably also like these others from Our Stories:

Graham Dockrill looks at  the various capital raising options available to a startup.

Setting up a business in the UK can be complex and there are pitfalls that you need to be aware of.

Graham Dockrill advocates that procrastinating and going slow makes you more creative.



UK-based New Zealander Graham Dockrill is an internationally recognised thought leader and keynote speaker. His passion for entrepreneurship and start-ups, coupled with his considerable skills and experience, sees him adding value to businesses in the UK, USA and Australasia. Graham is the 2018/19 Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Canterbury’s Centre for Entrepreneurship.

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