Not All Smart People Are Funny: What to Look For in an Entrepreneur

Angel investing and working with entrepreneursI frequently speak to groups about investing in start-ups.  Finding a great entrepreneur is always my stated goal.  Inevitably, several hands will go up seeking to clarify what I mean by that.  

It is one of those hard-to-quantify areas where your gut and your experiences tend to guide you, so I’d be the first to acknowledge that I am relying on instinct to a very large degree.  And that instinct can take a little while to form.  First impressions matter, but in my experience, it can take a number of meetings and interactions and some reflection about the person to develop an accurate gut feeling about someone.

But what I can say with certainty is that when I arrive at a good gut feeling, it is always based on the conviction that the entrepreneur is:

  1. Very smart

  2. Honest, with high integrity

  3. High energy, with lots of drive, ambition and vision

  4. Skilled at dealing with people

  5. Coachable and willing to seek out and utilize help

  6. Persistent enough to kick a door down if need be

  7. Prepared

  8. Focused

  9. Funny and in possession of a great perspective

  10. Experienced in the relevant areas, or in life in general

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Of all the things on this list, #4, people skills, deserves special mention.  These skills matter in all of life’s arenas, but when it comes to leadership and attracting all the various types of necessary resources to your fledgling enterprise, it is an absolutely core skill.  By people skills, I am talking first and foremost about networking skills in terms of building off of relationships to expand your trusted network and gain greater access to people and resources.  I am also talking about communication skills, both oral and written.  And listening skills.  Plus leadership attributes and persuasiveness.  Grace under pressure.  Polish and poise.  Personality and being an interesting person.  Humility in dealing with others and being open to learning and exchange.  (Arrogance is a death knell.)  Having some spine, and the ability to show it without giving offense.  Diplomacy.  A professional manner of dressing (not fancy or expensive, just appropriate to the occasion or location).  And finally, fantastic presentation skills.

Great entrepreneurs come in all shapes, sizes and colors, but, for my money, those are the characteristics that the superstars have in large quantities.