Finding your Startup Equation

Science for entrepreneurs

Many people think that a successful entrepreneur has to be a single 20-something with a one-track business mind, a very expensive education, a laser-like focus on money, and chronic insomnia. That’s Hollywood for you. It’s all hype, and unfortunately it discourages many people who have that Next Great Idea.

The reality is quite different. A recent Duke University study of 549 startup founders discovered that most successful entrepreneurs are married with at least one child. They tend to be brilliant in high school but don’t necessarily complete college, never mind get a fancy MBA. They gain knowledge of their industry of choice by working in it for years. And, oh yeah, they aren’t always a he, thank you very much.

If you have what you think is a great idea for a business, you owe it to yourself to find out if you have what it takes to create a meaningful life as an entrepreneur. For the past few years, I’ve been pondering the elements of entrepreneurship while launching and working with startups during the past decade. What I’ve found is that there are complex elements that consistently comprise the business of starting a business. Collectively, I call these elements The Startup Equation. Crafting an entrepreneurial life revolves around building your Own Personal Startup Equation.

Personality and Approach: The two sides of the entrepreneurial coin

Before his son Laertes took a boat to Paris, Polonius offered this last piece of advice, “To thine own self be true.” No doubt Laertes was in a hurry to leave so he might be safe from his father’s long-winded speeches. The quote comes from Hamlet (Scene Act 1, Scene 3, 78-82, if you’re interested), and it basically means that we should stick to our principles, not assimilate, and that we should do what we believe. It’s certainly phrased beautifully, and invokes ideas with positive connotations: truth, self-ownership, individuality. These words resonate with us, and we bet with you when you think about what entrepreneurship means.

“To thine own self be true” is never more important than at the starting stage of your business.

After talking to entrepreneurs around the world leading startups of all kinds, we started to ask ourselves, “What traits might entrepreneurs share, but not every entrepreneur has equally?” Do different types of entrepreneurs exist?” The answer is definitely yes.

What’s your type?

Take a look at the graphic below. You’ll see nine distinct types, and you’ll probably identify with one as your primary personality type and might have another as your secondary type. It’s interesting to think about how this impacts your leadership style and how critical it is to understand when forming your team and crafting a culture. “To thine own self be true” is never more important than at the starting stage of your business.

Figure 5.3-Entrepreneur Types

What’s your approach?

In researching the book, it was apparent that no two startups are alike and there’s more than one way to approach your startup. It’s paramount to understand the different entrepreneurial approaches so you can most effectively deploy them. (Please avail yourself of the below visual). The “Do Gooder” approach often involves non-profit organizations and businesses that strive to be responsible corporate citizens. The “Builder Approach” zeros in on creating something new. They are the most likely to be serial entrepreneurs. And the “Lifestyler” approach tends to favor the flexibility of freelance work.

Figure 5.5-Entrepreneur Approaches

While your approach will most likely change as you (and your business) grow, your entrepreneurial personality type is dyed in the wool. Some, facing a slow job market, launch a business out of necessity. These are the “Essentialists.” They are the individuals who have lost their job or need to take in extra income to support the family. Others want to create an ideal work/life balance, hacking every detail of their day. These are the “Lifestylers,” who you’ll find either in your nearest coffee shop or globetrotting.

The key is to look at the personality types and be honest about which one really fits who you are as an entrepreneur. Your personality is a constant variable in your Startup Equation.

When it comes to personality and approach, over 61 combinations are possible. If you know your combination, it makes it much easier to structure your business. For example, entrepreneurs with the “Epicure” (Epi) personality who take the “Do Gooder” (Dgd) approach are all about the social good. They are apt to build a non-profit or launch a yoga studio. Entrepreneurs with the “Romantic” (Rom) personality who take the “Lifestyler” approach are out to hack their lives and create freedom. They’re not trying to build the next Fortune 500 company, but pay their bills (and then some) doing something they already enjoy. Knowing your approach and your personality is central to building your Startup Equation.

Modern alchemy

Successful entrepreneurs make it look easy. It’s not. They make it look like they have access to magical powers. They don’t. What they do have is the right elements organized in the right way. This allows them to transform their ideas into viable products on the market. Like the fabled alchemists, they strive to combine things in new ways to create the impossible. Unlike the alchemists, they can actually achieve it.

The perfect mix of entrepreneurial elements is dictated by your personality and the approach you take. Of course, knowing is half the battle, so I set out on a journey of classification. What I ended up with was a literal Startup Table of Elements, a visually-based classification system that shows how each element intertwines with all the rest. On my table you’ll find “Foundation,” “Experience,” “Growth,” “Brand Evangelist Employees,” “Vision,” “Innovation,” “Funding,” and of course, “Personality/Approach.”

There’s no one right way. There’s just the right way (or ways) for you. Great entrepreneurs strike out with revolutionary innovation but also ground themselves in history. They understand what has worked (or not worked) for other entrepreneurs. They familiarize themselves with all the tools in the toolbox, even the ones they never use. You don’t launch a business without a plan, and entrepreneurs need plans that are both detailed and flexible. Building your Startup Equation is the best way to craft a plan that will get you where you dream to be.