Every day, executives decide to strike out on their own and follow their dreams. Yes, life in a senior role can be good, but instead of working for someone else, many executives -- we call them “execepreneurs” -- take a different path. They decide they’re ready to maximize their impact on their particular industry, gain autonomy over their careers and bring new ideas directly to market, without a corporate structure holding them back.
Arguably, the biggest challenge these execepreneurs face is finding a way to stand out in a sea of other entrepreneurs. According to the June release of the Kauffman Index -- which tracks and compiles data on startup density, rate of new entrepreneurs and the opportunity share new entrepreneurs have -- the United States, in 2015, has been gaining approximately 530,000 entrepreneurs every month, up from 500,000 per month in 2014.
In other words, the need exists to get a leg up on the competition. So, this subset of entrepreneurs should understand early on which executive abilities will be most beneficial to them, and to hone those abilities before striking out on their own. Here's a look at what those abilities are.
1. Defining a strategic vision and engaging team members in that vision
Successful executives help craft and maintain their organization’s strategic vision. They continuously evaluate how the goals they set fit into the success of the overall business and look for ways to engage their employees to achieve those objectives.
This ability to define a strategic vision and then engage team members in that vision is a key trait of the most successful and innovative leaders in business, according to Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, who studied top leaders across hundreds of organizations and a wide range of industries.
Why it matters: Once excepreneurs are out on their own, they do more than just contribute to a portion of the greater strategic vision; they define the strategic vision for others and set milestones that engage their teams.
In a recent podcast discussion about how he helped grow TriNet from $100 million to more than $500 million in revenue, TriNet CEO Burton Goldfield stressed how execepreneurs “know what success looks like” for their companies and “define what milestones are meaningful to the big vision [they’re] creating.”
In other words, they ensure their strategic vision is more collaborative by setting milestones that each individual on the team can work toward. They take the focus off higher-level metrics like revenue, cash flow or gross margins, and put the focus on milestones everyone can relate to -- the number of subscribers, the number of units sold and the degree of customer satisfaction.
2. Choosing talent
In a corporate world where -- according to an Instructure survey of 750 managers nationwide -- values like attitude and work ethic are key to finding engaged employees, choosing candidates who will make a positive impact is difficult. But executives have honed their ability to assess these values and abilities over years of experience.
Why it matters: A 2014 study of 101 failed startups by CB Insights found that having the wrong team in place was the third most influential reason (among 23 percent of respondents) for startup failure.
Execepreneurs understand how important it is to build the right team from the start, so they focus their efforts on finding employees who share the organization’s values. As Goldfield explained, it’s not about good values or bad values, “it’s about [candidates'] values as they relate to the business goals . . . and the measureable milestones” that execepreneurs set.
For example, if an execepreneur sets milestones best met through a collaborative team approach, hiring candidates who are highly skilled but not a good fit -- because they're motivated by individual recognition -- can hurt the organization.
3. Executive decision-making
Executives are, by nature, decision-makers. They excel at analyzing data -- which is often incomplete -- and make hard decisions and actionable recommendations based on the information they have -- or don’t have. In the corporate world, this process is often collaborative and relies on consensus-building with other executives and team members.
Why it matters: Successful execepreneurs take advantage of their ability to analyze often incomplete information quickly and use it to reshape their decision-making into a rapid prototype-style process.
Ryan Allis, who sold iContact to Vocus for $160 million in 2012, has spoken of this analytical ability. According to Allis, it’s especially important for execepreneurs who are “in the first 30 days of starting a bootstrapped company” to “test [their] hypothesis around how [they’ll] make money with customers using rapid prototyping techniques.”
This process, exemplified by Google Glass creator Tom Chi, for one, comes down to decision-making by experimentation. Instead of gathering data for months before making a decision, execepreneurs have a skill for rapid prototyping: They can get a basic version of the product or service off the ground quickly, to test in the real world and then continously tweak.
In his 2012 TED Talk on creating Google Glass, using this ability for rapid prototyping, Chi argued that, “Doing is the best kind of thinking.” Successful execepreneurs take this advice to heart and don’t get bogged down in details. They make the fast decisions that keep the momentum moving forward, and they make necessary changes on the fly, as they learn more.
Execpreneurs regularly deal with difficult and trying situations. Their decisions can impact everything from their company's direction and health, to its launch of major initiatives, to the navigation of internal politics. Throughout these challenges, their ability to persevere and remain determined to succeed drives them through these tough times and makes them top performers in their organizations.
Why it matters: Execepreneurs have been in the hot seat before, so they know how to handle the stress that comes with making decisions that affect an entire company, and to persevere when times are tough. This determination to keep pushing and trying new things until something finally works is arguably the single most important factor in achieving success.
5. Engaging with people at the executive level.
Executives understand who the decision-makers and decision-influencers are and how to speak to them in a way that resonates. This ability to make connections that help secure success closely mirrors the “Relationship-Builder” ability the Galllup study of successful entrepreneurial traits described.
Why it matters: Becoming a successful execepreneur requires a knowledge of whom to communicate with, and how.
Execepreneurs have a grasp on the corporate world. Their understanding of business language helps them synthesize and react to the feedback they receive and to build strong relationships with other senior people -- relationships that can help their business. Moreover, they understand the importance of communicating their company’s mission, and the means for instilling confidence.
Shark Tank investor Kevin O’Leary has underscored the ability to communicate this message clearly and confidently. As O'Leary has put it, entrepreneurs need to “be able to articulate the mission of [their] business and explain what problem [their] company’s product or service solves and why it’s worth paying for” -- or else they’ll never survive.
When it’s time to leave the corporate world, execepreneurs can count on these five abilities -- honed over the years -- to make their successful transition into entrepreneurship.Are you one of them?
Have you made the transition from executive to entrepreneurship? What skills helped you the most?