Entrepreneurs have to have it all. They need to be strategic, technical, inspiring, focused, fun, relatable, and really just charming. In German we have an expression – “eierlegende Wollmilchsau” translated to “egg-laying woolly pig – that describes a product or person who has (or claims to have) the features and skills of several specialised tools.
In the case of an entrepreneur, it would be the requirement to understand technicalities, develop strategy, pay attention to legal aspects, and show operational finesse – basically doing the job of five people combined.
Is there a specific skill that makes or breaks an entrepreneur?
Let’s be honest – the correct answer is probably “a combination of all of the above”. But if you had to pick just one, which one would it be? When I asked the High-Tech SeedLab team, the immediate answer was perseverance. The ability to drag yourself up again after you’ve failed several times. And while I agree that it is incredibly important as an entrepreneur to have that attitude towards failure, there is something else I have been thinking about frequently – which I would argue is almost more important. Of course perseverance is also important, otherwise you’d give up after two weeks of trying to build a business. But to me it is an attitude more than a skill.
So without further ado, this is what I believe to be the Number One Entrepreneurial Skill:
“See through the bullshit”.
Quite crude, I know.
But let’s unpack this a little.
Who is a good partner in crime?
Finding a suitable co-founder is a mammoth task. For example, last year almost a quarter of the applications we’ve received came from single founders. Convincing someone to join the effort is the first big hurdle of an entrepreneur – convincing the right person is crucial.
Here, some people will join you because of a shared vision, others might be driven by the market potential and work their bum off for equity and the promise of future success. Some, just like the title but are not willing to but in the sweat, tears, and blood.
So first you need to judge whether the potential co-founder has the complementary qualification you are looking for, the same mind-set as you (or at least agreeable), and is a decent person in general. While some might talk big, you really need to “see through the bullshit” to make the right move on the right person.
Whose advice should you listen to?
Throughout the startup journey, you will talk to several people that offer you advice. Sometimes wanted, sometimes whether you’ve asked or not. Key is to be able to understand where people are coming from, ask questions around their experience to put their advice into context, and finally decide if it’s the right advice for you or not.
I know it’s tricky and I would love to tell you to just completely trust the people offering help. But especially when it comes to innovative ideas, unwalked paths, and blue ocean strategies, past experience might simply not be a good indication of what’s going to happen. As such I guess a lot of “seeing through the bullshit” is also intuition – which isn’t really a skill…
Let me just remind you of the famous quote by Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Customers can describe problems they are having, but might be limited in their imagination of how to solve them. Similarly, people giving you advice can only speak from their own experience (which is still incredibly valuable) but might not have your imagination of what’s possible…or simply do not even have the authority on the issue in question they’d like to assign themselves. Which brings me to:
Who can offer real value?
We do live in a capitalistic society where everyone is said to act in their own self-interest. This is likely to be especially true in the context of revenues and profits. Nonetheless, partnerships are a great way for startups to gain access to expertise and resources to propel them forward.
While many existing companies like to present themselves as important actors and attractive partners to young companies, founders need to be able to truly understand their motives and drivers. Can they really deliver what they promise? What do they get out of a partnership? Why are they interested in working with us? Are the T&Cs favourable or what’s written between the lines? “Seeing through the bullshit” can prevent you from being slowed down by sluggish partners or unfavourable requirements while identifying the true enablers.