posted on May 31, 2008 11:01
In talking with potential entrepreneurs looking to make the leap and with investors trying to figure out which entrepreneur to back, the conversation inevitably comes back to what are the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur? And with the Democratic primary season over – and the Democratic primary still raging on, I couldn’t help but thinking that Senator Hillary Clinton really ought to give entrepreneurship a try if she ends up needing a career change in a few weeks or months. Regardless of where you may stand politically, go with me on this one, you may end up convinced!
First, it doesn’t matter how you feel about Sen. Clinton, you have to agree that she has persistence and tenacity. While the majority of pundits wrote Sen. Clinton off months ago, she is blocking, tackling, and clawing her way to the finish line. I would argue that the most important characteristic of a successful entrepreneur is persistence and stamina. And after 18 months in this campaign, she has outlasted quite a few other candidates – and she still wakes up every day acting like a winner.
In addition to persistence, of course, a start-up needs cash. And Sen. Clinton has been a champion fundraiser. In spite of ever-decreasing odds of her being able to win the Democratic nomination, she is continuing to raise millions of dollars. Sen. Clinton has raised nearly $220 million since the beginning if this campaign. To put Sen. Clinton’s fundraising skills into perspective, her campaign coffers would put her in the range of the size of the average venture fund. Can you remember the time when a start-up in its last months raised that much money?
Sometimes, it’s all about timing. Good timing can come from being in the right place at the right time. Other times it can be in the form of your opponent or competitor being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either way, as Woody Allen has been known to say, “eighty percent of success is showing up.” It seems as though Sen. Clinton’s strategy is that if she has enough tenacity, cash, and just shows up, then maybe, just maybe, she can get a break in the form of good timing.
When a candidate starts a campaign, the race tends to be ideological and focuses on solving problems. As the race progresses, it turns to simply winning. For most successful businesses, the same pattern tends to hold true. In the late eighteen hundreds the Census Bureau estimated that it would be physically impossible to manually count the next Census. Therefore, out of necessity, Tom Watson invented the “counting Machine” and IBM was born. There are countless stories of how the most successful entrepreneurs are successful simply by focusing on solving a problem that competitors haven’t yet addressed.
Now obviously it takes unsurpassed political skills to make it to be a party’s candidate in the General Election. But think about the political skills that are critical in running a small business. It takes a great deal of political savvy to sell your company’s product; hire the best and brightest; keep the team motivated; attract additional rounds of funding; partner with other companies; and ultimately sell your start-up to a bigger fish.
Of course the biggest difference is that often times a second place start-up can still exit with dignity and more importantly profit. Unfortunately for Sen. Clinton, the only exit strategy for a second place presidential candidate is usually “retiring from political life to spend more time with my family.”