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The 3 traits of great entrepreneurs

“Quality is not an act. It is a habit.” — Aristotle 

Success is always simple in hindsight. How many times have you said to yourself, “I thought of that years ago? If only I had :!” Before success can happen, you must fill in that blank space.

Entrepreneurs are recognized by their process and accomplishments, but rarely do they share identical traits, experiences or challenges along their journey. What defines an entrepreneur, in action, is the ability to fuse their unique X-factor with an unforeseen blank space in the marketplace. This combination, once fulfilled, so fundamentally changes the experience of people everywhere that being without it seems impossible.


Often, your greatest strength is ironically the foundation of your most difficult challenge. By discovering what you will do, provide or create, better than anybody else before you, gives you an unbeatable edge — if you can overcome the ultimate test it manifests for you. Entrepreneurs share three powerful capabilities that place them above those who try and fail without aligning more deeply with what creates success.

Photo @Tom Conger/flickr


These days, the most successful entrepreneurs are not only found in Silicon Valley, nor do they necessarily work in tech, but they do produce products and services that help provide greater meaning to people’s lives.

In 1993, J.K. Rowling was not simply another struggling author living in London, she was a single mother trying to survive on welfare, fighting poverty and profound depression. Barely able to afford heat in her home, she would take long bus rides and sit in cafes, while her baby daughter slept, diligently writing the fantasy story she’d conceived of seven years earlier. The manuscript for ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ received so many consecutive rejections, Rowling even resorted to submitting under a male pen name, just for the chance to be considered more seriously.

Photo @Scott Smith/flickr


In hindsight, Rowling’s experiences make for an incredible, true, rags-to-riches story, but life is lived day by day, moment by moment — not in the quick recollection of an anecdote. And as any ambitious person knows, there isn’t any more painful word in any human language than “no.” How often have driven, talented and visionary people decided to forfeit rather than face yet another rejection? The hard truth is there is no success without rejection and it’s the quality of hunger that gets you from where you are now, as a dreamer, to where you want to be, as an achiever. J.K. Rowling had the hunger to keep moving forward, at all odds, finally closing a deal with Scholastic Books.


Today, Rowling is the most successful and best-selling author in the entire United Kingdom, a billionaire overseeing not only one of the most successful book and film series in history, but a world-wide brand spanning media, products and even a theme park in development. Rowling is also notably active as a philanthropist, as founder in several children’s welfare and anti-poverty charities, funding research and treatment of multiple sclerosis.

“The best entrepreneurs on earth never lose that hunger,” as Tony says. “They are hungry to grow, hungry to give, hungry to contribute. It’s more important than intelligence. There’s nothing that will stop a person who is hungry enough. A hungry person, failure doesn’t stop them.”

Photo @rachel/flickr


Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.

How do you align what people need and want with your own vision? A plan is a great start, but plans change — develop a purpose and a vision that’s greater than yourself, then create a map to get you there.


Some brands become so fundamentally successful, they define their category in the minds of customers. Xerox, Kleenex and Starbucks have become colloquial short-hand for photocopies, facial tissues and coffee drinks. Now, as recently profiled in the WSJ, Sara Blakely’s Spanx has become the unlikely but unstoppable force redefining women’s undergarments.

Sara Blakely bounced from one entry-level job to another, working as a sales trainer during the day and performing stand-up comedy at night — by her own admission, Sara, “…didn’t know the first thing about the pantyhose industry.”  While dressing for a party one night, she cut the feet from her pantyhose to smooth out her silhouette, but as the night wore on, she become obsessed with figuring out how to create a new form of undergarment that didn’t exist. With no background in fashion or retail, Blakely had only her idea and a singular drive to achieve.

Photo @Mike Mozart/flickr


The initial concept burned through her $5,000 in savings over the next two years of research, planning and manufacturing as she simultaneously worked 9-5 at a day job to survive. From hawking her product at a folding table in the front of Neiman Marcus, to pitching live on QVC, to appearing on Richard Branson’s Rebel Billionaire reality show, Blakely battled her constant social anxiety to make brash, bold and industry-disrupting moves to get Spanx in front of potential customers and distributors. She even resorted to cold-calling hosiery mills directly, moving from one “no” to the next until landing on the one owner with daughters who immediately saw the brilliance in the idea.

Although she didn’t ultimately win on Rebel Billionaire, Branson was so impressed with Blakey’s remarkable, unstoppable spirt he gifted her a personal check for $750,000 to fund a charitable foundation. Since exploding onto the marketplace into a billion-dollar business in over 60 countries, Blakely and her company have donated $17.5 million to empower young women in South Africa with educational scholarships.


Anticipation is power. In today’s fractured and evolving business landscape, owners and leaders need to run two businesses simultaneously — the one you’re in now and the one you’re always becoming. If you can find a way to not only meet your clients needs, but redefine what those needs are on a fundamental level, then consistently surpass, you’ll become a true visionary. The key competence successful leaders have over followers is applied dedication.

Photo @minxlj/flickr


In the summer of 1980, you would have found Ursula Burns bustling through the Xerox offices as an intern, eventually handling various roles in development and planning. She was making such consistent strides within the company that by 2000 she was not only named a Senior Vice President, but began a powerful partnership with then-present CEO Anne Mulcahy. A relationship that would blossom into a mentorship that would change Burns’ life forever.

Born to a single mother in the low-income projects of NYC, fate was stacked against her from the outset. As she told NPR, “I didn’t think, when I walked into the company, that I would be the CEO. I did expect to be successful, though. My mother raised us to think that if we worked hard, and if we put our end of the bargain in, it would work out OK for us.


Over the next decade, Burns not only reengineered the company’s supply chain and manufacturing, she slashed operating costs by a third and overhauled product development — the very same department she’d interned in, years before. If Xerox didn’t so much launch products as allow them to escape, by the time Burns made product her primary focus they were bringing up to 40 new releases to market, each year.

Having come from such humble and hard-working beginnings, Burns understood the power of people and value of assembling, empowering and unleashing an amazing team. As the newly-appointed CEO, she developed and recruited a new generation of talent over the next decade and successfully transitioned Xerox away from a hardware-focused manufacturer to a more broadly-focused business services company.

Photo @Christian Holmer/flickr


She also built a terrific team of people. Xerox had lost a lot of research and engineering talent during the 1990s, and Ursula groomed a new generation of technology leaders. She racked up an impressive list of accomplishments.

Burns has moved Xerox away from printing hardware and toward business services since she became CEO in 2009. Though Xerox’s revenue continues to fall – down 2.5%, to $21.8 billion, in 2013 – investors won’t give up; the stock is up 34% year-over-year. As a leader she understands motive does matter — by understanding the needs of the people you’re serving, inside and outside her company, she was able to bring a vision larger than herself to fruition and become not only CEO but Chairwoman of the company.

As Tony explains, “It’s not what we get, but who we become and what we contribute that gives meaning to our lives.”

Header image @Steve Johnson/flickr

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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