Multiple factors go into starting a successful business, including a strong concept and some initial funding. Perhaps the most important ingredient is the entrepreneur, who must take charge of turning their idea into a fully operational business.

If you’re thinking about launching your own venture, you might be wondering if you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. To understand what makes a successful entrepreneur, you first need to know what entrepreneurship is.

What Is Entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is commonly thought of as the process of starting a business. While this is true, in part, some nuances should be considered.

In the HBS Online course Entrepreneurship Essentials, entrepreneurship is defined as “the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources currently controlled.” An opportunity is a proposed venture to sell a product or service for which customers are willing to pay more than the required investments and operating costs.”

By that definition, entrepreneurs—either as individuals or in teams—discover opportunities throughout their personal and professional lives. They form hypotheses about ways they can deliver value to customers and perform structured tests to validate their ideas. This often involves recruiting teammates and investing funds to determine how they’ll deliver a product or service at an acceptable cost.

Great entrepreneurs come from all walks of life. In Entrepreneurship Essentials, it’s noted that “there’s no single personality profile, and it’s important to pay attention to the entrepreneurial team, rather than focus on the individual.”

There’s no single personality profile that describes every successful entrepreneur; however, certain characteristics are particularly important when it comes to starting and leading a venture.

Here are 10 characteristics shared by successful entrepreneurs.

10 Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs

1. Curiosity


Successful entrepreneurs have a sense of curiosity that allows them to continuously seek new opportunities. Rather than settling for what they think they know, curious entrepreneurs ask challenging questions and explore different avenues.

In Entrepreneurship Essentials, entrepreneurship is described as a “process of discovery.”

Without the drive to continuously ask questions and challenge the status quo, valuable discoveries can easily be overlooked.

2. Structured Experimentation


Along with curiosity comes the need for structured experimentation. With each new opportunity that arises, an entrepreneur must run tests to determine if it’s worthwhile to pursue.

For example, if you have an idea for a new product or service that fulfills an underserved demand, you’ll have to ensure customers are willing to pay for it. To do so, you’ll need to conduct thorough market research and run meaningful tests to validate your idea and determine whether it has potential.

3. Adaptability


The nature of business is ever-changing. Entrepreneurship is an iterative process, and new challenges and opportunities present themselves at every turn. It’s nearly impossible to be prepared for every scenario. Entrepreneurs need to evaluate situations and adapt so their business can keep moving forward when unexpected changes occur.

4. Decisiveness


To be successful, an entrepreneur has to make difficult decisions and stand by them. As a leader, they’re responsible for guiding the trajectory of their business, including every aspect from funding and strategy to resource allocation.

Being decisive doesn’t always mean having all the answers. If you want to be an entrepreneur, it means having the confidence to make challenging decisions and see them through. If the outcome turns out to be less than favorable, the decision to take corrective action is just as important.

5. Team Building


A great entrepreneur is aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Rather than letting shortcomings hold them back, they build well-rounded teams that complement their abilities.

In many cases, it’s the entrepreneurial team, rather than an individual, that drives a venture toward success. When starting your own business, it’s critical to surround yourself with teammates who have complementary talents and contribute to a common goal.

Related: 10 Tips to Help You Boost Team Performance

6. Risk Tolerance


Entrepreneurship is often associated with risk. While it’s true that launching a venture requires an entrepreneur to take risks, they also need to take steps to minimize it.

While many things can go wrong when launching a new venture, many things can go right. The key, according to Entrepreneurship Essentials, is for entrepreneurs to actively manage the relationship between risk and reward, and position their companies to “benefit from the upside.”

Successful entrepreneurs are comfortable with encountering some level of risk to reap the rewards of their efforts; however, their risk tolerance is tightly related to their efforts to mitigate it.

7. Comfortable with Failure


In addition to managing risk and making calculated decisions, entrepreneurship requires a certain level of comfort with failure.

It’s estimated that nearly 75 percent of new startups fail. The reasons for failure are vast and encompass everything from a flawed business model to a lack of focus or motivation. While many of these risks can be avoided, some are inevitable.

Successful entrepreneurs prepare themselves for, and are comfortable with, failure. Rather than let fear hold them back, the possibility of success propels them forward.

8. Persistence


While many successful entrepreneurs are comfortable with the possibility of failing, it doesn’t mean they give up easily. Rather, they see failures as opportunities to learn and grow.

Throughout the entrepreneurial process, many hypotheses turn out to be wrong, and some ventures fail altogether. Part of what makes an entrepreneur successful is their willingness to learn from mistakes, continue to ask questions, and persist until they reach their goal.

Related: How to Become a More Resilient Leader

9. Innovation


Many ascribe to the idea that innovation goes hand-in-hand with entrepreneurship. This is often true—some of the most successful startups have taken existing products or services and drastically improved them to meet the changing needs of the market.

Innovation is a characteristic some, but not all, entrepreneurs possess. Fortunately, it’s a type of strategic mindset that can be cultivated. By developing your strategic thinking skills, you can be well-equipped to spot innovative opportunities and position your venture for success.

10. Long-Term Focus


Finally, most people think of entrepreneurship as the process of starting a business. While the early stages of launching a venture are critical to its success, the process doesn’t end once the business is operational.

In Entrepreneurship Essentials, it’s stated that “it’s easy to start a business, but hard to grow a sustainable and substantial one. Some of the greatest opportunities in history were discovered well after a venture launched.”

Entrepreneurship is a long-term endeavor, and entrepreneurs must focus on the process from beginning to end to be successful in the long run.

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Becoming an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is both a challenge and a great opportunity, and it takes certain qualities to be successful. There’s no right or wrong way to be an entrepreneur. Key characteristics and behaviors like experimentation, persistence, and innovation can be developed with time, experience, and training.

Are you interested in learning the ins and outs of entrepreneurship? Explore our four-week online course Entrepreneurship Essentials, and learn to speak the language of the startup world.

Kelsey Miller

About the Author

Kelsey Miller is a marketing specialist and contributing writer for Harvard Business School Online.