Over the past two years, working as a journalist in Silicon Valley, I've interviewed around 100 entrepreneurs for TV news reports and Founder Stories. My encounters with these men and women, and hearing what's motivated them, has been the most satisfying part of my work.
Without exception, the founders I've met have been extremely smart idea-vangelists, bubbling with contagious enthusiasm and tenacity. They have a vision to make a change; they're facing down a problem and applying all of their nouse to render it obsolete. In many cases, they're giving up a lot of safety nets to do so -- selling their homes, exhausting their bank accounts and cashing in their pensions.
Their fields may be as diverse as food tech and pet care, but they all have common qualities, and if these are qualities you can identify in yourself, entrepreneurship might just be for you.
1. You're a status quo-buster
Spotted a problem that's like an itch you need to scratch? Dissatisfied with the inefficiency, complexity or inelegance of something? Want to bring an industry into the internet age? "As an entrepreneur, you're always in this position where you see a problem and you want to solve it," says Offir Gutelzon, CEO of Keepy, a mobile app that allows parents to collect and record memories of their children's development. "It's a constant state of frustration due to inefficiencies", says Xander Schultz, CEO of Complete, an app for tracking and fulfilling intentions. "I'm always looking for that one click, that simple solution."
2. You have a healthy relationship with risk
This doesn't mean you'll throw caution to the wind. The entrepreneurs who make it take calculated risks by sizing up the market opportunity -- and checking out their competitors -- before plunging in. Jason Demant, CEO of Asian food delivery service, Bento, says: "There are ways to start, working nights and weekends, testing your idea, building a customer base so when you do take a leap, you're certain you're not throwing everything away on some chance."
You also have to be self-aware enough to understand your own tolerance of risk. Sonny Tosco, CEO of image crowd-sourcing app Limelight, left a stable job to found his startup with neither a tech background nor a network. "I decided to leave corporate America and forego a pay check with a wife and kid to start Limelight," he says. "I'm the poorest I've been but the richest at heart I've been."
3. You're not afraid to ask for help
To be an entrepreneur, it's really beneficial to like people! Not only because people are ultimately your customers, and you need to find out what they want, but because no entrepreneur is ever successful in a vacuum. Finding good partners and good mentors is a major part of the process. According to Yosi Taguri, CTO of telecoms app Yallo, "it's simply impossible to do anything alone. It's all about complimenting yourself and complimenting your partners… it's like getting married, for the better and worse."
Fashion app Trench's CEO Adi Shemesh has this advice: "Find the people who are experts in the field you want to learn about and make sure that's what you get from them. It's a lot about chemistry."
4. You're a square peg in a round hole
Did you struggle to flourish at school under traditional teaching methods? Then you're like Julien Barbier, co-founder of jobs website TechMeAbroad. Have you toiled away at a big firm, trying to climb the corporate ladder but it just didn't suit? That's how it felt for Eve Peters, now CEO of instant dating app, Whim: "In my 20s, I kept jumping from one office job to another. I'd work for a year somewhere, then quit and try something else. Nothing ever felt right until I went off to pursue my own venture. That was the first time I felt aligned in my adult life." So if fitting into an established niche doesn't quite work for you, maybe it's time to create your own. That way you can determine its shape and size. "I always say that entrepreneurs are unemployable people!" jokes Offir Gutelzon.
5. You can turn a concept into cash
It helps to be able to spot a financial opportunity in whatever project you're cooking up. Voyages of exploration and discovery are great, but in the end, don't you want to make a living from all your hard work? If you can identify the utility in what you're offering, the demographic that will exchange hard cash for your product and service, and the best way to get them on board, then you're half way there.
Russian entrepreneur, Anton Yakovlev, who founded business contact marketplace SAEX, says: " [In the U.S.], the whole country is geared to work for entrepreneurs. Even if someone works for Google, he has something personal -- his own website or a blog -- and he's thinking about how to monetize. At some point it becomes a viable business and goes all the way."
6. You believe in, and forgive, yourself
You need to feel secure in what you have to offer the world, because you're going to have to convince others of it too. Employees will need to have faith in your vision and ability to lead. Investors will need to be won round by your self-belief and grit. Adi Shemesh says "your biggest limitation is yourself. Try to break all the barriers you have in your head. Don't make yourself, your business, the potential of it all small because it's not."
Xander Schultz says you also need to know when to forgive yourself. "when you're being entrepreneurial, there are a lot of failures throughout the process […] it's important to understand you can improve and having a hunger to improve without beating yourself up, eating yourself alive when you make mistakes."
7. You have a support network
You may not know all the right people to kickstart your business just yet -- but hopefully you know some who are going to support you emotionally through the highs and lows. Entrepreneurship can be lonely, and really helps to have a trusted circle of people around you to let off steam to.
Sonny Tosco says his support network has been a pivotal determining factor in his success: "Two of my best friends are founders of their own companies so they understand the highs and lows of running a business. I have had multiple Heinekens with them in order to celebrate and vent about milestones in the Limelight journey."
invisu.me CEO Donna Griffit started her company -- which helps startups create one-pagers for investors -- with her husband, Jonathan "who's been doing this since the age of 19 and who believes in me and coaches me through it. It's amazing working together!", she says.
8. You value flexibility over routine
The freedom to determine your own working hours at the helm of a startup is something Jason Demant really values: "I get to set my calendar every day, I'm setting the direction of the company with my co-founders and employees -- we get to decide where we go and how we get there and that's an extremely satisfying way to live a life in terms of business." If the neat structure of a 9-5, 40 hour working week really appeals, then the freewheeling timetable of an entrepreneurial venture probably won't.
You have to be prepared to pull immensely long hours -- but you can equally give yourself time off when needed. And of course you don't mind getting your hands dirty, or wearing many hats. "CEO stands for Chief Everything Officer," quips Offir Gutzelson.
9. You're decisive
There isn't much space in entrepreneurship for wavering. You'll be deluged with information and advice but it's up to you to cut through all the noise. Adi Shemesh warns that "everyone has an opinion but in the end I'm the only one who has all the necessary information to make decisions about my business. I'm the only one with the full picture." The "just do it" mentality is one close to Yosi Taguri's heart: "We're living very short lives - so I don't want to look back on the way out and say, oh I should have done this or that."
10. You dream big but think small
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" -- the well-known Chinese proverb is also Anton Yakovlev's motto. High aspirations are important for anyone who wants to make a difference, but it's important not to overwhelm yourself with trying to have a huge impact in the first month. Break it down.
Successful entrepreneurs "have huge goals that they want to reach but sprint towards short term milestones," says Xander Schultz. "Yes they want to get to a million users but they ask what's actionable this month, this week?"