I’m writing this on my way back from the Dublin Web Summit to Istanbul. Over the past two days many of the US and Europe’s most successful entrepreneurs came together to share their experiences and vision for the future of the tech world with each other as well as the hundreds of aspiring startups which attended the Summit. Among the entrepreneurs present were Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX, Aaron Levie of Box, Drew Houston of DropBox, and Phil Libin of Evernote. Exposed to the thoughts of such successful entrepreneurs, it’s useful to identify the common attribute which unites them as this can serve as a guide for aspiring entrepreneurs globally.
These successful entrepreneurs share many common characteristics. This includes their intelligence, common sense, and hard working attitude. However, these are all in fact the consequence of one single driving factor: unshakeable conviction. When you have unshakeable conviction in what you’re doing, you have a natural motivation to learn all you can about a particular topic. This eventually manifests itself as intelligence. You also have an almost effortless desire to work hard. And you certainly can’t ignore common sense as this would decrease your chances of achieving what you’ve set out to do.
Each of these entrepreneurs has an unwavering belief that they are on a unique mission, which they are better positioned to pursue than anyone else, to have an impact on the lives of people. For one entrepreneur this may mean solving the world’s gasoline problem, while for another it may mean providing hardware-independent access to all your files, and for another it may mean allowing everyone to create music so that they have a chance of making a living as an artist.
Whether their specific goal resonates with you or not doesn’t matter. Whether you think what they’re doing has a large impact or not in the grand scheme of things doesn’t matter. These are all subjective matters. Even whether they’re ultimately successful or not doesn’t matter. Although they would certainly be happier if they were, this isn’t something that they have full control over. While all of them may not admit this in public because of the impact which it would have on their team’s motivation and their business partners’ perception of their company, they know this too. The only thing within their control is the unshakeable conviction with which they pursue their goal regardless of what happens.
This unshakeable conviction manifests itself in many forms. From paying attention to every little detail of their product, to shopping around for the best terms among tens of investors, to bringing onboard a teammate when they have no salary to offer and only an idea to sell. They experience the same ups and downs as everyone, but most often manage to keep calm in the face of adversity because this is what’s necessary to lead a group of people towards a shared goal.
Even so, sometimes the pressure is unbearable and they simply crack. A prospective investment falls through at the last minute, their biggest customer decides to drop them when a new purchasing manager comes in, and even their loved ones begin to call them foolish. But after buckling under the pressure, they get right back up. They start creating new leads, thinking about how they can cut their costs to extend their runway just a bit longer, and revisiting every angle of their product for the tenth time to make sure that it delivers an even better customer experience.
All this to simply say that this unshakeable conviction is necessary, but not sufficient to build a business from scratch. Even if you have it, chances are that you won’t be successful. There is simply too much beyond your control. But if you have unshakeable conviction, you will still embark on the journey. Because whether you’re ultimately successful or not doesn’t matter. That’s a subjective matter. The unshakeable conviction you have for what you’re pursuing is beyond your control.