Monica Mehta is a sought after small business and finance expert with 15 years of experience as an investor, operator of multi-million dollar consumer businesses and advisor to hundreds of entrepreneurs. Monica is currently a Managing Principal at Seventh Capital, a New York based investment firm, where she is actively involved with the day-to-day operations of portfolio companies. Prior to her career as a principal investor, Monica worked closely with start up businesses as a portfolio manager at a seed-stage fund backed by the Texas Pacific Group, managed a $150MM cosmetics business unit for L’Oreal and advised Fortune 1000 companies, including Bank of America and Nordstrom, as a strategy consultant.
Her new book is called The Entrepreneurial Instinct: How Everyone Has the Innate Ability to Start a Successful Small Business. In the below interview, she talks about how anyone can be an entrepreneur, lists the top traits of all great entrepreneurs, and more.
How do you define the entrepreneurial instinct? Can anyone be an entrepreneur?
The entrepreneurial instinct is the mental toughness that is required to make something from nothing. It is the mindset that allows you to take smart risks, thrive in ambiguity and bounce back from failure. It’s the reason why the team that looks good on paper doesn’t always win and why the drop out becomes a billionaire – we hear that story over and over again.
The idea that we are born knowing how to handle the greatest challenges of life is a theme that runs throughout eastern and western cultures in the major myths, religious texts and popular stories of our time. Some people just know how to tap into instinct. Others are put into situations where they are forced to draw from it. And for the rest of us, making the most of our innate talents and physiology comes from a process of discovery and practice. Instinct is universal; it doesn’t care where you come from. Anyone with a willingness be an entrepreneur and a persistence to keep at it when the road gets rough can do it
What would you say the top 3-5 entrepreneurship traits are? Which ones do every entrepreneur have in common?
Entrepreneurs are impulsive and adaptable. In business, impulsivity translates to a bias to action. When counterbalanced with a personality that is adaptable or knows how to roll with the punches, it is a winning combination for taking risks for gain. The ability to take risky bets is actually what researchers at Cambridge University identified to be the key differentiator among entrepreneurs and people of equivalent IQ and experience that find success in the corporate world. Entrepreneurship is a career path in which evolution is the norm and failure is a given. Persistence, optimism and resourcefulness are traits that popped up over and over again in interviews with the dozens of successful entrepreneurs I interviewed for the book.
Why do you think more young people are becoming entrepreneurs despite economic setbacks?
Necessity is the mother of invention is an old adage but one that holds true today. Youth employment is at a 60 year low. Young people face a dearth of opportunities, and some of them are taking it upon themselves to pave their own way. The generation of entrepreneurs to come out of the abysmal job climate may be the silver lining of these tough economic times.
How do you train your mind to be more entrepreneurial? Is it possible?
Understanding the physiology that drives motivation can go a long way in helping anyone become a better risk-taker. For most of us, it is a knee jerk reaction to experience a fear of loss when faced with an ambiguous circumstance. Fear is 2.5 times more powerful than reward. When the brain’s loss aversion pathway is activated, our brain chemistry pretty much ensures we will not take action. Some of the basic decision making techniques we are taught like contingency planning our way around risk only further engrain the brain in loss mode.
The key to taking risky bets is learning how to turn off the fear to light up the brain’s reward pathway, the side of the brain responsible focus, learning and pleasure which chemically wires us to be motivated. While independent of one another, the brain can’t be in loss and reward mode at once; when one is on the other is off. Some are born with a reward pathway that is easily activated. For the rest of us, there are a number of simple techniques that can be effective in trigger a focus on reward. By learning the ins and outs of our own wiring, we can start getting out of our own way to become more skilled entrepreneurial risk takers.
What three tips would you offer on how someone can start their first business?
1. Treat entrepreneurship as an evolution. Where you start is rarely where you land once you have been in the market for a while. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak got their start hacking ma bell, amid their experimentation in phone phreaking Wozniak discovered his technical chops and Jobs learned he could sell and that led rise to one of the greatest technology businesses of our time.
2. Because you don’t know where the road will take you skip the early planning and focus on getting to market as quickly as possible to let the customer refine your focus. When you skip planning, it’s not a matter of if there will be fires but when. Focus on keeping cost of failure low and entrepreneurial adaptability high.
3. The road to success will be long, windy and full of potholes. Be militant about conserving resources. That means start small, focus on bootstrapping and take steps to lengthen your financial runway so you can last the journey.
Dan Schawbel is a Gen Y career expert and the founder of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting company. He is also the #1 international bestselling author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future and was named to the Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 list in 2010. Subscribe to his Personal Branding Blog for more self-help advice.
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