Human Intelligence

What makes a good entrepreneur?
Answered by Martha Stewart, Hugh Panero and 10 others
  • Martha Stewart

    Martha Stewart

  • Hugh Panero

    Hugh Panero

  • John L. Hennessy

    John L. Hennessy

  •  Brenda Way

    Brenda Way

  • Caterina Fake

    Caterina Fake

  • Colin Angle

    Colin Angle

  • Sheila C. Johnson

    Sheila C. Johnson

  • Megan Smith

    Megan Smith

  • Jay Walker

    Jay Walker

  • Steve Case

    Steve Case

  • Joi Ito

    Joi Ito

  • Eric Schmidt

    Eric Schmidt

  1. Martha Stewart Founder, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia


    Well, to be an entrepreneur requires a kind of a strength of character that is missing in a lot of people. It's a persistence, taking an idea that you think is a really good idea and making that idea materialize into something. And I love the idea of being an entrepreneur. I think it's a wonderful way to live. It's exciting, challenging, very enlivening. And a lot of people gather around you and go, "Ra ra ra, let's do it," because they recognize a good idea also.

    I really think being an entrepreneur enables you to take that germ of an idea, that passionate belief that this is better than anything else heretofore, making it happen, and I have enjoyed so much meeting other entrepreneurs. Being a woman is no different than being a man and an entrepreneurial spirit. There are lots of great women entrepreneurs all over the world, and that I'm considered to be one and a successful one is just -- it's fun and exciting and rewarding.

    More answers from Martha Stewart »

  2. Hugh Panero Venture Partner, NEA


    It's a good question. I think it's all about risk. If you look at people; I think it's risk and passion. It's a balance of those things. Take somebody like a John Hendricks, who I've known for a number of years. He came up with kind of a crazy idea to develop a different kind of content, documentary educational content, going out to maybe a bunch of cable operators that weren't as sensitive to those issues but needed some kind of content. He convinced them. There's a lot of no's. No becomes something in your vocabulary and rejection becomes -- and the question becomes, at different points of your life, "Are you prepared for that?" Are you somebody who can go to your -- if there were credit cards back then, I don't know, but probably not -- can you go and mortgage your home or borrow money from your family on this idea? Do you have people around you to support you in that, or can you do it personally? I remember going through that process when we were interviewing people for things like the XM [Satellite Radio] or other companies we have. You gotta believe. You gotta be a believer because there's a lot of risk with these things.

    I remember you'd weed out the people that could survive in chaos and living for the moment. You don't know if you're gonna be able to make payroll. I think it closed down the next day, but you still believe in it. Then you have to wait for the stars to align, where it all kind of works out. The story of a company like Groupon … that started off as another kind of business model that didn't work. This young guy, Andrew Mason, brilliantly came up with a different strategy, and suddenly it's the hottest thing on the planet.

    I just think it's a question that you ask everyone about. What is their tolerance for risk? I think that's why many people -- when they're younger, when they don't see all of the windmills out there that they have to fight or maybe they know that they're windmills and they're not monsters -- that that's why there are younger entrepreneurs. There are people who just sort of have a bug for it. They just love it. This is what they live for.

    I have people who have been very successful at it, and they're very wealthy people who have self-actualized in many other ways and contributed back. I have other people who just have never quite hit it and just keep doing it though because they're very much like the war photographer who gets an adrenaline rush. This is what gets them off. This is what makes them happy.

    More answers from Hugh Panero »

  3. John L. Hennessy President, Stanford University


    When we had done our early research in the 1980s that helped develop the RISC ideas and develop what would eventually become a company, my initial reaction was, "These are such great ideas, we'll just publish the papers and it'll be so obvious to everybody in the industry that this is a terrific idea." And one of my mentors and senior colleagues who had started then the second largest computer company in the world – Gordon Bell who had helped start DEC – came along and said, "This technology isn't going anywhere unless you help get a company started." And he convinced me that particularly some of the most revolutionary ideas, you have to be willing to put your heart and soul into them to take them out there, because they're disruptive to the market. Lots of things happen. It's very hard to get over the N.I.H. process, this "not invented here" syndrome that we have.

    So I did it because I saw it as a way to ensure that this technology would get out beyond the limits of the university and publication in academic journals. But since then, I've seen it as an opportunity to really help change the world, and see things advance, and as a way to move things at a much faster pace than would occur if we didn't have this entrepreneurial processes and these new companies starting. They really rapidly increase the pace. And you just look at as companies mature, they just slow down. They get less adventurous. They see that new idea as working on a market that's simply too small for them, now that they're a big company. And so they don't embrace that new idea. Now, of course, that new idea may eventually grow to become the next Internet, the next Google, the next Yahoo, the next Facebook. And it's that kind of excitement about changing the world that I think really excites me and I think lots of students and people.

    More answers from John L. Hennessy »

  4. Brenda Way Founder and Artistic Director, Oberlin Dance Collective


    Find the right people to work with. In the arts, make sure that the people you work with are operating at their intellectual best and not feeling soft and cozy in the arts. There are people who take off their business heads when they come into the arts room. I really surrounded myself with people who are rigorous and demanding, and also willing to risk. Entrepreneurial more than businesslike, I would say.

