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What Is an Entrepreneur? (+ The Top Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs)

What is an entrepreneur?

Good question. The basic definition is: “An entrepreneur is someone who runs a business.” 

But if you dig deeper, you’ll see that there are a lot of different types of entrepreneurs. Who becomes an entrepreneur? Why? And what makes entrepreneurs succeed or fail? 

Today, you learn what an entrepreneur is, what it takes to succeed (along with successful founder stories), and how you can become one. 

Want to learn more? Read on!

Chapter 1: What is an entrepreneur?
Chapter 2: Entrepreneur statistics
Chapter 3: Successful entrepreneurs
Chapter 4: Entrepreneur characteristics
Chapter 5: Become an entrepreneur
Chapter 6: Further resources

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Chapter 1: What is an entrepreneur?

Did you know that interest in entrepreneurship has soared over the past few years?

It’s true. The number of US freelancers have increased from 53 million in 2014 to 57 million in 2019. That’s 35% of the workforce.

According to a 2017 study by America’s Small Business Development Centers (America’s SBDC) and the Center for Generational Kinetics, half of Millennials in the US reported wanting to take the entrepreneurial leap in the following six months if they had the right tools and resources 

And hey, just look at TV programs like Shark Tank and successful founders like Mark Zuckerberg. Who doesn’t love a story about overnight successes and rags to riches? 

Sharktank contestants photo
Shark Tank contestans (Source)

But entrepreneurship is so much more than what’s shown in the media. 

Merriam-Webster defines an entrepreneur as:

“One who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”

Essentially, that’s someone who comes up with an idea or innovation and starts selling it. They also take on more risk than people in their 9-5 because they are responsible for the success of their business. 

But you know what?

An “innovation” doesn’t necessarily mean a “revolutionizing” business like Facebook or Amazon.

What I mean is this…

Entrepreneurs sell wildly different things. These include services (coaching, consulting, freelancing and software subscriptions), information products (ebooks and e-courses), and physical products. 

That’s right:

By simply selling a service with your own personal brand, as a consultant, freelancer, or coach, you ARE an entrepreneur. 

If you think about it, the most “groundbreaking” businesses build on existing ideas.

Steve Jobs didn’t invent computers, but he made them easier to use. 

Apple logo

Mark Zuckerberg took a popular idea (MySpace and Friendster had millions of users at the time) and used far better technology than any other social media platform.

Facebook logo

And Jeff Bezos simply used what was already booming by then — internet businesses — and sold a popular commodity: Books. 

Amazon logo on phone

That means:

A business builds on an “innovation” (but not the type of innovation most people would think). 

At the same time, there are various types of entrepreneurs depending on the business they start.

These are: 

The four different types of entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs start four different types of businesses: 

  • Small businesses (according to the SBA, these are companies with a revenue of up to $35.5 million) 
  • Scalable startups (businesses that take on funding and grow fast) 
  • Large companies and corporations (their revenue is anywhere from tens of millions of dollars to billion and trillion-dollar companies) 
  • Social entrepreneurs (these businesses focus on their societal impact)

But that’s not all. Entrepreneurs can be categorized based on how they found their companies. Entrepreneurs are: 

  • Solo-entrepreneurs (who run a one-person business).
  • Single founders (who run a team).
  • Co-founders (who, together with another founder, run a business). 

And hear me out on this:

Entrepreneurs can even be categorized based on their strengths.

That’s what Princeton University lecturers Chris Kuenne and John Danner do. 

In their book “Built for Growth: How Builder Personality Shapes Your Business, Your Team, and Your Ability to Win,” they separate entrepreneurs in four different groups.

These are:

  • Product fixated. This entrepreneur type is mostly focused on the product. A good example is Steve Jobs. 
  • Explorer. The Explorer is a puzzle-solver who is focused on the problem. They might jump from one business to the next without really scaling any business because they are so fixated on problems. 
  • Crusader. Crusaders are focused on a mission. They build their companies with a long-term vision in mind. Think of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the co-founders Ben and Jerry’s. 
  • Captain. This founder type is focused on people. 

Now you know what an entrepreneur is. But why do entrepreneurs fail? Succeed? And who is an entrepreneur? 

Let’s take a look at failure rates, who becomes an entrepreneur, and other entrepreneur stats to learn more. 

