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Entrepreneur By Birth Or Do You Become One? Essential Personality Traits And Skills For Entrepreneurial Success

By Sonali Sinha

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Young Future Leaders

The other day, I was at VJTI's startUp and Internship Expo organized by Technovanza, VJTI's techno-managerial event.Over three days, they had a number of startups displaying their ideas to visitors which included students and potential investors. The ideas were diverse and the people behind it more so. We, as SoaringEagles Learning, an innovative startup in skill development, were also present and offering a couple of self-assessments to students at the event – a Job Readiness Quiz to assess how much they understad about the job search process, and an Entrepreneurial Potential Quiz to assess whether they had the required personality traits to be a successful entrepreneur. Of the 213 respondents, a significant 12% of the students took the Entrepreneurial Potential Quiz, and of this, over 26% of the students took both the assessments because they wanted to set up something but felt that they may need to take up a job first, gain some experience and then become an entrepreneur. What became evident is that a significant proportion of people these days have some desire to become an entrepreneur. There could be many motivations for this – being one's own boss, creating something valuable, having a social impact, and obviously, becoming a successful venture raking in millions. The number of startup related events is also burgeoning, especially in engineering and management campuses. The media hype around startup fundraising has done its bit in getting everyone excited about this space.

Even the Government has come up with an Action Plan for startups at the recently concluded #startupindia event. The Government believes, and rightly so, that startups will be the ones generating employment opportunities in the future. This initiative of the government aims to empower startups to grow through innovation and design.

While it is exciting for various stakeholders in the startup ecosystem to get this kind of attention and positive reinforcement, it is also worrying that many people are entering the fray without realizing the effort and risk involved. Very few are talking about the startups that have failed to take off or survive and the lessons from these experiences. Also, not many are talking about how challenging the entrepreneurial journey is, given the uncertainty about the future, the need for establishing a product market mix that can generate a sustainable business model and most importantly the need for perseverance and creative problem solving.

The real question is whether everyone aspiring to become an entrepreneur is actually cut out for such a challenging role. Does having expertise in a key area make one a successful entrepreneur? Why is it that one person successfully takes advantage of an opportunity, while another, maybe equally knowledgeable person, does not? Does entrepreneurship require having a different genetic makeup? Or do entrepreneurs have a system of decision making that makes them more suitable for taking risks and deciding based on limited information? What motivates successful entrepreneurs to push on despite numerous setbacks and challenges?

Though entrepreneurship has come into major focus in India recently, there has been a lot of research on entrepreneurship since the 1970's in the developed economies. Along with theoretical research, there have been a lot of surveys and studies which have tried to identify key personality traits of successful entrepreneurs. A notable book in this area was "Instinct: Tapping Your Entrepreneurial DNA to Achieve your Business Goals' by Thomas L. Harrison which applied the tools and insights of human genome research and the widely used, five-factor model of personality to the concept of success.To quote the book, "Any venture starts with an opportunity, a person, and an idea. Unless that person has entrepreneurial DNA, the idea probably won't get very far."

Recent research in the field of psychology suggests that personality indeed has a great deal to do with being a successful entrepreneur. While the initial research looked at the five-factor model of personality a predictors of success, later studies have indicated that narrow personality traits, such as need for achievement, self-confidence, innovativeness,stress tolerance, need for autonomy, and proactive personalitypredict these outcomes better than broad traits, such as Conscientiousness and Extraversion.

Drawing from past research on the subject and wide range of reports and interviews of successful entrepreneurs, I believe that the following five personality traits are strong indicators of entrepreneurial success:


It is an important personality trait for being a successful entrepreneur as it is an indicator of one's enthusiasm, personal commitment to achieving goals and extent to which one is willing to go in order to get ahead. Being passionate about a business idea leads to greater determination to accomplish objectives, as well as increases the enjoyment gained from it. More often than not, people with passion about their business are more likely to succeed. Interestingly, if you listen to any of the successful entrepreneurs like Travis Kalanick of Uber or Adam Neumann of WeWork about their secret of success, they will rank passion very high among the key drivers. In fact Masayoshi Son of Softbank has stated clearly in interviews that he looks for a sparkle in the eyes of the entrepreneur before deciding to invest.

