When a new business does well, it typically owes its success to more than one factor. Among them: thorough market research, a solid business plan, and smart marketing strategies. And, when 20 percent of small businesses reportedly fail within their first year— (and half of them within their first five years)— starting a new company takes guts, smarts, and an enormous amount of time, energy, and dedication.
Why, then, would anyone want to be a serial entrepreneur (someone who starts multiple businesses)? After all, the idea of opening more than one business might seem unrealistic, reckless, or even crazy. But is it? What follows are reasons to think like a serial entrepreneur, followed by seven tips for how to have that mindset.
Why Think Like a Serial Entrepreneur?
In a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2017, researchers from Stanford University and Copenhagen Business School analyzed data on entrepreneurs and their startups in Denmark during the period 2001-2013. What they found was eye-opening: a very stark “productivity advantage” among serial entrepreneurs. The researchers noted that “the serial entrepreneur has 67% higher sales than the novice [entrepreneur], but also opens firms that are larger in terms of the initial capital and labor, and thus is 39% more productive.”
Research elsewhere confirms this finding, suggesting that the highest-earning entrepreneurs are serial entrepreneurs. When an article in Inc42 asked whether great entrepreneurs “focus on one idea or pursue many,” for example, it found that “most billionaire entrepreneurs” are “serial entrepreneurs.”
Consider, too, that many of the most successful entrepreneurs in America started more than one business on their way to fame and fortune. Thomas Edison, best known for inventing electricity, started several companies. Henry Kaiser, who in the early 20th century built wildly successful companies across multiple industries, from construction and car manufacturing to shipbuilding and healthcare, where we got the name “Kaiser Permanente”).
And, as the Inc42 article suggested, it’s not hard to find present-day examples of the same trend either. From Oprah to Elon Musk to Fred Smith (the founder of FedEx) and others, big-name billionaires tend to be serially full of successful new business ideas.
How to Have the Mindset of a Serial Entrepreneur
On the basis of these findings and examples, it would seem that an entrepreneurial mindset is a key to the success of a new business. Right there alongside market research, a solid business plan, and smart marketing strategies (among other elements), there’s often a leader who is thinking entrepreneurially. Here are some characteristics of that mindset and suggestions for how to cultivate it:
1. A Restless Desire for New and Bigger Challenges
The success of one start-up is gratifying, but for the serial entrepreneur, it’s also a stepping stone to the next frontier. In this sense, serial entrepreneurs are rarely bored, never stand still, and are perennial learners. They’re always curious, always reading, always expanding their knowledge base, and always looking for new ways to grow and multiply a business.
How does one cultivate a mindset that embraces challenges? “Put yourself in challenging situations,” as an article in Forbes recommended. Look for opportunities to be challenged, whether in the business world or even personal spheres of life.
2. Willingness to Fail and Learn from Failures
As hard and painful as it can be, there often are more lessons to be gleaned from one failure than from multiple successes. To fail and learn from it is to advance in the direction of what works. Thomas Edison put it well: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Like Edison, serial entrepreneurs understand that if one marketing approach doesn’t work, the reasons why it didn’t work can be valuable lessons in themselves that light the way to what will work.
Naturally, facing new challenges and potential failures can be anxiety-producing and scary, so courage is essential. But the same courage that propelled the first startup can inspire a second, third, or fourth. Eleanor Roosevelt said she tried to do one thing every day that scared her. The beautiful thing about courage is that it can be acquired through practice and exposure to things that seem scary or stretch us in ways that seem uncomfortable.
4. Problem-Solving, Team-Centered Approaches
It helps to have an analytical mind and more than one tackling a problem. Approaching it from all angles and perspectives can be key to unlocking a workable solution. This process is often more fruitful when there are others around the table who can come at a problem from different vantage points. Where one person may have a blind spot, another person may have a very insightful observation.
Naturally, responding to challenges with a problem-solving, team-centered approach also requires an open mind. Serial entrepreneurs invite and value the feedback and expertise of the people who work for them.
Rigidity and a narrow mind about how to do things can be handicaps, on the other hand. Successful small business leaders need to be nimble and quick in responding to changing market realities. The same is maybe even more true for someone who is always thinking about that next business venture.
6. Valuing and Empowering Others
A lot of people think that entrepreneurialism is just about getting to the top of the food chain and thus requires being selfish, self-centered, and only in it for oneself. (And this view is justifiable to a certain degree; many people have read stories about self-made billionaires who seem to have made their fortune at others’ expense.) But a serial entrepreneur values and empowers employees by affirming their achievements and contributions and not micro-managing their work. Just saying “thank you” and noting an employee’s contributions can help them feel valued and empowered in their job.
There’s something freeing in knowing that building a successful business isn’t about self-promotion and always being the one who gets the credit. Who needs all that pressure, anyway? And, when a new startup is all about you, your name, your competence, and achievements— that’s bad for employee morale and it’s bad for the bottom line.
Having the mindset of a serial entrepreneur demands knowing one’s strengths and being able to hire and delegate to the right people. The right people will be those who demonstrate strengths in other key business areas. The saying “know thyself” is applicable here.
Some people are born to think like serial entrepreneurs. The good news is that others can learn how to adopt this mindset. With a little intentionality and practice, these ways of thinking can become habitual and a pathway to further success.
This article was provided by serial entrepreneur Susan Roy, who is Chief Strategy Officer for the national behavioral health provider at FHE Health.