Chapter 2: 20 insightful entrepreneur statistics

Who becomes an entrepreneur? 

Why do businesses fail?

And why do they succeed? 

It doesn’t all come down to luck. There are consistent patterns that show why some entrepreneurs build multimillion dollar companies and some go bust.

Here are the most important entrepreneur statistics to help you decide what type of entrepreneur you want to become. 

Who becomes an entrepreneur? 

  • Out of 150,000 interview participants, 40% of entrepreneurs in 35 different countries say that their most important motivation to launch a business is to make a difference in the world. 
  • In 2018, 290/100,000 White, 240/100,000 Black, 330/100,000 Asian, and 510/100,000 Latino US residents started new businesses.
ethnicity of us entrepreneurs
  • In 2017, there were 11.9 million women-owned businesses in the US. 
  • The average age of a founder is 42 (this also applies to high-growth companies). But this depends on the industry. While founders of software startups are 40 on average, the average age of founders of oil and gas or biotechnology companies is 47.
  • Research of 12,000+ people over 30+ years shows that people start businesses because: “Entrepreneurs think they are better than their resumes show and realize they can make more money by going it alone. And in most cases, they are right.”

What types of businesses do entrepreneurs start?

  • Most entrepreneurs start small businesses. 98% of US businesses have fewer than 20 employees.
  • In 2013, there were 28.8 million small businesses in the US.
  • About 50% of businesses are home-based. 
  • 43% of US public companies are backed by venture capital. 
  • Most small businesses are self-funded and entrepreneurs tend to use $10,000 on starting their businesses. One-third of non-employer firms use no startup capital at all.
  • A survey of 3,100 entrepreneurs shows that retail and business services are the most popular industries to start a business in (13% each) and construction and contracting is a close second (12%). The food and restaurant industry and residential and commercial service industries come next (9% each). 

Why do entrepreneurs fail?

  • According to the SBA, two-thirds of businesses with employees survive at least two years. Half of businesses survive past five years. Downturns have no significant effect on business’s survival rate. 
  • Out of 80 failed startups, 34% said that the main reason they failed product-market fit. 22% quoted marketing problems and 18% team problems. Another survey backs this up: Out of 101 failed businesses, 42% said there was no market-fit. 29% didn’t have enough cash, 23% didn’t have the right team, and 19% were outcompeted. 
Reasons why businesses fail graph
  • 45% of business owners say that generating new business is moderately or very challenging.
  • Research by the Centre of European Economic Research, which studied 8,400 companies, shows that entrepreneurs who have succeeded in the past are no more likely to succeed with their next venture. Entrepreneurs who failed with their past venture were more likely to fail than new entrepreneurs. On the other hand, other research shows that serial entrepreneurs do outperform new entrepreneurs with 98% higher sales. 

Why do entrepreneurs succeed? 

  • Among the fastest-growing tech companies, the average founder is 45 years old. A 50-year old founder is nearly twice as likely to succeed than a 30-year old. 
  • According to Statista, the most profitable industries in the US in 2020 were: Banks, broadcasting, financial services, transportation, investments and asset management, software, real estate, semiconductor, precious metals, information services, drugs (pharmaceutical), and brokerage and investment banking. 

But there’s other research to contradict this. For example, McKinsey lists pharma/medical devices, technology hardware, IT and business services, media, consumer discretionary products, consumer staples, hospitality services, health-care services, retail, construction, and automobiles as the most profitable industries. 

  • A study of 530 B2B buyers showed that some of the most important qualities in the entrepreneurs they buy from are taking the time to understand their needs, involve them in decisions, brainstorm, show useful information, show commitment, fulfill promises, and adhere to agreed-on principles and standards. 
  • A study of 2,000 entrepreneurs shows that 58% spend time with their family in the evenings and 55% keep their weekends free for loved ones. One-third of successful entrepreneurs have turned to a mentor or support group (something only 14% of those with failed businesses have done). 49% of successful business owners invested in social media, PR, and advertising compared to 20% of those who failed. 

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Who are the founders of the 20 most valuable brands in the world?

By now, you have a pretty good understanding of what an entrepreneur does and why some of them go on to build huge businesses. 

But why do some companies succeed better than any other companies out there? 

I decided to figure it out by compiling some stats on the 20 most valuable brands in the world. 

