Describing entrepreneurs

When talking about entrepreneurs, it is often highlighted that they’re “great”. In early-stage it’s all about the entrepreneur/s, and the entrepreneur has to be great if the company is to have any chance of succeeding. If the entrepreneur is great, then the discussion moves on to the opportunity they are pursuing.

Very often, when a company folds a few years later, the reason is that the “great” entrepreneur was not so great. And lately I’ve come to realize that describing an entrepreneur as “great” is the most unsophisticated thing we can do, as it’s not setting us up for learning.

What makes an entrepreneur great? The short answer is “it depends”. It depends both on the opportunity the entrepreneur is pursuing, but also on who you’re asking. Some say it’s about being relentlessly resourceful. Others say it’s about being good at effectual reasoning. It’s about hard and soft skills. Others again emphasize entrepreneurial experience. The list goes on. Some of these claims are empirically backed, others are more anecdotal. All can be valid arguments for choosing to back a startup. But when talking about why an entrepreneur deserves to be backed, it should not be described simply as “great”.

Rather, an entrepreneur could be described as hard-working. Or relentlessly resourceful. Intelligent. Charismatic. Fast-moving. Likeable. Coachable. As having relevant industry experience. Having built a startup before. Having recruitment power. Having unique insight. Or none or all of the above.

If you describe an entrepreneur as “great” it’s because s/he has certain characteristics. But it’s really stupid to stop at “great” instead of elaborating on why any given entrepreneur actually is great. Going into details around what characteristics you value improves the discussion, also it makes it a lot easier to learn about startups port-morten when “great” entrepreneurs turn out to be not so great.

Words matter. To paraphrase Confucius; when words lose their meaning progress stalls. This is something that is becoming increasingly clear to me. Don’t use synonyms, but communicate clearly and precisely. In order to improve, you need to be deliberate about how you communicate. This is the only way to learn and progress.

Next time I talk about an entrepreneur that I think is great, I won’t stop at great. I’ll elaborate with which of the entrepreneurs characteristics that makes me form that opinion.