    That was one of the felicitous things about moving west, is that there is a culture of entrepreneurial adventure, so it didn't stand out. There were people who were willing to jump in and give this a try. So I think finding the right people to work with is big. And in the arts, if you're gonna go down, you might as well go down in flames. Honestly, I felt like, for me, there was really nothing to lose. Just give it your best shot.

    There was nothing to lose, because really the dance artists in particular have nothing. So trying to create something more than that wasn't really such a high bar.

    More answers from Brenda Way »

  5. Caterina Fake Entrepreneur, Co-Founder, Hunch and Flickr


    Well, one thing that entrepreneurs have in common is they're self-starters. They do not often fit well into big companies. They like to forge their own path. I have had this impulse in me since I was little. I started a company gluing shells to magnets and trying to sell them. I was one of those kids who had lemonade stands, and paper routes, and little businesses going all the time. I find that this is something that entrepreneurs have in common. They're the kind of people that just keep on making things, keep on doing things, keep on trying out new things, and without that impulse, without that desire to make and do, rather than analyze, you wouldn't get very far as an entrepreneur.

    You also have to be the kind of person who is unafraid of taking risks and failing. Failing is something that people very much try to avoid, and it's something that you do encounter when you go into big companies. You see people that are very successful, and they want to preserve that success. There's great research that was done by Thriske and Connoman, in which they talked about how people, once they have something, want to keep it. And that's much more important to them than forging a new path, and going out, and finding something new. They want to preserve and protect what they already have and this is something that is very common.

    Entrepreneurs suffer from it as well. You can have a sophomore slump, as an entrepreneur because you've been successful in the past. Say you've built a successful company, such as Flickr, and you're building a second company. What I really think you need to do is do something completely new. Take a lot of risks. Do something you've never done before. Invent stuff as you go along. But a lot of entrepreneurs will draw back and stick to what they know, and preserve their reputation because they have been successful, and they want to continue to be seen as successful again.

    More answers from Caterina Fake »

  6. Colin Angle Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, iRobot® Corp.

    Well, I think that first is: be patient. What you start out with, as your business plan, is almost certainly somewhat to mostly wrong, and so if you bet the farm immediately, you're going to be a very short-lived entrepreneur. If, instead, you honestly explore this first area, but have a planning horizon which allows you to change your plan, modify it based on what you've learned, and try again, you're going to be much more successful.

    I remember in year two of iRobot. I sat down with my other founders and we said, "You know, if we're ever successful, we'll feel OK, because we've suffered." That was in year two. Now, Roomba didn't come out until year 12, so it does take some time -- a long time. And certainly in iRobot's case we entered and exited 18 different businesses before we were able to develop the Roomba business and the PackBot business, which became the anchors that allowed us to really scale, go public and have some measure of economic success.

    Roomba was a bit of a surprise. We knew it was cool. We negotiated hard with the board so we could build 15,000 units in our first run, with a backup of 10,000, and yet in the first three months of sale we sold 70,000 robots, and that was the singular event which changed us from a $10 million-a-year company to something much more interesting.

    I used to think that I was a self-respecting high tech entrepreneur, and now it took me becoming a vacuum cleaner salesman to actually have some success, and there's a lesson there.

    More answers from Colin Angle »

  7. Sheila C. Johnson CEO, Salamander Hotels & Resorts President and Managing Partner of the Washington Mystics


    The ability to realize you're not the smartest person in the world, OK? It's all about teamwork. You can have the greatest idea, but if you're not able to execute that vision, to communicate it, to be collaborative, to come to consensus, you're not going to get anywhere at all.  I think it's just so important to become a true leader that you have to have give and take. You have to really be able to listen to your colleagues, to be able to sit back and think about their ideas. Not put them down, but to able to be part of a collective team and to listen to what they want to say, how they want to become vested in your vision. Because if you keep pushing them aside, no one's going to work together and your vision will never get executed.

    More answers from Sheila C. Johnson »

  8. Megan Smith Vice President, New Business Development, Google Inc.


    Great entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. There are great entrepreneurs who are the leader, the person with the crystal of the idea, and there are the great entrepreneurs around them, because anything takes a small team. I've been really lucky to work with extraordinary entrepreneurs. I got to do acquisitions for Google, and sometimes I think that founders are somehow genetically predisposed to do what they do. It's like they're so driven. They believe in what it is that they want to do. They see it. They don't see it so rigidly that it's a fixed thing that they can't iterate and learn and move as the world impacts them, as competitors, other ideas, or implications come. But there's an agility to them, but a certainty, and those two things are really powerful.

    The best founders are able to team up with other people who are kind of generalists who can help them get moving, whether it's a technical type in the technology world to help program or code or make the back end of the service, or a partnerships person, or someone who knows how to sell things or find partners or bring resources towards the idea in the different forms.       

    So I think that the best entrepreneurs are these agile, clear people, and they just go for it, and they're so fun to work with and be around.

    More answers from Megan Smith »

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