I answer questions such as… 

Who are these entrepreneurs? In what industry are they in? Did they start off as self-funded or with venture capital money? 

The 20 most valuable brands are: 

  • Apple
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Amazon
  • Facebook
  • Coca-Cola
  • Disney
  • Samsung
  • Louis Vuitton (LVMH)
  • McDonald’s 
  • Toyota
  • Intel
  • NIKE
  • AT&T
  • Cisco
  • Oracle
  • Verizon
  • Visa
  • Walmart
  • GE

You can see the full list here

And here are the results: 

Year of founding

business statistic year founded

Gender of founder(s)

genders of founders graph

Age of founder(s)

Age of founders statistic

Type of founder

Type of founder statistic

Country (headquarters)

Business founder country graph

Industry

Business industry graph

Revenue

Business revenue graph

Self-funded vs. external funding

Business funding graph

Now you know what the statistics look like. But what about the actual entrepreneurs who started these businesses — who are they? And why did they get started? (Hint: They aren’t that different from you and me.)

That’s what we’ll look at next. 

Chapter 3: The most successful entrepreneurs and how they grew their businesses

How did some of the most famous entrepreneurs get started? And how did they succeed? 

I love these types of stories! There’s something to be learned about who they are (not always the richest kid in school!) and how they got started (often after many failures). 

Here below, you get a list of some of the most successful entrepreneurs and their founder stories. 

Elon Musk

Born: June 28, 1971

Business: PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla (among others)

Net worth: $91.7 billion (Forbes)

Quote: “I could either watch it happen or be a part of it.”

Elon Musk, who grew up in South Africa before moving to Canada and the US, is the founder of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla, founder of The Boring Company, co-founder of Neuralink, and co-founder of OpenAI. 

Musk attended Queen’s University in Canada before graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and dropping out of his Ph.D. program at Stanford University. At age 24, he co-founded his first company, Zip2, a software business that got funding from angel investors and sold for $340 million when Musk was 27. He then went on to found X.com, an online bank, that merged with the company we today know as PayPal. A few years later, PayPal was bought for $1.5 billion. 

What makes Musk different? He is in business essentially to save humanity by colonizing Mars. (No small goal.)

Mark Zuckerberg

Born: May 14, 1984

Business: Facebook

Net worth: 98.1 billion (Forbes)

Quote: You are better off trying something and having it not work and learning from that than not doing anything at all.”

Mark Zuckerberg was born in White Plains, New York, and launched Facebook in 2004 from his Harvard University dorm room. He eventually dropped out of Harvard to build his business, which grew to 1,200-1,500 registrants in its first 24 hours. Now Facebook boasts 1.69 billion users. (Also, fun fact: In high school, he co-created an app that can be described as an early version of Spotify or Pandora. Microsoft almost acquired the venture but Zuckerberg and his co-creator patented the invention and went to Harvard instead.)

Steve Jobs

Born: February 24, 1955

Died: October 5, 2011

Business: Apple Inc, NeXT, Pixar 

Quote: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

Steve Jobs, who grew up in San Francisco, co-founded Apple Inc. in 1976. He also founded NeXT and was an early investor in Pixar. Before founding Apply, Jobs attended Reed College but he dropped out to travel through India. Apple launched the first successfully mass-produced microcomputer and the first mass-produced computer with a graphical user interface. 

Jobs left Apple in 1985 to found NeXT (which wasn’t much of a success) and he also helped fund Pixar. In 1997, he returned to Apple and went on to build it to one of the most valuable companies in the world by launching products like the iPod and iPhone. 

Jessica Alba

Born: April 28, 1981

Business: Honest Company

Net worth: $340 million (Forbes)

Quote: “You have to be brutally honest with yourself and understand your strengths and weaknesses.”

Jessica Alba grew up in California and started her acting career at age 13. In 2011, Alba co-founded The Honest Company, which sells baby, personal, and household products. She’s also a New York Times bestselling author of the book “The Honest Life.” 

The Honest Company is valued at just under $1 billion. The idea for The Honest Company came from Alba’s own childhood illnesses and after her baby laundry gave her a welt outbreak. (Fun fact: It took Alba three years to find her business partners for The Honest Company.)

