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What attributes make a successful entrepreneur?

1. Persistence – the ability to bounce back from frequent disappointment
2. Passion – an ability to get excited and motivated by a higher purpose than money
3. Leadership – an ability to inspire others

What do you believe are the necessary elements for a business venture to succeed?

1. A Strong Management Team — that "really" works well together, sets the vision & strategy
2. An ability to execute – put ideas into action
3. Intellectual honesty – don’t fool yourself about what is/is not working
4. Market-driven approach – build the business by listening to customers
5. Continuous improvement – always strive to improve and get better

How essential do you see an undergraduate degree or MBA being for an entrepreneur?

Not essential, but I think having an undergraduate/MBA truly enhances your probability of business success by helping you "ask the right questions" and reduce the number of mistakes you will inevitably make as an entrepreneur.

What role has academic education played in your own life versus the role of experiential learning and what has been the relative importance of each?

Academic learning has exposed me to business building & management concepts/ideas and experiential learning has allowed me to put these concepts/idea into practice&ldots;I truly believe you need both equally – like taking lessons before playing golf/tennis or a chalk talk before a big game.

What are the three most important lessons you have learned about business and entrepreneurship in your lifetime?

1. Be persistent and never give up, pause think and keep going
2. The team is the brains of a business&ldots;it has to work like a well-oiled machine
3. Execute with excellence, many great ideas never happen or fail due to poor execution
4. Just get out there and do something&ldots;"let opportunity hit you"

What have been the keys to your success?

1. Finding great people to work with as part of a team
2. Being passionate about your ideas and getting others excited about it

What advice would you give to an aspiring young entrepreneur?

Go for it, it’s an incredible chance of a lifetime – as the saying goes, better to have tried and lost than never to have tried at all! The riskiest thing to do is not to try&ldots;then the chance of success is zero. The downside: even if things don’t work out you will gain amazing experience that will help you even if you end up having to go back to working for someone else.

What books would you recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs? Which books have influenced you the most?

Control Your Own Destiny or Someone Else Will, Noel Tichy and Stratford Sherman
Enthusiasm Makes The Difference, Norman Vincent Peal
Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill
How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie

Describe some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve have encountered as an entrepreneur? How were these overcome?

Being turned down repeatedly for funding – persistence, keep coming back in smarter ways (for example, building working prototypes, bringing potential customers to due diligence meetings).

Building a strong management team – great individual players did not work well as a team. Made hard decisions to prune the team and bring in new managers that played well together.

What memorable mistakes, if any, have you made in business? What did you learn from them and how can they be avoided?

Brought outstanding individuals onto the management team, but they did not work well as a team. Learning: just as the tallest basketball players do not necessarily make the best basketball team, the best individual managers do not necessarily make the best management team. How to avoid? – don’t just look for the best people&ldots;make sure the chemistry works

Grew the company too fast. Learning: lose focus and spread resources too thin. How to Avoid: pick a niche, focus your resources/energy, get successful and then expand.

What trends and changes do you see occurring in business today? What new technologies and industries will everyone be talking about in twenty years?

Trends/changes – more people will opt for the entrepreneurial route for lifestyle reasons and financial independence vs relying on a large corporation where a job security is increasingly deteriorating and lifestyle choices are difficult to control.

Technologies/industries in 20 years – merging of technologies — Internet, TV, phone/fax and PDA’s.

Global Expansion – 3rd world countries will continue to grow creating huge business opportunities for U.S. companies.

What are the best and worst things about being an entrepreneur?

Worst Loneliness – you are on your own, nobody supports you because it’s hard for them to see what you see and feel the excitement that you feel in the early stages.

Best Freedom – much more control of your own destiny and your entire life!

Would you comment briefly on the importance (or unimportance) of the following attributes to an entrepreneur?

1. Persistence – need to get through tough times, you will never get to the good times without getting through the difficult times.
2. Motivation and Ambition – "you" have to be the business catalyst
3. Leadership and the Ability to Inspire – need to "work through others"
4. Confidence – get through the tough times
5. Being Able to Build a Solid Team – build brains of the company
6. Having a Bias towards Action – ideas mean nothing if not executed
7. Ability to Communicate Effectively – inspire people, focus them in tough times
8. Integrity – be ethical and fair always&ldots;this is the heart of your business
9. Being Able to Execute – business is about "making things happen"
10. A College Degree – helps build critical thinking skills
11.Having a Good Idea or Plan – need this to focus resources and people
12. Having the Right Advisors – get an outside perspective and prevents "tunnel vision"
13. Knowledge of Marketing – need this skill/insight to grow revenue
14. Knowledge of Accounting and Finance – know where $ is going, how and why.
15. Good Networking Skills – helps in hiring, raising money and business development


This Distinguished Entrepreneur Interview Series article was written by Colin Wahl, interviewed by Ryan Allis on 2/28/2005

Colin is Vice-Chairman, Founder and Board member of InvestorForce. He wrote the business plan for InvestorForce and launched this firm in 1999. The company raised funding from strategic investors including CalPERS (California Public Employees Retirement System), Merrill Lynch, Mellon Bank, Thomas Weisel Partners and Internet Capital Group. Previously, he was Founder and President of Momentum Group, Inc., a company that specialized in providing strategic consulting for investment companies, including Morgan Stanley.
As Vice President, Marketing with SEI Investments, a rapidly growing entrepreneurial company, Colin helped launch the firm’s first institutional investment product securing nearly $1 Billion in assets. Prior to SEI, he was a Brand Manager with The Procter and Gamble Company responsible for managing the business strategy, pricing, product development and promotion for some of the company’s largest brands. Colin began his career with KPMG where he was managed engagements for a diverse set of clients including Volkswagen and General Electric. In his spare time, Colin has also actively participated in angel investing through an angel investing group based in Philadelphia, PA. Colin holds an MBA with distinction from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a B.Com from the University of Toronto. He is also a Chartered Accountant (CA) and a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).