Are entrepreneurs born or developed?

Recently on  my podcast, listener Paul Vandermill asked, “Can becoming an entrepreneur be a progression rather than a predisposition?”  Really, are entrepreneurs born, or do those traits develop over time?

I love that question.  Is a person just born an entrepreneur or can anyone learn to be successful on their own?  There is no “right” or “wrong” about being an entrepreneur.  But you need to ask yourself if it is a fit for you.  Here’s an overview.

Entrepreneur name tag to introduce you as a self employed business owner networking to learn tips and information about managing your company


Do you have what it takes to do something on your own – to create work that is purposeful, fulfilling, and profitable? And please dismiss the idea that you must be a hard-driving-in-your-face kind of person to be in “business” for yourself. You may never have a building, employees, or inventory, yet still be a great candidate to move away from the traditional “employee” model.

Over the years, I have identified a number of traits that are strong predictors of a person’s success in his or her own business. The more “yes” answers you have to the questions below, the more likely you have what it takes to run your own business. Each of the eighteen questions is followed by a statement of why that particular trait is important.

Entrepreneur Readiness Quiz

1. Are you a self-starter? Successful business owners are always making things happen. They don’t wait around for the phone to ring or to be told what to do next.

2. Do you get along with different kinds of people? Every business, even small ones, requires contact with a variety of people: customers, suppliers, bankers, printers, etc.

3. Do you have a positive outlook? Optimism and a sense of humor are critical factors for success. You have to view setbacks and small failures as stepping stones to your eventual success.

4. Are you able to make decisions? Procrastination is the main obstacle to good decision-making. In a successful business, important decisions are made on a daily basis. Eighty percent of decisions should be made right away.

5. Are you able to accept responsibility? If you typically blame others, the company, the government, or your spouse for what goes wrong, you are probably a poor candidate for running your own business. Successful business owners accept responsibility for results even if those results are not favorable.

6. Do you enjoy competition? You don’t have to be cutthroat, but you must enjoy the thrill of competition. You must have a strong desire to compete, even against your own accomplishments of yesterday.

7. Do you have willpower and self-discipline? Self-discipline is the one key characteristic that makes all these others work. Without it you will not succeed.

8. Do you plan ahead? Every successful businessperson develops a long-term perspective. Going into business with a detailed plan dramatically increases the likelihood of business success. If you are already a goal-setter, you are more likely to succeed on your own.

9. Can you take advice from others? Being in your own business does not mean you have all the answers. Being open to the wisdom and experience of others is the hallmark characteristic of a leader. People who are willing to listen spend more time doing what works the first time, rather than having to experience every mistake.

10. Are you adaptable to changing conditions? Change is constant in today’s marketplace. In every change there are the seeds of opportunity, thus successful people view change as an opportunity, not as a threat.

11. Can you stick with it? Most new ventures do not take off as quickly as we would like. Are you prepared to make at least a one-year commitment to this business no matter how bleak it may look at times? Will you continue even if your friends tell you to throw in the towel?

12. Do you have a high level of confidence and belief in what you are doing? This is no time for doubt or second thoughts. You must absolutely believe in what you are doing. If you don’t have total belief, you will not be able to sell the idea, product, or service to investors or customers. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that you can do something well you don’t really believe in.

13. Do you enjoy what you are going to do? Don’t ever think you can be successful doing something just for monetary rewards. Ultimately, you must get a sense of meaning and satisfaction from what you are doing. So only consider those ideas about which you are totally passionate.

14. Can you sell yourself and your ideas? Many people fail with a great product or service because they can’t sell. Nobody will beat a path to your door even if you do have a better mousetrap. Those days are gone. You will need to sell constantly.

15. Are you prepared to work long hours? Few businesses are immediately successful. Most require months or years of long hours to get them going. It’s like getting a plane off the ground. A great deal of energy is required at first, but once you are in the air, it takes less energy to keep moving. Businesses are very much the same.

16. Do you have the physical and emotional energy to run a business? Operating your own business can be more draining than working for someone else because you have to make all the decisions and probably do all the work (initially, at least).

17. Do you have the support of your family and/or spouse? Without support at home, your chances of success are dramatically reduced. Doubt and misgivings can creep in too easily.

18. Are you willing to risk your own money in this venture? If you’re not, you probably question your confidence in the venture and your commitment to it. No bank or outside lender will be willing to take a risk that you are not willing to back it with everything you have.

