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Optimism Should Be at the Top of an Entrepreneur’s Checklist

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This post, by Kauffman FastTrac President Alana Muller, originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Optimistic entrepreneurs are the most successful kind. They are energetic and fun to be around, and it is exciting to be party to their startup endeavors. Sure, they require a good heaping dose of realism, too, but their passion and conviction ooze through every pore of their being and their enthusiasm is downright contagious.

One might wonder if my colleagues and I simply see the world through rose-colored glasses, especially in a questionable economy. I say, we’re seeing things in their appropriate light. Just last week, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, in conjunction with LegalZoom, released its inaugural Startup Confidence Index. The results mirror my own experience — entrepreneurs today are surprisingly optimistic about 2012. In fact, more than 25 percent of them plan to expand their staffs in the next several months, and twice as many of them — 68 percent — expect the economy to improve or stay the same during the year.

In my own work with the FastTrac program, where we open a portal to the entrepreneurial ecosystem for current and aspiring business owners — before, during and after the startup process — I am exposed to this type of optimism on a daily basis. Nothing gives me a greater charge than to hear from one of our entrepreneurs around the world — their willingness to share their successes, their setbacks, how they are moving forward and their ideas to help other entrepreneurs. It is incredibly inspiring.

But, let’s face it; optimism alone is not enough to ensure business success. I am often asked if there is a checklist — some source code to determine what it takes to cut it as an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet. However, there are some indicators of entrepreneurial potential.

Successful entrepreneurs develop feasible ideas into profitable businesses. They recognize opportunity; consider and implement sales and marketing plans; convert prospects into customers; locate and acquire financial capital; build solid, effective management teams; and they ably manage risk. In fact, speaking of risk, it is critical for an aspiring entrepreneur to identify his or her risk tolerance level. He or she might ask:

  • Do I often seek out and try new and different things?
  • Do I enjoy the challenge of finding a solution when I encounter a problem?
  • Do I embrace the discomfort associated with trying something new or different as part of the learning process?
  • Am I open to asking others for help or guidance?

There is no hard and fast rule for whether the answers to any of these questions will help an individual to succeed as an entrepreneur, but a “Yes!” response to questions like these indicates a person’s ability to work through the uncertainty associated with entrepreneurship with confidence, perseverance and aplomb.

An individual with a strong desire to succeed coupled with passion for what he or she is doing helps to get the entrepreneurial ball rolling. I have discovered, too, that the best entrepreneurs I have encountered exude determination, physical energy and resiliency — they tirelessly pursue a vision and readily overcome the setbacks and disappointments often experienced when launching or growing a business. They are always selling — they have their stories down cold and are eager to share their vision with anyone who will listen, making them interesting and persuasive and compelling. They hold themselves accountable for achieving results and have the self-discipline necessary to move the business forward, to shift gears as necessary and to take action even in ambiguous, confusing environments. They are a confident breed, and others gain energy from simply being around them.

That, of course, brings us back to optimism. Above all, great entrepreneurs are optimistic. Their passion, their belief, their can-do attitude all lead to a positive vision for the future.

In fact, you might wonder, what is better than an optimistic entrepreneur? The answer: Many optimistic entrepreneurs! The point here: Don’t go it alone. Entrepreneurship by its very nature can be daunting and lonely and risky and scary. There is no need to go through it by oneself — in fact, I don’t recommend it. Instead, an entrepreneur should surround him/herself with the best — the best support network (family, friends, informal advisers, and mentors), the best business partners and employees (people who care [nearly] as much as you do), the best board of directors or advisory board (be sure that they are fully committed to supporting you and truly enthusiastic about your success and the success of your business). Indeed, optimism and enthusiasm and a positive attitude feed on themselves and regenerate, leaving more of the same! Part of success is simply believing — truly, deeply in your heart of hearts, in your gut — that you will succeed.

So count me in. I stand by the optimistic entrepreneurs. Like them, I have high confidence in the future, and 2012 is a perfect place to start — and to ‘startup’ your idea.

Alana Muller is President of Kauffman FastTrac, the nation’s leading provider of training to aspiring and existing entrepreneurs – giving them the tools, resources and networks to start and grow successful businesses. Kauffman FastTrac was created by the Kauffman Foundation, the largest foundation whose mission is to advance entrepreneurship as a key to growing economies and expanding human welfare. Prior to joining the Kauffman FastTrac, Alana provided consulting services to organizations such as McCownGordon Construction and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, assisting them with expansion and growth of their businesses. Additionally, Alana spent ten years as an executive with Sprint in a variety of general management roles ranging from marketing to corporate strategy to executive and leadership development. Before assuming her position with Sprint, Alana held various roles with Chase Securities and Hallmark Cards.

Alana has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago, where she was the recipient of the Mike and Karen Herman Family Fellowship for Women in Entrepreneurship, and an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Smith College. Additionally, Alana is actively involved in the community and serves on the boards of the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Community Foundation, Women’s Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City and the Smith College Alumnae Association of Greater Kansas City. She is the author of an online blog,, a practical field guide for professional networking.

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February 24th, 2012 at 3:04 pm