I’ve spent a good part of 2014 speaking to self-made business people, from spare-room online sellers to property zillionaires. As I sat in their homes and offices taking in my surroundings, I couldn’t help but see some similarities.
They were positive
Setbacks and challenges were expected, analysed and dealt with. Many seemed to filter the world through a solution-focussed mindset, skipping the shock/denial/worry stage when challenges arose. My favourite example? Renovating his first property at the age of 20, one taught himself bricklaying from a library book when he ran out money. How gloriously tangible.
They were restless
Scenting opportunities, not being satisfied, pushing for the next goal. You could see this physically: rooms were paced, legs were jiggled. Hopefully not all caused by my open-ended questioning.
They were unafraid of change
There were admirable examples of people going with the grain of circumstance. Using a redundancy payment to re-train in your 50s and setting up a new business, specialising in a completely different category when your supplier folded, starting parallel businesses when opportunities emerged.
They were detail-focussed
And not just about where the money comes from, mentally adjusting profit margins as we discussed rising costs. Many of those who had delegated day-to-day operations had an impressive handle on the minutiae of their businesses.
They were hard
From plain resilient to not ‘suffering fools gladly’ and everything in-between.
They were often self-mythologising
All were used to telling their story, chiseling it down to the salient points. The prevalence of swashbuckling TV businessmen means we’re all fully acculturated to the hero-entrepreneur archetype. Some were perhaps susceptible to narrative fallacy… but who can blame them?
“I started off in my bedroom in 2005 and now I’m the seventh largest seller in the UK”
“I’ve got 178 houses now but it all started with that cottage, sleeping in a cement bag after a 20 hour day”
“None of the published programmes worked so I wrote my own”