Archives for October 9, 2018

This Survey of 1,300 Harvard Business School Alumni Reveals the 5 Skills You Need to Succeed as an Entrepreneur

Do you admire leaders like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who have turned their ideas into world-leading public companies? I certainly do. But it is one thing to admire such leaders and another thing to have the skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur.

Which raises an important question: What skills do successful founders have that other business leaders lack? Thanks to a survey of 1,300 Harvard Business School alumni, here are the five key skills — out of 11 examined by the researchers — at which entrepreneurial leaders distinguish themselves compared to non-founders.

1. Identification of Opportunities

Founders excel in skills and behaviors associated with the ability to identify and seek out high-potential business opportunities, according to the research. This should come as no surprise. But what makes for a great business opportunity? 

My interviews with hundreds of entrepreneurs reveal four tests:

  • Does the product relieve deeply-felt customer pain that other companies are ignoring?
  • Does the founder have a passion for doing a market-beating job of solving that problem?
  • Does the startup’s founding team have the critical skills to build that solution?
  • Is the market opportunity large enough — e.g., at least $1 billion? 

2. Vision and Influence

Founders have strong abilities to influence all internal and external stakeholders that must work together to turn a strategy into action and results.

Harvard researchers found that entrepreneurial leaders have more confidence of their abilities to provide vision and influence than the average leader — and that leaders working within established firms actually rated themselves much lower.

As I wrote in my 2012 book, Hungry Start-up Strategy, a successful entrepreneur is able to attract and motivate talent by creating what I called emotional currency — rather than paying people more money than Google does, they offer a powerful mission which gives work at the startup much more meaning.

3. Comfort with Uncertainty

Entrepreneurial leaders are better able to “move a business agenda forward in the face of uncertain and ambiguous circumstances,” according to the researchers.

You’ll know whether you share this skill if you are willing to start a company even though you have no money, no product, and no customers — but you do have a clear idea of what problem you are trying to solve and what your solution will look like.

Starting there, successful entrepreneurs are far more comfortable living with the uncertainty needed to go from there to building a large company. 

4. Building Networks

One reason for founders’ comfort with uncertainty is that they are good at assembling the resources the startup needs because they can create professional and business networks that will help them realize their vision.

Indeed, many of the CEOs I’ve interviewed have told me that they often find themselves not knowing how to solve problems — but they are able to get advice from CEOs who have been there before.

5. Finance and Financial Management

Being able to raise capital and control cash flow are essential to a successful startup. The founders HBS surveyed were “much more confident in their skills at managing cash flow, raising capital, and board governance — than were non-founder alumni.”

My interviews this year with CEOs for my forthcoming book on scaling startups highlights that successful entrepreneurs are great at persuading investors to write them checks.

The most successful sales pitches for money emphasize the size of the market the company is targeting, the value that the company’s product provides for customers, and the rapid rate at which the company is winning new customers and retaining old ones who spend more on the company’s products.

Not surprisingly, there is one area where founders are not as good as non-founders — preference for established structure.

Entrepreneurial leaders have a lower preference for operating in more established and structured business environments and would rather “adapt to an uncertain and rapidly changing business context and strategy,” according to the HBS researchers.

If you are great in these five skill areas, you may just have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

7 Strategies to Maximize Your Productivity While Traveling

Whether you hate the idea of traveling or you actually look forward to it, it’s hard to deny that travel can sabotage your productivity–at least temporarily. It takes hours of planning and coordination to prepare for some trips, and hours to navigate airports, not to mention the actual time you spend traveling.

It can make a full day of responsibilities feel like a waste, and put you behind on achieving your goals. Fortunately, there are some helpful strategies that can make you more productive–no matter how you’re traveling.

Try using these tactics to get more done when you’re setting course on a major trip:

1. Get used to a different sleep cycle.

One of the biggest sources of productivity disturbance while traveling is the disruption in your sleep cycle. Depending on where you travel to, you could be dealing with timezone changes and jet lag, and you may not be able to get a comfortable eight hours of sleep when you’re used to getting it.

Instead, you can try a biphasic cycle or an everyman cycle, which rely on split patterns to break up your time sleeping; that way, travel may not have as big of an impact on you. The caveat here is that it takes time to get used to a new sleep cycle, so it’s best for frequent travelers only.

2. Take a private jet.

One of the biggest sources of time delay while traveling is navigating the airport; going through customs, waiting to board the plane, dealing with delays, etc., can add several unnecessary hours to your trip.

Taking a private jet allows you to circumvent most of these problems–and it’s cheaper than you think. If a few hundred dollars can save you literally hours of time, and afford you a better workspace when you’re flying, it’s likely worth the extra money.

3. Look for coworking spaces when you arrive.

Coworking spaces are popping up everywhere, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one at your destination. Instead of going straight to a hotel or meeting, check into one of these productivity hubs; you’ll be able to get coffee, work in a peaceful environment, and if you’re up for it, socialize with other people who may be in similar situations. It’s a great way to both decompress and get more work done, so take advantage of it.

4. Rely on audio.

While you’re driving, navigating the airport, or dealing with a lack of lighting or Wi-Fi, you won’t be able to work on your most important heads-down tasks–but that doesn’t mean you can’t be productive.

Try focusing on audio-specific tasks when you can, listening to recordings of old meetings to prepare for the future, catching up on your favorite industry podcasts, and listening to audiobooks that can improve your skills or expand your professional horizons. There’s no shortage of audio content to plunder, so make good use of it.

5. Prepare travel-specific tasks.

While traveling, you won’t be able to do tasks that require multiple monitors, or meet with your teammates in person. You’ll have limited space, and in some cases, limited Wi-Fi connectivity.

Prepare tasks that you can work on under these conditions, so you don’t run out of things to do. As long as you have a few days’ heads-up, you can handle your least travel-friendly tasks in advance, and set yourself up to work offline for the next several hours.

6. Say “no” and delegate.

New things are going to come to your attention before and during your travel; for example, you might get a client email requesting a change to a piece of work you submitted. If this is the type of work that can’t be done efficiently when traveling, don’t bend over backwards trying to do it; instead, tell them you’re traveling, and not able to do it right now.

If it’s an emergency, or if you won’t be able to get to it for a while, consider delegating it to someone who can handle it.

7. Rest (if you can).

To some people, sleeping may seem like the opposite of productivity. But in reality, sleeping is one of the best things you can do for your mental energy and cognitive capacity. It can even reduce your susceptibility to illness and improve your overall physical health.

Accordingly, if it’s possible for you to take a nap during a long flight or car ride, take advantage of the opportunity. Use a face mask, a neck pillow, or some comforting white noise from your headphones–whatever you need to get some extra shuteye when you’re between destinations. You’ll thank yourself later.

Finding Your Own Style

Not everyone is going to travel the same way. For example, some people may not be able to read while in a vehicle, and some may have trouble sleeping on airplanes. The goal isn’t to fall in line with a series of productive habits, but rather to craft your own habits to maximize your personal productivity. Learn which strategies and actions suit you best, and customize your own set of approaches.