High need for achievement

This refers to an individual's intrinsic motivation and efficiency of work completion. Entrepreneurs usually are responsible for their own work hours and set their own deadlines. It would be easy to underachieve if they lack initiative and the desire to reach their goals, as there is no one to answer to when tasks are not completed. An interesting point to note here is that when entrepreneurs raise funding, especially early in their journey, their need for achievement is compounded by the need of the investors to scale up the business and valuation in a very short time frame.

Taking Control

Another important trait of a successful entrepreneur is"Taking Control'. This is linked to how far individuals believe themselves to have control over a situation and its outcomes. This idea originated from the psychological theory known as "Locus of control" which describes the way in which someone might credit certain events to themselves or to other external factors. In other words, those who believe to have high levels of control are likely to attribute successes to their own abilities as opposed to luck. Once they start believing that they have control on the outcomes, they are more motivated to work towards it. This strong self-belief and confidence is what enables entrepreneurs to push forward towards their goals.


This is another key personality trait of a successful entrepreneur. It is an indicator of levels of persistence and hardiness, the ability to overcome difficulties and to remain functional in stressful situations. It also conveys willingness to work hard and to make additional efforts when required. Due to a number of challenges and setbacks associated with building a successful business from the ground up, it is important that the individual is able to persevere in order to achieve success. During the #startupindia event Masayoshi Son recalled how in 2000 he was richer than Bill Gates for three days. "The next year the share price fell 99 per cent," recalled Son. He said that it is only passion that will help you recover from setbacks like that.


Creativity or Innovativeness is at the core of entrepreneurial success and refers to how effectively one might generate new ideas. The ability to continually revolutionize and build upon pre-existing concepts helps to produce a vast number of successful business models. Creative problem solving is required to deal with the challenges of starting a business from scratch. Without innovativeness a venture may not be able to move ahead of the competition.

Some people are naturally predisposed to success in entrepreneurship due to these characteristics of their personality which help them in their decision making processes, their attitude towards achieving goals and their ability to remain optimistic during difficulties. However, one does not have to be born this way. Once an individual becomes aware of the key elements that accompany a successful entrepreneurial outlook, it is actually possible to consciously improve upon those qualities, whether they come naturally or not. With structured training and adequate practice, an individual can reach a level of unconscious competence in these areas.

Besides the above five key personality traits, an entrepreneur also needs to have certain skills to be able to establish, manage and grow a business successfully. The ability of an individual to inspire and motivate others in his or her team to work towards the challenging goals without the comforts that come with a corporate job is key to being able to grow a business. This requires a high level of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, in simple words, is the ability to know one's emotions and manage them and also know what impact one's behaviour has on others and manage these social interactions. This is a skill which can be developed consciously as long as an individual recognizes its importance and is willing to learn and grow.

The other important skill in my opinion is the ability to promote oneself and one's ideas. On embarking on an entrepreneurial journey, one has to be able to sell one's idea to other founders, team members, customers and investors. The ability to network professionally and to market oneself enables the entrepreneur to build a personal brand and tap into resources which otherwise may not have been available to them.

Through various learning programmes, SoaringEagles is working towards developing self-awareness, emotional intelligence, leadership skills and creative problem solving among the youth of India. Such programmes and self-assessments can help aspiring entrepreneurs to take stock of themselves and their level of preparedness before taking the plunge into something as challenging as entrepreneurship. For the ones who are already working, making the leap from being an employee to an entrepreneur canbe both daunting and exhilarating. Taking a self-assessment on entrepreneurial potential can be a way to affirm their readiness to take the plunge. You can take the Entrepreneurial Potential Quiz here –

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