What Type of Entrepreneur Are You? Dumb Question

I'm sick of tests claiming that certain traits make or break an entrepreneur.

E. Kelly Fitzsimmons, Co-founder, HarQen

December 23, 2013

3 Min Read

Dozens of online articles and tests purport to reveal what kind of entrepreneur you are. Give them 20 minutes, and they will reveal your entrepreneurial category. Are you an Opportunist (Richard Branson), Innovator (Mark Zuckerburg), Darth Vader (Al Dunlap)?

The assumption behind these tests is that entrepreneurs are born, not made. As a third-generation entrepreneur, I admit it's comforting to believe I'm genetically encoded this way. I'm in. You're out. (You can stop reading now.)

But what we are really talking about here is eugenics -- identify a few desirable traits and, voila, the birth of an entrepreneur. Following this logic a bit further, we should expect to find future venture capitalists requesting a DNA sample as part of due diligence. Missing the SNPs for curiosity, risk-taking, creativity, boldness? Say goodbye to your funding!

So, let's dig into this logic. Do all entrepreneurs have these commonly cited attributes? Hardly. Many entrepreneurs emerge first out of need, such as a chronic unemployment, and grow into successful business people. Worse yet, some of these "core" traits are gender-biased. Thanks to Springboard Enterprises, a venture catalyst of women-led startups, we have learned over the last 12 years that women founders tend to be far less risk-taking than their male counterparts. It's one of the reasons why 80% of Springboard 500+ companies are still in business.

[Are women the answer to the data scientist shortage? See Analytics: Where The Girls Are.]

So what do entrepreneurs have in common? I think there are some common behaviors. Unlike our peers, we are willing to endure discomfort for unreasonably long periods of time. Our success often comes from our inexplicable need to stay the course until the market (luck) turns in our favor. Once our hard effort (that's table stakes) happens to align neatly with an expanding market, we look like mad geniuses... and then we clean up our entrepreneurial narrative in post.

So if there is one test that may be valid here, perhaps it's the marshmallow test. The test was part of a longitudinal study that tracked 5-year-old children after they showed the extraordinary ability to NOT eat a marshmallow for 15 minutes. Their ability to endure the discomfort of self-denial for an unreasonably long period of time -- 15 minutes for a five-year-old child is ridiculous -- corresponded to higher SAT scores and less likelihood to obesity and drug addiction.

Now that I think about it, though, I would have failed the marshmallow test miserably at 5, as would have most entrepreneurs I know, since they tend not to be the very best rule followers. Perhaps tolerance for discomfort can be learned after all. 

E. Kelly Fitzsimmons has founded, led, and sold several technology startups. Currently, she is the co-founder and director of HarQen and co-founder of the Hypervoice Consortium.

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About the Author(s)

E. Kelly Fitzsimmons

Co-founder, HarQen

E. Kelly Fitzsimmons is a well-known serial entrepreneur who has founded, led, and sold several technology startups. Currently, she is the co-founder and director of HarQen, named one of Gartner’s 2013 Cool Vendors in Unified Communications and Network Systems and Services, and co-founder of the Hypervoice Consortium. In 2011, she was awarded the Silvertip PwC Entrepreneurship Award honoring the fastest-growing company within the Angel Capital Association portfolio. In 2013, Speech Technology magazine honored her with the Luminary Award. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Rochester and holds a master’s degree from Harvard University. 

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