Dan Radomski is an advisor to FuzeHub and an expert in hardware design for manufacturing. In addition, he is also the director of the Centrepolis Accelerator, a manufacturing and hardware accelerator in Michigan.
Dan collaborates with FuzeHub to execute our Build4Scale NY program that helps hardware startups in New York State learn how to design their product for easier manufacturability.
Here are his six markings of an entrepreneur:
This is the first and most common response you will hear from those in the entrepreneurial support community. Is the entrepreneur coachable? Does he or she heed advice from mentors, advisors, incubator/accelerator management staff? This is very important that the company management team leads be open to suggestions. When sound advice provides meaningful insight that suggests the entrepreneur adjust their approach and even pivot their business model, that they have the ability to interpret and react in a way that can potentially make or break their business. No doubt coachability is a decisively important attribute.
However, I state this with a caveat. What concerns me about the demands on entrepreneurs to be “coachable” is that it almost sets authority of the incubator/accelerator/mentor over the entrepreneur. Coachability does not mean entrepreneurs must react and abide by all of the advice they receive. Running startups of my own and currently directing an accelerator I have noticed an increasingly overcrowded and thin-in-value entrepreneurial support network, where entrepreneurs are inundated and overwhelmed with advice from incubator/accelerator staff and their assigned advisors and mentors. Some of this advice I have personally not found to be all that reliable especially when mentors have limited experience in the technology and industry application. There are people running incubator/accelerators that have never run a for-profit business themselves, never run their own start-up or commercialized a product. Too many programs and too many mentors can also lead to conflicting advice and questionable recommendations. Depending on the person the advice comes from, the persons’ background and experience may impact the advice not being sound for the company. I have witnessed accelerator programs provide advice to companies to approach venture capital when the company by the nature of their product and industry are not a fit for venture capital. Bad advice and bad coaching.
So, let’s focus on the central aspects of what it means to be coachable. Coachability to me is the ability to listen, to interpret and to analyze options before deciding. Coachability is having the aptitude to collect info from experienced people, then seek trends in this data, validate the info from several sources and then respond to the best options. Being coachable allows an entrepreneur to arrive at a set path but also be ready for a change in direction when needed. A good entrepreneur is a lot like a quarterback, he/she starts with a set play developed by his/her coaches and then attempt to execute that play, however, the entrepreneur needs to rely on his/her instincts when necessary based on what is being presented to them. Why coachability is important, it has largely become the only attribute talked about, which is a major oversight. There is so much more an entrepreneur needs to demonstrate to be successful.
“You must always be the apprentice, even when you become the master.”
– Christopher Cumby
When you meet with an entrepreneur you can tell in the first 30 minutes if they are driven intrinsically by the business and product they are attempting to commercialize. Passion is a tough thing to fake. When an entrepreneur is personally driven by the value of what they are trying to sell, it wills them to do whatever it takes to bring it to reality. However, I have worked with some very passionate entrepreneurs in the past that were blinded by their own cause which proved to be reckless. Passion combined with coachability brings us one step closer to potential success.
“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something you’re willing to take risks.” – Yo-yo Ma
- Work Ethic
In Detroit, we call it hustle…the ability to work hard. Putting the time in necessary to lift a company off the ground requires long hours to address developing customers, reaching technical and business milestones, building a team, raising funds, creating operational efficiencies, etc. I have worked with compelling entrepreneurs, intelligent people, even those that were coachable and passionate about what they were doing, but some did not put in the time and effort required to see it through to reality.
“You can’t have a million dollar dream on a minimum wage work ethic.” – Unknown
It is easy to get this confused with work ethic. Persistence is that unique capability of an individual to never give up…when met with an obstacle finding a way around it. Leading an early stage business is not for the timid. You are constantly running into roadblocks and what in some cases appear to be challenges that can’t be overcome. I have always said there are two types of people in this world…the first, the type when they run into a brick wall immediately retreat…and the second, the type that runs into a brick wall and finds a way to go over it, go around it, dig a hole underneath it, or ram a hole right through it. Some entrepreneurs have it and others do not.
“Nothing in this work can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded. Genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the work is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are not omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge
Largely the least understood attribute and certainly the hardest to assess. A reference of the meaning of the word reveals…” the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties”. I see it as being even more dynamic than that. Resourceful entrepreneurs are those that can track down an impossible answer, secure a meeting with an unreachable customer, unearth a perfect supply chain partner, and line up a smart strategic investor…they often find a way to do this on their own with limited support. This to me is the “X” factor in an entrepreneur. We have all seen this uniquely in a limited few entrepreneurs but it is very hard to identify unless you experience time working with the person. This is why we do not use cohorts. It takes time to recognize the strength of this attribute in people.
“Success is not about your resources. It’s about how resourceful you are with what you have.” – Tony Robbins
- Understanding of Personal Limitations
This attribute was purposely saved for last. How many strong companies with compelling technologies, great market potential, even strong teams have we all seen fail due to the lead entrepreneur not recognizing their own limitations? Most commonly we see it in a technical lead trying to also serve the CEO role. Or a Founder of the company trying to do it all, creating a bottleneck in decision making and operational inefficiencies. An entrepreneur not coming to terms with their own limitations may not always sink the boat but will certainly limit the sailing potential of his vessel. I have also been impressed with a lead entrepreneur who literally can do it all, dynamic individuals who have many skill sets from product development…to business planning…to supply chain management…to marketing and sales. However, one management team member performing all these functions usually proves unreasonable as there simply is not enough time in the day to perform these functions effectively. A company lead who recognizes the need for a dynamic team and allows management team members with appropriate experience to not only join the team but make decisions and work with autonomy is just as important and uniquely different attribute as coachability, passion, work ethic, persistence, and resourcefulness.
Put them all together in a lead entrepreneur and the magic happens, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success but it certainly provides a higher potential for success. We look for these 6 attributes in our clients…and when we find it in the lead entrepreneurs, we become an extension of their teams to fill a critical management team gap to support their accomplishments which is made easy by the nature of their powerful attributes.
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” – Steve Jobs