Charactéristiques Entrepreneuriales
Venture Founders Insights from William Keyser
Charactéristiques Entrepreneuriales

Entrepreneurial Characteristics

I learned some very basic rules when I went rock climbing: choose your route and plan your climb, only move one limb at a time, belay before you move, look up to anticipate your next move, lean out and don't hug the rock, don't be intimidated, footwear should allow you to feel the rock, and lastly, learn the ropes! Good advice for entrepreneurs.

From 50 years observation, I have concluded that the entrepreneur is:

  • is predisposed to action—“I had that idea, but...”, you've heard many people say something like that;
  • enjoys investigating & innovating—“it'll never work, because...” incites finding a solution;
  • experiences learning as a way of life—rather than shutting up shop and going home;
  • tolerates ambiguity—and allows creativity to resolve it;
  • is a (controlled) risk-taker—will always consider how to deal with the downside;
  • is able to put vision into practice—the passion has to have an expression in reality;
  • while remaining very much in the present—to deal with the unexpected rather than being floored by it.

There is no simple way of gauging whether a person will make it as an entrepreneur. Indeed, the characteristics listed above need careful thinking. For example being predisposed to action does not mean that the extravert is the one you want to back. Impulsiveness is not what I'm talking about. Inventors are seldom entrepreneurs, so don't jump to the conclusion that because you like investigating and innovating, you're going to be a hit as an entrepreneur. 

The entrepreneur likes investigating to find a solution to a problem, not just for the fun of the chase. Entrepreneurs are generally life-long learners, but that does not make them academics. It's learning for the purpose of applying the learning. Tolerating ambiguity does not mean indecision. Many people will tell you risk taking is an essential ingredient of new venture creation, but gamblers don't make successful startups.

David McClelland's theory of human motivation led him to some clear ideas about what makes an entrepreneur tick. He concluded that entrepreneurs:

  • do things in a new and better way;
  • make decisions under uncertainty;
  • have a need for high achievement;
  • are not motivated by money or external influence;
  • see profit as a measure of success and competence.

Here too, you need to reflect on the implications of what this world famous researcher is saying. An entrepreneur is not always seeking novelty. New things have to work. Deciding when you don't appear to have all the facts you need is not entrepreneurship, but an entrepreneur is very good at two things: weighing up the possibilities and using both hard and soft data. The need for achievement does not imply recognition. In fact entrepreneurs often compete more with themselves than anyone else. Nobody can make you be an entrepreneur and your reward will the satisfaction of knowing that you 'did it'.

I suggest that if you intend to start a new venture, you check yourself against these two sets of characteristics. It will only be a rough approximation of your likelihood for success, but it may convince you that it's not a route for you and save you a lot of heartache.

Edwin Land, the inventor and founder of Polaroid said, “A failure is a circumstance not yet fully turned to your advantage.” This might be a mantra for all entrepreneurs. Ask yourself intimidating questions, and do not be afraid of the answers.

—for more helpful information on new venture creation, visit

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