Mark Suster, a two-time entrepreneur turned venture capitalist, is doing a series of posts on his blog about Entrepreneurial DNA. Mark’s series is going through 11 key attributes that successful entrepreneurs need to have. I have enjoyed reading the series thus far but I think Mark left out the most important attribute of all.
Mark’s list begins with what he believes to be the key attribute: tenacity. Quoting from the article:
Tenacity is probably the most important attribute in an entrepreneur. It’s the person who never gives up – who never accepts “no” for an answer. The world is filled with doubters who say that things can’t be done and then pronounce after the fact that they “knew it all along.” Look at Google. You think that anybody really believed 1999 that two young kids out of Stanford had a shot at unseating Yahoo!, Excite, Ask Jeeves and Lycos?
I agree with everything Mark is saying about not giving up, but I would disagree at its the “most important” attribute. In my mind the most critical requirement for any entrepreneur is whether they Get Things Done.
Larry the Cable Guy is an American Redneck comedian famous for the phrase, “Git-r-done”. In my mind, this should be the rallying cry of every founder as they work through obstacle after obstacle in their quest to start a company.
Getting this done is so key you might think of it as a prerequisite to starting a company. If you can’t get things done, it doesn’t matter how much tenacity you have. It doesn’t matter how hard you work. Nothing matters if you can’t move the ball forward.
In real world terms this can manifest itself in many ways. Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I working on the absolute most important task I could be?
- Am I working on something that will eliminate an obstacle to my success?
- Am I avoiding the hard choices that need to be made to evolve my company and product?
- Did I just walk away from the most important opportunity in the early life of my company because I thought it was impossible to grasp?
- When you see an obstacle in front of you is your initial reaction anything other than to move forward, finding a way through, around, or over the problem?
Seemingly every day or week or a young startup’s life the founders are presented with new and unknowable challenges. In fact, I tend of think of this as an indicator of potential success. If you don’t feel as if you’re on the razors edge then you’re not pushing hard enough.
Getting Things Done at Metreos
At Metreos there was one specific event that was critical to our success. It was a Monday morning, if I recall correctly, and we got a call from a potential customer. At this time, we had no customers at all, just a bunch of people kicking the tires. This customer had been evaluating the product but we couldn’t get them over the line in terms of buying. Their question to me was simple, “We’re about to buy a product from one of your competitors. We like yours better, but there is a key feature that is missing. If you can add that feature by Friday, we’ll go with yours instead.”
Now, calling what they wanted a feature is really doing it a disservice. What they really wanted was an entire application. You see, at Metreos we build development tools. This potential customer wanted to use our tools but they also needed this particular application more. So, the customer decided to see if they could get both: Metreos would very quickly build the application using our tools, and the customer would buy both the application and the development platform they wanted.
The only problem was the application they wanted could easily take 3 months to build and they had given us a week to prove the key tenet of our sales pitch, that using our development tools would significantly reduce the amount of time required to build these applications. Of course, in my mind, there was no way we weren’t going to get this done.
Late Friday afternoon we shipped the application to the customer. It certainly wasn’t polished, but it worked and it proved to them that not only did we really want their business but the underlying tenet of our product, that you could very quickly build telephony applications, was true. This was our first customer, and they went on to be our biggest and best customer as well.
Getting things done is the most important attribute any entrepreneur can have. If you can’t get things done then no amount of hard work will make you a success.