Jack Ma

Born: September 10, 1964

Business: Alibaba and Taobao (among others)

Net worth: $52.1 billion (Forbes)

Quote: “It doesn’t matter if I failed. At least I passed the concept on to others. Even if I don’t succeed, someone will succeed.”

Jack Ma was born in Hangzhou, China, and his first job after college was as a lecturer in English and international trade (he had learned English by showing tourists around and writing to English-speaking pen pals). Ma also applied ten times to Harvard Business School, but never got accepted. (Goes to show that even billionaires fail from time to time.)

In 1994, Ma started his first company, a translation agency. And in 1995, he, together with a friend, started his first online business, a website that provided information about China. Within three years, the company had made $800,000. 

Ma started helping Chinese companies to build websites (without writing the code himself). He then briefly headed a company established by the Chinese state before he created Alibaba, the B2B marketplace. He went on to found other e-commerce related ventures, including Taobao Marketplace and Alipay. Alibaba is today one of the ten most valuable companies in the world.

Oprah Winfrey

Born: January 29, 1954

Business: Harpo Films (among others)

Net worth: $2.6 billion (Forbes)

Quote: “When you’re open to receiving them, the possibilities just keep on coming.”

Oprah Winfrey was born to a poor single mother in Mississippi and literally had to wear potato sacks as dresses (that’s the level of poverty she grew up in). But as a talented speaker, she quickly landed a job at a radio show. From there, her talk host career began and at age 32, Oprah had become a millionaire.

At one point, Oprah was the richest self-made woman in America. She is an investor in Weight Watchers and owns her own cable show, OWN.

Jeff Bezos

Born: January 12, 1964

Business: Amazon

Net worth: $203.5 billion (Forbes)

Quote: “If you never want to be criticized, for goodness’ sake don’t do anything new.”

Jeff Bezos graduated from Princeton University and during the next eight years, he worked various jobs on Wall Street. In 1994, he set up Amazon, which initially was an online bookstore. Today, Amazon is the most valuable brand in the world and sells everything from products to services. 

Jack Dorsey

Born: November 19, 1976

Business: Twitter and Square

Net worth: $8.7 billion (Forbes)

Quote: “Success is never accidental.”

Jack Dorsey was born in Missouri. He was a talented programmer already as a teenager and by age 14, he had created a dispatch logistics software that is still used by taxicab companies. He was enrolled in New York University but dropped out before graduating.

Before Twitter, Dorsey started a company to dispatch couriers, taxis, and emergency services. That’s where he got the idea for Twitter (as a service for sending instant messages). Together with his co-founders, he started the company in 2006.

Mark Cuban

Born: July 31, 1958

Business: MicroSolutions and Audionet (among others)

Net worth: $4.2 billion (Forbes)

Quote: “I’m continuously looking for ways to improve all my companies, and I’m always selling. Always.”

After working as a bartender and a salesperson for a software company, Mark Cuban started his own company, MicroSolutions, in 1983. In 1990, he sold the company and started another, which eventually became Broadcast.com, together with co-founders. This company was sold for $7.5 billion in Yahoo! stocks. Cuban continues to work in various companies and he is a judge in the show Shark Tank, as well as a startup investor. 

Barbara Corcoran

Barbara Corcoran

Born: March 10, 1949

Business: The Corcoran Group

Net worth: $80 million (Investopedia)

Quote: “Don’t you dare underestimate the power of your own instinct.” 

Barbara Corcoran was born in New Jersey and after a few odd jobs in New York City, she and her boyfriend started their own real estate business in 1973. After splitting from her boyfriend, she founded The Corcoran Group and in 2001, that business sold for $66 million. Today, Corcoran is a judge on Shark Tank

Daymond John

Born: February 23, 1969

Business: FUBU

Net worth: $300 million (Investopedia)

Quote: “The time will never be perfect, you can only make perfect use of your time.”

