Two Qualities of Risk-Taking Entrepreneurs

By mtharvey | March 10, 2011

We’re a big believer in the idea that entrepreneurial skills can be taught. It may take a tremendous amount of effort for an individual to develop their entrepreneurial mindset, but it can be achieved. However, what about inherent personal qualities of entrepreneurs? Are there common character traits or behaviors found in these risk takers? Based on experiences throughout her career, UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann can identify two such traits.

Tenacious “Like a Dog on a Bone”

The first trait she acknowledges is a relentless tenacity mixed with optimism. Desmond-Hellmann says that a successful entrepreneur will refuse to quit in the face of setbacks, and stays locked on their goal, “like a dog on a bone.” Great entrepreneurs never accept that a problem is unsolvable. Moreover, this never-say-die tenacity is often mixed with optimism, according to Desmond-Hellmann. Entrepreneurs constantly face criticism from naysayers and non-believers, so the ability to persevere with your chin up is a critical ability. Of course this is a valuable life skill for everyone, not just entrepreneurs.

No Fear of Embarrassment

“Don’t think of what others think of you, think about the purpose or the outcomes you want.”

Susan Desmond-Hellmann, UCSF Chancellor

Entrepreneurs must also be willing to overcome the fear of embarrassment. During Desmond-Hellmann’s tenure as president of product development for Genentech, she recalls colleagues literally rolling their eyes at her suggestion of an innovative new treatment for cancer. It’s hard to think you might be making a fool of yourself in front of peers, but entrepreneurs must remain so committed to the value of their idea that they can withstand such attitudes. According to Desmond-Hellmann, if you’re the type that has the courage to take risks “don’t think of what others think of you, think about the purpose or the outcomes you want.”

Watch Susan Desmond-Hellmann’s full DFJ ETL lecture on ECorner.