One myth of entrepreneurship is more powerful than all others combined. Thanks to a culture that glorifies long hours, founders have convinced themselves that hard work correlates directly with success. Someone who works 23 hours a day and naps under the desk during lunch is bound to launch the next unicorn, right? This is a founder traits more important than drive? Not so.
Fortunately for people who like to sleep, drive is not the most important trait of successful entrepreneurs. Dedication helps, but billion-dollar valuations are built upon more than late nights and weekends at the office.
Rather than skip dinner to answer emails, work on developing these traits and skills:
1. Time management.
No matter how hard you work, you can’t defeat nature.
Your body still needs to sleep, eat, rest and fulfill the occasional social obligation to keep your mind sharp. Stop trying to fit 40 hours of work into 24 hours a day and learn the art of time management. Figure out when you do your best work and schedule your hardest tasks for that time of day.
I like to get my big projects done in the morning, which is when most experts say humans are at their most productive. Look at your schedule of meetings and see if you can delegate some of that work to other people. As a rule of thumb, if someone else can do the work, let them do it so you can reserve your founder-exclusive knowledge for tasks that no one else can do.
2. Risk analysis.
Every disruptive startup receives praise for the risks its founders took along the way.
Bad founders take that statement of praise to mean they should gamble their seed money in Vegas or go all-in blindly on new markets. Good founders know how to assess the potential value of the choices in front of them and pick the right path (most of the time, anyway). Financial risks are not the only kinds of risks.
Commitments to floundering projects, forays into new markets and over-reliance on a small pool of clients all qualify as risky choices. Domino’s Pizza took a risk when it ran a campaign about how bad its pizza was. That the campaign became an enormous success is besides the point. Study the many successes and gigantic failures of other brands to learn which risks paid off and which ones aren’t worth the roll of the dice.
3. Resilience is a trait more important than drive.
Running a startup is a lot like dating — you’ll probably meet with rejection before you succeed.
Some people get lucky and only face rejection a few times, while others deal with dozens or even hundreds of failures before they strike it rich. Successful founders know that not every idea will work.
Booted from his own company on mutiple occasions, Elon Musk has seen his SpaceX rockets burst into flames. Even those catastrophes didn’t slow him down. Like every successful entrepreneur, Musk understands that the path to greatness is littered with good ideas that didn’t turn out. Sometimes, the only thing that separates a startup success from an also-ran is one more try.
4. Ethics is a noble trait to inspire within your company.
Startup culture is unapologetically cutthroat.
Companies undercut one another all the time, and founders who don’t know how to navigate the mayhem fold under the pressure. Just because the battleground is rough, however, does not give founders an excuse to fight dirty. Founders must operate ethically both on the budget sheet and in the office.
Scandals of Sexual harassment have taken down dozens of big players in Silicon Valley. Gratefully, this means founders cannot afford to overlook unacceptable behavior within their companies — not even for their best performers. They also can’t afford to cheat investors or the IRS. There are plenty of reasons and resources to sniff out financial dishonesty in your ranks. Just don’t allow it.
Billionaires like Bill Gates are famous for their voracious reading habits.
Curious people are more likely to find new solutions to existing problems than people who are satisfied with the status quo. Don’t take industry best practices at face value, look within your company and ask yourself if those practices make sense for your processes. Read books written by people you admire to prepare yourself for similar challenges. Stay updated on the latest trends in your industry and in other verticals, then think about whether that news could help you run a better company.
Startup founders work harder than most people, but don’t let your drive become your identity. A founder who works longer hours will not beat a founder who knows how to shake off failure. Knowing and understanding how to evaluate risks and how to lead a productive team is a place to place your curiosity and value. Rather than spend another night working on spreadsheets, take a step back and develop these traits and skills to increase the odds of your startup’s success.