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6 traits shared by successful entrepreneurs


Amy Wilkinson shares two traits of successful creators at Cosmo and SoFi’s Fun Fearless Money Conference on September 24 in New York City.

Do you have a fresh idea for an existing company? Did you find a solution to a problem that’s been plaguing you for years? Perhaps it’s time to take a chance and start your own business.

For women, the timing has never been better. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, more than 9.4 million companies were owned by women in 2015, and those businesses employed nearly 7.9 million people. To bring attention to all of the women in charge, October is recognized as Women in Small Business Month, a time to reflect on the growing number of women who have taken the leap to start and grow their own businesses. The road to transforming an idea into a profitable business is long and winding, but those who have seen their hard work pay off will assure you that the journey can be fulfilling and profitable.

No one knows this better than Amy Wilkinson, an author and lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who spent five years interviewing 200 of the world’s top entrepreneurs. After milling through 10,000 pages of transcripts, Wilkinson released her findings in a book called “The Creator’s Code,” which highlights the six traits that every successful entrepreneur possess. She interviewed both men and women, and her research found that neither gender is more hardwired for success than the other.

“I think if you want to start and scale a company, it’s hard to do, but I don’t think that there is a skill difference between men and women,” Wilkinson told Yahoo Finance. “My point of view is that women are not different, women are equal, and when they are in the marketplace they can do every bit as as well as men.”

Though there’s no gender-based difference in skill or potential, in her book, Wilkinson hones in on three factors that can make it harder for women to break into business. First, she points out there aren’t as many women enrolled in business schools. According to a 2015 survey from the Forté Foundation, women make up about 40% of people enrolled in an MBA program. Attending a school like Kellogg or Wharton can help give you access to a network; but without that social circle, getting connected to someone who can help you launch a business is just that much harder. “If you didn’t go to those business schools you may not know who to call or where to start,” said Wilkinson.

Another obstacle facing women is access to capital – after all, you need money to start a business. And finally, Wilkinson says some women struggle with the confidence to really take their business to the next level. “You want a business to go to scale. You want to solve a problem that affects a lot of people,” she says. “If you can have the confidence, the skill, and the help of people around you…that’s when it gets really good.”

So to all of the women out there trying to get a business off the ground, hang in there. As you grow your idea, reference these six traits that Wilkinson identified in every successful entrepreneur. If you don’t have all of them right now, it’s OK. The traits are learnable, and it’s possible to incorporate all six of them into your life and company.

1. Find the gap

The first step is to identify an opportunity others have looked over. By staying alert, creators spot opportunities that others don’t see. They keep their eyes open for fresh potential, a vacuum to fill, or an unmet need. You have to be curious and ask a lot of questions. “Women have their own set of experiences that are unique,” says Wilkinson. “You might be dropping your kids off at school and see something that doesn’t work in the carpool lane, and that could turn into a business.” Case in point, Sarah Blakely invented Spanx after cutting off the legs of her pantyhose because she liked the control top but didn’t want the leg coverage. There was nothing on the market that filled this need, so she experimented with materials, formed a business and today Spanx is a $1 billion company.

2. Drive for daylight

Just as race-car drivers keep their eyes fixed on the road ahead, creators focus on the future, knowing that where they go, their eyes go first. They move fast and don’t get caught up in where their peers are. Instead, they focus on the horizon, scan the edges, and avoid nostalgia to set the pace in a fast-moving marketplace.

3. Fly the Ooda loop

Creators continuously update their assumptions. In rapid succession, they observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA). Like legendary fighter pilot John Boyd, who pioneered the idea of the “OODA loop,” creators move nimbly from one decision to the next. They master fast-cycle iteration and in short order gain an edge over less agile competitors.

4. Fail wisely

Creators understand that experiencing a series of small failures is essential to avoiding catastrophic mistakes. In the course of practicing and mastering this skill, they set what Wilkinson calls failure ratios, place small bets to test ideas, and develop resilience. They hone the skill to turn setbacks into successes.

5. Network minds

To solve multifaceted problems, creators bring together the brainpower of diverse individuals through on- and off-line forums. They design shared spaces, hold prize competitions and build work-related games. They even convene small working groups to troubleshoot big problems. “Assemble a flash team by getting a group of people together just for one project,” Wilkinson says. “They can help you for a limited time and you can tap into the brain power of other people.”

6. Give small gifts

Creators unleash generosity by helping others, often by sharing information, pitching in to complete a task, or opening opportunities to colleagues. Offering kindness may not seem like a skill, but it is an essential way that creators strengthen relationships. In an increasingly transparent and interconnected world, generosity makes creators more productive.

Brittany is a writer at Yahoo Finance.

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