Non-entrepreneurial Mind Founder Characteristics That May Prevent Startup Survival
Non-entrepreneurial Mind: So much is written about the entrepreneurial mind, including by me. Much less is written on the non-entrepreneurial mind, which can be catastrophic for a new venture. My mentor, Jeffry Timmons, the late Babson Professor, wrote about it, very wisely.
He described eight tendencies of the non-entrepreneurial mind. If you are aiming to launch a startup or are associated with someone who has that intention, you might be concerned at the manifestation of any these characteristics, if you observe them.
These eight non-entrepreneurial characteristics may provide a ‘litmus test’ of those who will fail to make their venture succeed.
Here they are:
- Invulnerability: taking unnecessary chances or unwise risks (entrepreneurs are risk mitigators)
- Macho: showing that one is better than others (entrepreneurs avoid head-to-head competition)
- Anti-authoritarian: resenting outside authority (entrepreneurs thrive on feedback—positive and negative)
- Impulsivity: impulsiveness in decision making (entrepreneurs explore implications, pausing before action)
- Outer control: sense that external factors rule (entrepreneurs base success on their own work)
- Perfectionist: refusal to accept less (entrepreneurs are nimble and understand time and cost)
- Know it all: failure to recognize what is not known (entrepreneurs investigate and learn)
- Counter-dependency: severe independence (entrepreneurs recognize where help is needed).
In entrepreneurship workshops, both as a participant myself, and as an MBA teacher, this list served as an easy way to assess whom I could see making a go of a startup. In one workshop as a participant, I watched some fellow participants over-reach themselves in competitive activities, failing to spot their overconfidence would lead to failure. As a teacher, I needed to encourage every student, but I can recall individuals who always rejected fellow students’ advice, maintaining that their marketplace was one that others did not know about, and I silently expected their fictional ventures to fail.
As an MBA teacher of entrepreneurship for seven years, my approach was always to push students into their own experience. When I was asked what I expected in any student assignment, I generally answered by explaining why it was for the student to figure out, not for me to specify. I was not a math teacher. The brighter ones got the message, and as one student said in feedback on my teaching, “He provides only loose structure, challenging students to step into the role of an entrepreneur and tackle the hard work of prioritizing and project management.”
When I was doing some research on US startups, I was surprised to find that as many as 56% of American adults believe that they have the capabilities to start a business (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2013). I wonder how many of them have entrepreneurial minds? Maybe many rule themselves out of the game because they decide that they have non-entrepreneurial minds, since not as many as 56% of Americans do actually start a business. In fact only 0.32% of Americans do start businesses (Forbes, 2012), though 14% of working age Americans are either starting or running a business GEM Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2015).
This difference—between those who think they could start a business and those who actually do—can be explained by the lack of an entrepreneurial mind. I was at a business pitch event recently, when I was struck by the fact that only one of the five pitches really demonstrated any kind of entrepreneurial mindset. None seemed to have a clear business model of how their ventures were going to satisfy customers and make money in a sustainable way. It might have been fruitful for all them to question themselves on how their behaviors would have to change to make a go of their businesses before finalizing their class assignment any further. There seemed to be a naïve approach to financial management and some basic accounting terminology was a foreign language to them. What was true in every case, was that the student entrepreneurs had a passion for their product, but that is simply insufficient to survive in business.