Daymond John was born in Brooklyn, New York City, and grew up in Queens. He started FUBU, his clothing brand, from his mother’s house. His mother also taught him how to sew and took out mortgages to help John grow the business. John was smart about his marketing — by loaning his products to rappers, he got free product placements in several music videos and positioned his brand as a street brand. To this day, FUBU has earned over $6 billion in global sales. John is also a shark on Shark Tank

Patrick and John Collison

Born: September 9, 1988 and August 6, 1990

Business: Stripe

Net worth: $3.2 billion (Forbes)

Quote: There’s a lot of people who are really excited about tons of things. Only a subset of those are excited about completing things.” – Patrick Collison

Patrick and John Collison, born in Ireland, co-founded their first business in 2007. The company merged with another business and sold for $5 million. In 2010, they went on to found Stripe, a financial services software business. In 2016, after Stripe was valued at $9.2 billion, the brothers became the world’s youngest self-made billionaires. 

Sara Blakely 

Born: February 27, 1971

Business: Spanx

Net worth: $1 billion (Forbes)

Quote: “It’s important to be willing to make mistakes.”

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, grew up in Florida, graduated from Florida State University, and started selling fax machines door-to-door. She got the idea for Spanx from her sales job, as she had to wear pantyhose at the job and noticed that they made her body feel firmer.

She eventually persuaded a hosiery mill to produce her idea and the prototype was created over the next year. Spanx was first sold at Neiman Marcus Group and Blakely hustled to get the product’s sales going, for example by asking friends to buy it. 

She had also sent samples to Oprah, who named it a “Favorite Thing” on her show. In its first year, Spanx made $4 million and $10 million in its second year. In 2012, Blakely was named as the youngest self-made billionaire. 

Ben Chestnut 

Born: 1973/1974

Business: Mailchimp 

Net worth: $2 billion (Forbes)

Quote: “There’s a sense of purpose here that makes us want to come to work and build great products.”

Ben Chestnut grew up in Georgia and attended the University of Georgia and Georgia Institute of Technology. In 2001, he founded Rocket Science Group, which is better known as Mailchimp. Ben and his co-founder got the idea for Mailchimp after seeing an e-greeting site, BlueMountain.com, get sold for more than $700 million in the 90s. 

When their own e-greeting site didn’t take off, they started a web design agency. And that’s when clients started to ask them for a software that would let them design and send emails, as well as track results. Today, Mailchimp has 15 million users without ever taking in any venture capital money. 

Richard Branson 

Richard Branson

Born: July 18, 1950 

Business: Virgin Group (among others)

Net worth: $4.5 billion (Forbes)

Quote: “Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.”

Richard Branson was born in London, UK, and he quickly started working on different businesses. His first ventures failed, but at age 17, Branson set up a student magazine that started to take off. By age 20, he had set up a mail-order record business and a few years later, he set up a chain of record stores. In the 1980s, he started Virgin Airlines and expanded his music label. 

Melanie Perkins 

Born: May 31, 1987

Business: Canva

Net worth: c. $1.3 billion (Women’s Agenda)

Quote: “Having crazy big ideas and chasing after them can be intimidating but it pushes you to try harder and dream even bigger.”

Melanie Perkins grew up in Australia. She attended the University of Western Australia before dropping out to build her first business, Fusion Books, a service that let people design their own yearbooks. With her co-founders, she then went on to develop Canva, a drag-and-drop design service, with the technology they already owned. Today, Canva is used by millions of businesses and people and it’s worth over $8 billion. 

Reading about all these successful entrepreneurs might seem overwhelming. After all, many of them are billionaires… That’s very much out of your reach, right?

But remember: There are so many different ways to do this. I myself built a multimillion-dollar business without funding and I got started when I was in a full-time job. 

I didn’t have anything else (no network or funds) than my laptop. Within a year, I had made over $1 Million in sales.

first year business income graph

That’s not to say it was easy — it wasn’t. But it goes to show: Building a business, and one that generates a good amount of revenue, is possible. 

Just like the founders here above, everyone starts somewhere. 

Inspiring quotes on entrepreneurship by famous entrepreneurs 

Let’s stay with the founders for just one minute longer. Because they DO give some pretty fantastic tips on business and how to become an entrepreneur. 

