5 Traits That Distinguish Serial Entrepreneurs

Few people are inspired to start a business more than once. Then there are the people who just can't stop.

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By Tor Constantino


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Entrepreneurs are a rarity. Just over 1-in-10 adults within the U.S.. engage in entrepreneurial activities.

That low number is not a surprise in light of the complex array of challenges that entrepreneurs face. According to a joint study last year by the University of Michigan and Stanford University, more than 70 percent of entrepreneurs who launch a failed venture do not try again. The vast majority of entrepreneurs researched adopted a "one-and-done" mentality in the face of failure.

However, the same study identified an elite subset of entrepreneurs -- serial entrepreneurs -- comprising 29 percent of those researched who went on to launch other ventures with great success.

Marc Preston is just such an entrepreneur.

He's had dozens of money-making ventures over the past two decades and seven stand-alone companies ranging from web design, mobile apps, hardware and software development to retail storefronts.

"I have profitable business ideas that offer something new under the sun, every single day. In fact, we have six or seven viable business concepts in our pipeline that are in early stages but are already in motion," said Preston.

Preston has several colleagues and friends who are also serial entrepreneurs. He identifies the following five traits that they all exhibit.

1. Time management.

The single most valuable asset for each of us is our time because it's the only asset that can't be renewed. As a result of that fact, Preston stresses the need for aggressive, intentional time management for anyone who wants to be a serial entrepreneur.

"Where you're directing your time is critical. How much you spend on email or getting lost on time-consuming projects that should be outsourced or delegated to employees -- that's the single most important factor in the success of every serial entrepreneur I know, including me," said Preston.

Related: Why You Should Never Start Just One Business

2. Drive to scale.

Serial entrepreneurs have the ability to quickly advance a business through the start-up phase into a sustainable growth trajectory.

"You can't continue to develop new businesses or ideas as a serial entrepreneur if you're unable to scale those businesses quickly, which enables you to move on to the next project or idea. That's a key difference between repeat entrepreneurs and a typical person in business," he said.

3. Strategic relationships.

Preston stresses that not only do serial entrepreneurs need a strong team of advisors, partners and employees, they also must develop other strategic relationships where they give to others.

"I believe that someone in a serial entrepreneurial role needs to be mentoring someone else's business for free. I've helped several other individuals pro bono because I've received mentoring along my path, which was invaluable. It's important to pass that on and help fuel the entrepreneurial fire in others," he said.

Related: 7 Ways Successful and Fulfilled People Think Differently

4. Insatiable curiosity.

Another factor that distinguishes serial entrepreneurs from other business executives is an inherent drive to ask questions, seek out new information and connect ideas, all of which can be summed up in the word "curiosity."

"I'll read physics papers, technology manuals -- I'll read all kinds of things -- and there's an 'ah ha' moment where there will be a connection I've never seen before. Ironically, many of those connections and my ideas are generated when I'm sleeping. I tend to have those 'ah ha' moments in dreams where I'll wake up with new ideas and insights. You have to be ready to capture those moments when they happen," said Preston.

5. Know when to move on.

Dogged determination and perseverance are part of the entrepreneurial DNA, but Preston says it's equally important for a serial entrepreneur to recognize when a project is not working and moving on to the next thing.

"The key is to identify failure fast and then let it go. Many entrepreneurs hold on too tightly to a misguided idea or project that exhausts them as well as their resources. It's important to know when to cut your losses. I know exactly what it's like to fight for a project while trying to drag it from the brink of failure. But what I've learned is that once it's clear something is failing, it's much better to just be done with it and move on within 24 hours," he said.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Preston's business philosophy is what he doesn't do as a serial entrepreneur. He eschews business plans and describes them as a "cumbersome inconvenience" when trying to quickly scale a business.

"It's been my experience that it's more beneficial to identify the problem customers have, develop the solution and then hit the ground running as fast as you can," said Preston. "At that point, a 70-page business plan with projections for 2017 isn't going to help you. For serial entrepreneurs like me, executing and delivering results are what matter most."

Related: 4 Attributes of the World's Most Successful Entrepreneurs

Tor Constantino

Former Journalist, Current PR Guy (wielding an MBA)

Tor Constantino is a former journalist, consultant and current corporate comms executive with an MBA degree and 25+ years of experience. His writing has appeared across the web on Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fortune and Yahoo!. Tor's views are his own and do not reflect those of his current employer.

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