Alan Hall is an advocate and promoter of entrepreneurial businesses. This was in the column: “Entrepreneurship” in the Business Section of the Deseret News, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011.
Published: Monday, Nov. 7, 2011 8:44 p.m. MST on Deseret News website.
By Alan E. Hall, For the Deseret News
Steve Jobs was a great businessman, entrepreneur and technologist. Since his death there have been numerous stories about his legacy and accomplishments.
I’ve been asked several times who will be the next Steve Jobs. It’s a very good question, and as I’ve thought about it I’ve come to the conclusion that the next great titan of industry will posses 11 key attributes that are fundamental to world-class success. These are:
A fantastic idea
A great entrepreneur clearly sees and understands the needs of potential customers and has in his or her mind a disruptive and highly innovative competitive replacing solution to meet said needs. The entrepreneur also has a vision of the future and sees the needs even before the customers realize it.
Follow the dream
Great entrepreneurs aggressively pursue their idea of a new product or service. They don’t hesitate and wonder. They move forward with unstoppable energy and urgency. They are courageous and take a leap of faith to commercialize their idea. Conversely, I have known many bright and talented people who have had the next great idea but were afraid to pursue it. Please keep in mind every dream unfolds in layers like an onion. The challenge is seeing all the layers and approaching them in an orderly fashion and not deviating or moving past a layer too soon.
Take the risk, make the sacrifice
Great entrepreneurs are willing to take a risk and make the sacrifice to achieve their dream. The risks and sacrifices are significant as to time, money, resources and even relationships. Years ago, I secured a second mortgage from a local bank on my home to finance the growth of MarketStar Corp. Had I failed, my wife, six children and I would have lived in a tent, in the public park, eating government cheese. Great entrepreneurs are willing to give up financial security, peace and comfort for a season for a chance to build a successful enterprise, provide jobs in the community and create wealth to bless the lives of many people. I should add that no entrepreneur takes the risk or makes the sacrifice alone. As in my case, my wife, Jeanne, agreed to experience the consequences that come from an entrepreneur’s life.
Great entrepreneurs never give up. They overcome every barrier and climb around and over every obstacle that stands in their way. They are relentless. Failure to them is a bad word and an unacceptable outcome. It’s a very unique attribute that not many people have. When most people would retreat when a major challenge appears, great entrepreneurs press on, letting nothing stop their progress.
Sell to succeed and prosper
The best and most successful entrepreneurs are great sales people. In fact, they usually generate more revenues than any employee in the business. Once they know their customers and know they can deliver an exceptional solution to meet a perceived need, great entrepreneurs turn their time, talent and energy to selling their products. The result is a company with fast-growing revenues. For me, this is the No. 1 attribute that ultimately determines the success of the business and the achievement of the entrepreneur’s dream. Why then do most start-up companies fail? It’s because the entrepreneur, the founder, has a product focus not a customer-selling focus. As such, there are never enough revenues with margins to cover expenses leading to a profit. For a company to succeed, its employees must concentrate, including the founder, on aggressively selling the company’s products.
Great entrepreneurs take care of their employees. In fact, successful entrepreneurs view them as more important than profits. To this end, the entrepreneur ensures that employees are happy and satisfied with their employment. Employees who are paid market driven wages with great benefits; enjoy educational, promotional and personal growth opportunities; receive rewards and recognition for work well done; participate in a people-centered culture; and share time-tested values tend to be happy and productive people. In like manner, if the company takes care of employees, they in turn take care of customers who buy more frequently in greater volumes.
Highly successful business executives know that without happy and satisfied customers there is no business. Great entrepreneurs speak often with customers to learn how they feel about their products and their buying experience. Those leaders who listen and deliver increased value generally retain and grow their customer base.
Find, make and conserve money
Successful entrepreneurs find and secure financial resources to start and grow their business. Starting with their own savings, they are able to obtain funding from family and friends, followed by cash from angel investors. They are able to secure loans from a bank and, if needed, growth capital from venture capitalists. Ultimately, the public markets will invest in the company following an initial public offering. It’s one thing to raise needed capital for growth, it’s another matter to use these funds to make money by operating a profitable business. Great entrepreneurs are able to do both. Lastly, financial resources at all stages of the business need to be protected, watched over and guarded to ensure there is no loss from theft, mismanagement and other disasters.
Great entrepreneurs build a people-centered culture where employees feel valued and appreciated. There is a code of conduct that encourages openness, honesty, teamwork, fair play, selflessness, customer focus, innovation and results. It’s a culture that rewards exceptional performance and supports personal growth. This is the model I favor. However, I recognize there are businesses that take an opposite approach where money is king and people are secondary. Many high-profile successful entrepreneurs have followed this model and done well.
Great leaders regularly communicate to employees, investors, clients, partners and the press on the status on their business. Great entrepreneurs communicate honestly and frankly as to the past and future of the enterprise. They look for insightful feedback and helpful responses to strategies and objectives. They value opinions beyond their own. I view this attribute as one of the great key characteristic of a great company.
Successful entrepreneurs seek guidance from a host of individuals who they trust and value. Great leaders know their weaknesses and find and engage experts in many disciplines for advice. This desire and willingness to be taught by others is the mark of a humble leader who recognizes that he or she cannot excel alone.
Steve Jobs possessed all 12 of these key characteristics and combined them as well as or better than most have in the past. For sure there are other traits that contributed to Job’s success, as well as to the achievements of other prominent business people. However, in my opinion, these 11 characteristics serve as the foundation of unquestionable success.
Alan E. Hall is a co-founding managing director of Mercato Partners, a regionally focused growth capital investment firm. He founded Grow Utah Ventures to help entrepreneurs and is the founder of MarketStar Corp. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org.