After scouring the Internet, I compiled the best entrepreneur quotes I could find here below (have one you want to add? Post it in the comments!): 

“I think a simple rule of business is, if you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress.” – Mark Zuckerberg 

Mark Zuckerberg quote

“You think focusing is about saying “Yes.” No. Focusing is about saying “No.” And when you say “No,” you piss off people.” – Steve Jobs 

Steve Jobs quote

“At the company, we like to say we’re honest, not perfect. We really listen to our customers and our internal teams to pivot as quickly as possible when it comes to addressing any challenges.” – Jessica Alba

Jessica Alba quote

“I know nothing about technology, I know nothing about marketing, I know nothing about (the legal) stuff. I only know about people.” – Jack Ma 

Jack Ma quote

“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but on significance — and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.” – Oprah Winfrey

Oprah quote

“If you’re not stubborn, you’ll give up on experiments too soon. And if you’re not flexible, you’ll pound your head against the wall and you won’t see a different solution to a problem you’re trying to solve.” – Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos quote

“You don’t have to start from scratch to do something interesting.” – Jack Dorsey

Jack Dorsey quote

“Sweat equity is the most valuable equity there is. Know your business and industry better than anyone else in the world. Love what you do or don’t do it.” – Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban quote

“The difference between successful people and others is how long they spend feeling sorry for themselves.” – Barbara Corcoran

Barbara Corcoran quote

“Differentiate yourself! Why are you different? What’s important about you? Why does the customer need you?” – Sara Blakely

Sarah Blakely quote

“One thing is certain in business. You and everyone around you will make mistakes.” – Richard Branson

Richard Branson quote

“If you can offer a free tier that provides a lot of value, it will naturally help your product to spread much more rapidly.” – Melanie Perkins

Melanie Perkins quote

“If we tried to think of a good idea, we wouldn’t have been able to think of a good idea. You just have to find the solution for a problem in your own life.” – Brian Chesky, Co-founder of Airbnb

Brian Chesky quote

“One of the greatest skills of leadership is being unflappable. Anytime you do anything in the world; there’s going to be criticism.” – Arianna Huffington, Co-founder and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group

Arianna Huffington quote

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Chapter 4: The top entrepreneur characteristics

Here’s the thing:

In the last 10-20 years, it’s become fairly easy to start a business. Today, you can set up your website in minutes with WordPress and start reaching your customers on social media.

That’s how I was able to start my now multiple 7-figure business. 

But not everyone who sets up a website and starts a business will succeed. Actually, most won’t. 

Over the years, I’ve helped thousands of students start and grow their own businesses. And there are a few characteristics that my top students share. Those are the students who end up building multiple 6-figure and 7-figure businesses. 

The good news?

You can learn and develop these characteristics and skills. 

Here they are: 

1) Successful entrepreneurs think differently 

Entrepreneurs who succeed are problem-solvers.

Instead of thinking, “Will this work for me?”, they think, “How can I make this work for me?”

Successful entrepreneurs don’t stop because of a problem. They find a way around it and continue working on their goal despite obstacles. 

This is key because entrepreneurs face a long line of rejections and failures (including but not limited to a “no” from potential customers, tech problems, and marketing failures). And only those entrepreneurs who work through them will succeed. 

For example:

My client Cristina is a naturopathic doctor who was new to the online world. She joined my program looking for advice on how to find her audience and create an offer that would bring her first paying coaching clients.

Cristina Cantu client example

Not only did she do the work I recommended for her, but she also took it a step further on her own, offering to do free, no-strings attached Facebook lives with strategic partners in response to what she’d seen her ideal clients struggle with.

What happened?

She reached hundreds of people, booked in several sales calls, and closed her first online client ever.

2) Successful entrepreneurs are consistent

My best students get up and do their work every… single… day. Even if they’re tired from work or have gotten multiple rejections, they still manage to get their work done.

I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have been able to build my own multiple 7-figure business without doing the work every day. At the time, I had a stressful managerial job at a tech startup in New York City, so I didn’t have a lot of time in my calendar. 

But I still got it done. That’s what led me to grow a 6-figure business in four months. 

Entrepreneurs who succeed see their business as a job, not a hobby. Consistent action moves your business forward. 

3) Successful entrepreneurs are fast action takers 

Look: Too often, people think, “Is this the best use of my time?”, “Will I look stupid?”, or “What if they reject me?”

That’s not what my successful students do. Instead, they are fast at implementing my advice. They know that they don’t have to be perfect, but they do need to get it done. 

An example?

When I recommended that my client David do twice the usual work and test two completely different markets when he started his business, he didn’t balk. He buckled down and did it.

And within a few short weeks, he became one of the fastest growing health coaches in two separate — and already very crowded — markets.