More and more people are looking for greater control of their destinies and for the freedom that having their own business allows. Make sure you match your personal skills with the proper business choice. Your work must integrate your skills, your personality tendencies, and your interests. That may seem simple and obvious, but it is amazing how often those principles are violated. The more you know and understand about yourself and match that up with your business direction, the more you exponentially increase your chances for success.

So now – are you an entrepreneur?  Are these characteristics that you have or are learning? If not, then hold your head high and be a great employee.  There’s no shame in that – it’s just a different model that requires a different set of skills.

entrepreneur startup kit

Points from Chapter 11 (Being the Boss You Always Wanted to Have) in the 10th Anniversary Edition of 48 Days to the Work You Love

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  • Archie

    I have lots of friends on social media that would be curious about and very interested in this post, Dan. I’m sharing this one, BIG time bro!

    • Archie,

      Thanks so much. Seems to be a very common question.

  • Great stuff, Dan. Scoring myself, I answer “YES!” to about 14 of these. I can see myself willing and able to work on the others. I would hope one doesn’t have to score 100 here to be successful! I guess I’m looking for whatever encouragement I can get. 14 Yes’s seems hopeful I think.

    • Carol – yes, there’s certainly a margin in these. And entrepreneurship is more art than science. We can learn to be more of whatever we choose.

  • I love this. It’s a great reminder that entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone – and that that’s okay. =) That’s something that’s overlooked way too often in today’s world.

    • Derrick – absolutely. We’ll always need great “employees.”

      • Being a business owner was something I thought I really wanted and needed to be but it placed me in a position of incompetence. Now as an employee all I have to do is show up with my ID badge, my boots, and my skills.
        It has worked out great for me for almost 20 years but now I want more and I still feel the call to be more self expressive than I think I can be as an employee. Not sure though if I have what it takes and trying to find a balance between those two worlds. This list helps a lot. Thanks.

        • Tim – I’m a big fan of “both/and” solutions. I’m seeing a lot of people who are great at being 10% Entrepreneurs, spending 15hrs a week on something fulfilling but keeping their core jobs.

  • PaulVandermill

    Greetings Dan,

    Thank you for your reply. It is very helpful to have access to your wisdom as I continue on my journey of self discovery. I am about 1/2 way through the latest edition of 48 Days To The Work You Love. Lot’s of outstanding guidance and looking forward to the chapter where you expand upon your ideas outlined above. I have a fair number of the characteristics above in spades, the others present but manifesting less often. It’s good to know that these can be developed.

    You recently responded to another podcast listeners question by explaining that personal development is a journey and in essence ideas make sense when we are ready to understand them. That is oh so true. In recent years I have discovered what I consider very positive and welcome things about myself that I was not able to see without significant trials and failure.

    Not sure that I am cut out to be an entrepreneur, at least not now. My thinking is a next step may be 1/2 of my income through employment, 1/2 through something else. This would ideally reduce my exposure to office and corporate politics, stagnation, group think and the forces of corporate compliance all of which I find energy depleting. On the other side of the coin are positive work relationships and an income floor.

    I too feel that if I cannot continue to learn and grow you may as well dig a hole and push me in. Also, it seems that once you discover strengths of which you were unaware, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle as they say.

    With gratitude and respect,

    • Paul – your question was a great setup for lots of questions I get around this topic. Thanks for teeing up the opportunity to answer.

      • PaulVandermill

        Glad to help!

  • Julie Carr

    Great stuff here, Dan! As usual!

    I think that it is interesting that the term “entrepreneur” was first coined by the 18th-century French Economist Richard Cantillon, who considered an entrepreneur to be any person who took risks, bore uncertainty, and could not expect predictable returns on his/her investments (ex: a job may or may not be a good investment). I believe that whether we choose to be a traditional employee or venture out on our own we are measured against certain criteria; Do you take pride in your work? Do you work well with others? Can you motivate yourself? Can you teach yourself new skills? Lastly, when faced with disappointment and setbacks, how do you react? Do you toss blame or do you own your own shortcomings and make a plan to move forward?

