Australian tech leaders reveal what makes entrepreneurs different from employees

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Many people daydream of packing in their day jobs and running their own startup. Some actually carry out their plans and even fewer succeed.

Five Australian leaders in technology that have been through it all have shared their thoughts with Business Insider on what makes an entrepreneur different to the average Jane or John Doe. Here are their observations on what attributes you need to hand in the resignation letter and make your world-beating idea come true.

There’s nowhere to hide

The chief executive of online small business lender Kikka, David Brennan, says entrepreneurs must be engaged in every part of the business, unlike employees.

“There’s nowhere to hide when you’re an entrepreneur. Unlike bigger businesses, you can’t sit back and watch things happen around you. You have to be fully engaged and take responsibility for every outcome if you want your company to grow,” Brennan said.

He said this engagement is even more important for a startup because there is no brand value or existing goodwill to draw and retain clients.

“Everything is driven by customer satisfaction and engagement. It’s the only way to scale a new business,” he said. “You have a different mindset in the sense that your company often doesn’t have a large brand name to fall back on.”

“In a large business there is much more incentive to look after yourself and your own climb up the corporate ladder. At a startup, our success is reflected by the growth of the business, so there is a naturally more collaborative and team driven environment with everyone working towards the same overall goal and vision.”

Learn to live with risk

The high rate of failure for new small businesses means entrepreneurs must have a thick skin and an acceptance that their venture, regardless of their own faith in the product, is risky by nature. SalesPreso co-founder Joel Thomson says potential entrepreneurs must ask if they’re willing to give up a guaranteed income and even lose money.

“The opportunity to be entrepreneur at all is a huge luxury and it’s not an option for everyone. It’s not just about mindset as so many books and blogs on the subject would have us believe,” he said.

“Probably the biggest at the beginning is money to live on, while they go unpaid — for months at a time. This is a big risk for people who are used to working for others and it’s only the first risk.”

The risks then continue on for months and years – with Thomson naming burning through personal capital, cash flow dependence, gauging market interest, trusting key staff, trusting investors, deadline timing and sacrifice of personal time and health as just a few examples.

“I think the rewards of entrepreneurship often outweigh personal risks, but anyone taking this path over working as an employee has to learn to live with risk.”

Lachlan McKnight, CEO of online legal service LegalVision, said that risk-taking leads to innovation, which is what an entrepreneur needs for success.

“As lawyers are particularly risk-averse, entrepreneurs in the legal space often challenge the status quo in favour of experimentation.”

Be comfortable being uncomfortable

Startupbootcamp Melbourne programme director Richard Celm says that entrepreneurs get a kick out of taking on challenges that seem insurmountable to employees.

“Entrepreneurs say yes to things – ideas, a vision, change, contracts, sales opportunities and then work out how they are going to deliver them. It’s the classic ‘being comfortable being uncomfortable’ and it becomes like a drug,” he said.

“They need that adrenaline rush of not being sure whether or not it’s possible to push themselves to achieve what others would tell them can’t be done.”

Celm said that the confidence is paired with a realisation that the problem can’t be solved alone, so entrepreneurs must also be blessed with the ability to sell their strategy to collaborators.

“Entrepreneurs believe anything is possible so long as they invest effort or study – ‘growth mindset’ — and inspire others with their vision of the change they hope to create.”

Everyone has a role

Successful entrepreneurs realise they’re not the be-all and the end-all of their startup and that every staff member has a critical role to play in the venture, according to VidCorp founder and chief executive Ryan Berman.

“The workplace wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have both [entrepreneurs and employees] – one role couldn’t survive without the other. They each have their unique place in the workforce and most importantly it‘s OK to play either role.”

Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and that there are people who are more productive and enjoy their lives more with the structure and certainty that comes with working for someone else.

“Everyone has a role within the workplace. Every single person is born with the same right as their collegues and bosses to run their destiny how they see fit,” Berman said.

Berman, who is at the helm of a video platform startup backed by tennis player Lleyton Hewitt, said that entrepreneurs enjoy a lack of structure during the early stages and are not afraid of making incorrect decisions.

“Entrepreneurs are hard workers at the height of their career and are harder workers at the low lights of their careers.”

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