David Alsieux client example

4) Successful entrepreneurs focus on wins 

Most entrepreneurs start out at $0. So making $15,000 can seem overwhelming and impossible. If you only focus on what you don’t have ($15,000), you’ll easily get discouraged. Thinking, “I’ve only made so and so much money and I still have $10,000 to go” isn’t helpful.

My successful students? They look at what they’ve achieved. Thinking “I went from no business to $1,500” sounds way more exciting than wallowing in things you want, right? 

When I see a student who checks off all four characteristics, I know she will be successful. 

But that’s not all.

There are other characteristics that successful entrepreneurs share. 

Science-backed characteristics of successful entrepreneurs 

I’m a science nerd at heart (former International Space Station engineer here!). I know that success isn’t magic and to back it up, I went through tons of scientific studies. These studies confirm it: Success comes down to characteristics (and make no mistake, these can be learned). 

These include: 

One paper by the University of Lancashire lists the following traits:

  • The need for achievement
  • Innovativeness
  • Proactive personality 
  • Self-efficacy 
  • Stress tolerance
  • The need for autonomy
  • Locus of control (whether a person believes they are in charge of their success or not) 
  • Risk-taking (But not as much as you might think — studies show that people who take big risk are likelier to have lower sales than people who are more risk-averse) 

A meta-analysis from 2010 shows that entrepreneurial performance is positively affected by conscientiousness, openness to experience, emotional stability, and extraversion (but both introverts and extroverts start successful businesses). 

One study of North American architectural woodwork firms found that goals, self-efficacy, and communicated vision are directly connected to a firm’s growth. 

Chapter 5: How to become an entrepreneur

Now you have an answer to the question:

What is an entrepreneur? 

But my guess is: 

You want to learn how to become one.

That’s why I’ve put together this mini-guide to help you get started right away. 

Back when I was in my 9-5 and I didn’t personally know a single entrepreneur, I used to think that having an online business required luck and special connections.

But you’d be surprised how possible it can be once you have the right steps to follow. 

Here below, you get those steps. I’ll also share common misconceptions that might be holding you back. (And how to overcome them.)

Step #1: Solve a problem

The #1 job of an entrepreneur is to solve a problem.

No, this doesn’t mean that you need to find a new problem to solve. 

Instead, it could be as simple as finding a service people need.

Let me explain:

I started my first service-based business by offering digital advertising consulting to business owners. 

There are plenty of business owners who need help with reaching their customers. I didn’t need to develop an app or come up with a new social network to help them achieve that goal. 

And it ended up earning me over $100,000 in four months. 

Here and here I share some of my favorite business ideas and here I talk more about what problem to solve. 

Step #2: Start your own business

Actually starting your business comes down to choosing your business model.

And your business model depends on what you want to sell. My strong recommendation for first-time entrepreneurs is an online service-based business.

This type of business has a wide range of benefits: 

  • It’s easy to set up. You only need your laptop and an internet connection. 
  • It’s profitable. There are plenty of services with a high perceived value, such as coaching and consulting. 
  • It’s scalable. You can scale your service business by eventually turning your services into e-courses, which are scalable and profitable. (This is how I grew my business to $1+ million in my first year in business.)

Read my guide on choosing your business model. 

Blog post example

Step #3: Market and sell your services/products 

And step #3 is to start marketing and selling your services or products. 

This comes down to one thing: 

Giving value to your clients. 

When I started my digital advertising business, I didn’t have a fancy marketing funnel. Instead, I just answered people’s questions in Facebook groups.

Soon enough, people reached out to me to ask how they could pay me to help them.

I didn’t have a website, a lot of extra time on my hands (I had a job, mind you), or much confidence in myself. 

But within just a few weeks, I had my first paying client. (Who instantly said “Yes!” when I shared my price of $5,000. Sweet!) 

Payment first paying client

Here are my 26 favorite marketing strategies and here are 103 strategies to find clients online (no matter where you are in your business). 

Common misconceptions you might have about entrepreneurship

Why do entrepreneurs hold themselves back? 

I’ll tell you why:

Because they believe one or several of these misconceptions.

“I don’t have a business idea.”

You don’t need a “business idea.” Most businesses don’t build on an innovative product. Instead, successful businesses tend to be tweaks of existing ideas. 