    Two out of my three children, are choosing more nontraditional work models. My youngest daughter, Zoe, a 17 year old who has decided to spend her senior year in Brazil as an exchange student, sent me a text this morning that said this , “Mom! I have a GREAT business idea that I really think will make an impact in the world and here is how I think I can pull it off.” She is already “thinking” like an entrepreneur thanks to attending CWE with me a year ago. Whether she decides to go into business for herself, or work for someone else, she is learning the skills necessary to be self-directed.

    I believe “thinking” like an entrepreneur is a great skill to have in any area of business and life. You place yourself in a position to be accountable and take responsibility for your own future; Whatever that future looks like for you.

    Great question, Paul!

    • Julie – I don’t there’s anything more exciting that helping our children find their unique gifts and talents. How cool that Zoe already has an idea “that will make an impact in the world.” Give her space and encouragement and stand back to see how she can use her passion and talent in creative ways.

      • Julie Carr

        Great counsel! Thank you, Dan.

    • PaulVandermill

      Thanks Julie, your insights and thoughtful reply are terrific!

      • Julie Carr

        Thank you, Paul!

  • Esteban

    Just finished reading your book, very easy reading and very practical advise. I am going to give it to my nephew who just graduated high school.

  • Rochelle Delain

    So what if you don’t have many of these traits but are already an entrepreneur? I am not very self confident, and by temperament do not like competition (although I deal with it). I am more of a free spirit and not a very structured goal oriented person. I don’t know that I am good at “selling” but as an introvert I am a good listener and good at relating to people where they are so they feel comfortable enough with me to refer others. I do no advertising. Tried it the first year with little success. Most of my business is based on referrals. I am not a quick decision maker. I have to weigh matters out and pray over them for a little while before making a decision. I dislike being pressured to pull the trigger on something immediately. I work the hours I need to but as a wife and mom I cannot work too many long hours. What about personalities and situations like mine? I have been in business for a little over 4 years and I know business could be better if I were the more aggressive entrepreneur type. But this is who I am. How does someone like me maximize what she has if she does not have these “entrepreneurial” personality traits?

    • Rochelle,
      I cringe when I see “But this is who I am.” Success principles are not something we are born with but rather things we practice and learn. If I relied on my natural personality I would still be a farmer in Ohio. If you’re content with life as it is then that’s fine but if you want to be more successful you can learn and apply the traits – like anyone else who has achieved anything admirable. I would recommend Brendon Burchard’s new book – High Performance Habits.

  • Sylvia Duncan

    Dan, thank you for this message. It has really opened my eyes as to why I’m not seeing the success I should be seeing at this point in my business. I took the quiz and scored a 78, as I was taking it, I realized I would have scored higher on some of the questions, however my passion seems to be waning, and I know it’s because I do not have the support of family and friends. My husband, who was aware of my passion, doesn’t offer any support or encouragement. I resigned from my job, with his knowledge and at the time approval, to pursue my passion. I have no desire to return to a job. How can I renew my passion and keep going no matter who supports me? This is hard.
    Thanks for any advice,

    • I learned from Dan that there are 3 major things to consider anytime you set out to accomplish anything in life. Those 3 things are your values, interests and talents. Following your talents makes your work come easier. Following your interests keeps you focused and engaged. Following your values gives you staying power. Compromising your values can cause burn-out and self-sabotage. If you want to know what your values are just think about the things in life that you are not willing to give up. When the going gets tough, it’s our values trat comes to the surface when we ask, “what are we even doing here”.

  • Rochelle Delain

    My intent was not to discredit what you said. I agree with most of it. The list is not totally based on personality. Some things are just good habits even for an employee. I get that. It is just that I am just learning to embrace who I am with my unique gifts and temperament. By saying this is who I am I was not saying that I am inflexible and unable to learn and grow (I think that may have been what made you cringe). Just that I think what is entrepreneurial might look different on different individuals depending on the style, temperament, and circumstances. I have tried to be that person you described. Taken all kinds of courses, read books, and hired coaches and consultants. I learned and I grew but I could not be them. I was able to do the long hours when I was single and childless but then things all changed when I got married and had a family. For someone like me taking on a more flexible lifestyle and building family time into my schedule was the way to go. Have never loved competition but for me I have learned to find my unique niche and do what I do best and not to worry as much about someone else is doing. I am pretty resilient in my own way. Have not always had family support though. What I am lacking most is goal setting. I am good with short term goals and do them more month to month but long term is a problem for me.