That’s why your skills are enough. You can get started a business selling your services right away. 

“I don’t have a website.”

If you’re thinking, “I need a website to start a business,” think again. 

You don’t need a website. I made multiple 5-figures in my business before I created my first website. 

People are not going to care about your website when you’re brand new. Just direct them to your LinkedIn page as a way to learn more about you. 

“I don’t have funding.”

Think you need funding? Good news: You don’t.

You can get started right now with an extremely low-cost business (coaching or consulting). 

Also, funding isn’t always a great deal. When you accept funding, you’re either taking on a loan or giving away parts of your company. If your goal is to create more freedom and profitability, I don’t recommend it. 

(Note: I haven’t taken on a dime in my business. It generates multiple millions after five years in business and without a big team. Which leads me to the next misconception…)

“I don’t have a team.”

No, you don’t need a team. There’s a time and place for a team. But when you’re switching from a 9-5 to a business, you can (and should) do it on your own. 

A team means a lot of responsibility and management skills. I’ve never seen the point in building a team just because. Today (after five years in business), I outsource a lot of my business… But I would never add on team members just to inflate my team. 

“I don’t have an elevator pitch.”

Think an elevator pitch will make a big difference in your business? It won’t. People won’t magically be convinced they should pay you their hard-earned money.

Figure out why people buy from you and start selling your services. THAT’s how you get started. 

“I have a full-time job and no extra time.”

I started out in the corporate world. When I started building my business, I was working in a leadership position at a tech startup. I didn’t exactly have a lot of spare time… But by devoting my evenings and weekends to building my business, I was able to quit that job within four months. 

Building a business on the side doesn’t need to take more than an hour a day if you follow a proven strategy. (Like this one.)

Chapter 6: Further resources

Pumped to start your own business?

Glad to hear! To give you that extra push, I created this list with some of the top resources on starting a business/becoming an entrepreneur. 

My *best* entrepreneur book recommendations and resources. 

Books 

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber*

This is by far one of the best books on starting a business I’ve ever read. Read it to understand more about what types of businesses successful entrepreneurs start. 

Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz*

If you want to learn why someone is successful, it most likely comes down to their mindset. This is my favorite book on rewiring your mindset and by reading it, I’m sure you’ll get as many “ahas” as I got. 

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday*

Remember how we talked about successful entrepreneurs shrugging off failure and rejection? That’s what this book is all about. 

Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth by T. Harv Eker*

And finally, a book on mastering how you think about money. Too many entrepreneurs keep themselves stuck because of their money beliefs, but as this book shows, it doesn’t have to be like that.

Resources 

How to Become an Entrepreneur” 

My guide on becoming an entrepreneur. You learn everything you need to know about how to build your business, even if you’re starting from scratch. 

How to Write a Business Plan

I don’t necessarily recommend that you write a business plan, but I also know that many feel they need one to get started. Here, I show you how to write one without wasting time. 

Start an Online Business” 

My ultimate guide on starting an online business. Learn the EXACT steps to start a business and grow it.

Start a 6-Figure Coaching Business” 

If you read my other blog posts, you’ll notice that the business model I recommend that most is a coaching (or consulting) business for new entrepreneurs. There are many reasons for this — click through to read more. 

Start an Online Business Checklist and Toolkit” 

A checklist of what you need for your business when you’re just starting out, plus a toolkit with the best tools for an online business (website, email, and more). 

Want to Build a 6-Figure Coaching Business So You Can Achieve More Freedom?

Get Instant Access To My FREE Ultimate Guide Below!

When you sign up, you’ll also receive regular updates on building a successful online business.

Over to you!

There you have it. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “What is an entrepreneur?”, now you know.

Even the most successful founders start somewhere. And you can, too, by starting small (even with a skill you already have) and grow it from there. 

I’m curious: 

What founder do you admire and why? 

Let me know in the comments below. 

*Zhou Ventures, Inc. is a proud affiliate of these companies. If you use these links, we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

what is an entrepreneur

Hope you enjoy this blog post.

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How to Build a 6-Figure Coaching Business - Luisa Zhou-2

Want to Build a 6-Figure Coaching Business So You Can Achieve More Freedom?

Get Instant Access To My FREE Ultimate Guide Below!

When you sign up, you’ll also receive regular updates on building a successful online business.

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