This year, 310 out of every 100,000 US adults will become an entrepreneur.
An entrepreneurial mindset is what sets those people apart. It’s the inner drive someone has to start a business and stick it out during the bad (and inevitably challenging) times.
The good news? You don’t have to be a “born entrepreneur” to have this mindset. It’s something you can cultivate by getting out of your comfort zone, taking responsibility for your future, and surrounding yourself with the right people. This guide shares how to do it.
Table of Contents
What is the entrepreneurial mindset?
The entrepreneurial mindset is the attitude someone has to building a business. It means having an open mind, questioning everything, and being resilient.
Entrepreneurs need to be OK with failure. Not all of the bold plans we make will turn out to be million-dollar ideas. With the entrepreneurial mindset, you’ll possibly preempt that and be willing to pivot to make it work.
Why do people become entrepreneurs?
Every entrepreneur has a different starting story. But there are three common reasons why people leave a salaried job to start their own business.
Freedom and flexibility
Many aspiring entrepreneurs see creating a business as freedom: their gateway to working their own hours, saying no to an annoying boss, and having the flexibility to work on projects they enjoy. You don’t always get that in a full-time job.
Jodie Kieliszewski, founder of Bee Lovely Botanicals, is one of those people. She says, “I love having a flexible schedule and the opportunity to be learning new things. I truly appreciate the sense of freedom that I have from owning my own ecommerce business.
“I am also enthralled with being in charge of my own fate. I can grow or plateau my business in a way that accommodates my life goals and seasons.”
Other entrepreneurs have never had a full-time job. They dive into entrepreneurship because they crave the freedom and flexibility they know would be compromised as an employee for someone else.
Oliver Breton, the founder and CEO of Niceboard, says being an entrepreneur is his personality: “It’s really not a question up for debate: it was always make it on my own or die trying. I've never weighed the pros and cons, carefully thinking about risk or timing, I just jumped in and decided this would be it for me, whatever the circumstances.
“I still feel that way to this day: if everything I’ve built crumbled to the ground, I’d promptly go back to building something else. Entrepreneurship is a way of life for me.”
Goals and ambitions
Look at successful entrepreneurs and you’ll see they have a fire in their belly. Each person has goals and ambitions they want to achieve—anything from earning six figures a year to changing the world. Their business is often the vehicle that helps them get there.
It’s this personal satisfaction (or lack thereof) that nudges people into entrepreneurship. Ash Read, founder of Living Cozy, says he became an entrepreneur “to prove to myself I could build something from zero. After working for established brands, I needed to show I could do it on my own.”
Welljourn’s founder, Becky Brown, says, “For years, I was completely fine working full-time and earning a steady paycheck, but eventually, I realized that I had to strive for more in order to achieve personal happiness and inner satisfaction.
“There's nothing more fulfilling than working on something you love and seeing it grow as a result of your effort. Some jobs can offer you this feeling, but entrepreneurship is a lifelong source of satisfaction for me. I love working for myself because it’s challenging, exciting, and rewarding. It’s not always easy, but it’s always a worthwhile experience.”
I left a very lucrative full-time job and career to pursue my first business when I realized that I reached a point where finding true satisfaction meant more than a great paycheck and benefits. I knew I could not fulfill that potential I had within me working for someone else.
Not all entrepreneurs respond with “I want to own a business!” when asked what they’d like to do in the future. In fact, some people think of themselves as the complete opposite—yet still end up creating successful businesses (or appearing on Shark Tank).
Take Kirby Kendall, the founder of SafetyChew, who kept an inventor’s notebook filled with crazy things as a child: “My goal was to invent something and have a company license it, and I just sit back and cash the checks.”
Kirby chose this path because he had an admittedly narrow view of entrepreneurship: “I pictured a guy in a small office worrying about a stack of bills and bad employees. I was good with numbers (lots of college math), but learning all the financial stuff seemed like a pain. It would be easier to just invent, license, cash checks, and invent again.”
Kirby turned from inventor to entrepreneur when his “garage inventions were too complicated for me to simply bootstrap, but while I was inventing the Everchew [now SafetyChew] ring, I saw a path where I could afford a small production run.
“I just really, really wanted to take something I invented and make it real. And if I had to start a business to make it real, then so be it.”
Kirby’s foray into entrepreneurship was made easier by an offer from investor Anthony Fata, who gave SafetyChew cash in exchange for equal partnership. “Even just that extra [boost] of cash dramatically ramped the rate of growth and complicated the launch,” Kirby says.
“Having a partner that was equally passionate and committed has really lit an entrepreneur's fire under me. I wouldn’t be working as hard at it if I was still on my own. But as a team, we are two plus two. It’s way more than four.”
My decision to pursue my own business came out of inspiration. I saw a big gap in the mattress topper industry and wanted to become the preeminent brand for luxury and affordable sleep products, kind of like what Dyson has become for vacuums. ViscoSoft is based around affordability, accessibility, and the use of sustainably produced products and materials. When inspiration strikes and you feel a calling toward something, you should never ignore it.
Nature vs. nurture: are we born entrepreneurs?
Not all business owners consider themselves to be entrepreneurs. Maybe they fell into it, creating something they wanted the world to see and a business was the only way to do that.
But some small business owners believe they’re born with entrepreneurial thinking, like Jodie Kieliszewski, founder of Bee Lovely Botanicals. Her family has a history of entrepreneurship, with both Jodie’s parents, grandparents, and sister starting businesses: “I believe that the entrepreneurial mindset is more the type of thing that someone is born with, but obviously it is a skill that can be sharpened or dulled with use.
“We were raised to spot opportunities and resources to make things better. For me, I feel like it’s just something in my DNA, but in order to be successful, I need to practice and sharpen it as a skill.”
Anyone can learn the art and skill of sales, marketing, and promotion—all of which are crucial to a business. Not everyone can succeed as an entrepreneur. People either have or do not have that innate desire to succeed and the mindset to sacrifice, be uncomfortable, and make tough decisions on a daily basis. The likelihood of success depends on the character and makeup of an individual versus someone who simply has skills but lacks intrinsic fire in their belly.
Whether you’re on either side of the nature versus nurture debate, not everyone has an equal start in the entrepreneurship race. Many of us are given the upper hand by the circumstances we’re born into. People find it easier to become an entrepreneur if they have the background, upbringing, opportunities, and financial freedom to do so.
A hill I will die on: the “everyone can be a freelance writer!” narrative is SO untrue.— Elise Dopson (@elisedopson) June 24, 2021
Privilege plays a huge role. I had a family I could fall back on if I quit my job, jumped into freelancing and failed. No mortgage to pay. No kids to look after. All huge privileges.
Certain privileges directly impact your likelihood of becoming an entrepreneur, including:
- Age. Research shows that people aged 20 to 34 have the lowest entrepreneur rate of all age groups—with just 240 people out of 100,000 becoming entrepreneurs during this time of their life.
- Gender. Men and women rank themselves as having very similar entrepreneurial spirits. However, the rate of new entrepreneurs for each gender is very different. Some 0.38% of men become entrepreneurs compared to just 0.24% of women.
- Race. African American, Latinx, and Asian business owners were hit the hardest by COVID-19. Their businesses were disproportionately denied small business funding, causing many of them to shut up shop.
- Geographic location. Even in today’s hyper-connected world, people in rural areas have low-speed internet—or none at all. That makes starting an ecommerce business much more difficult.
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor also found certain elements “directly [influence] the existence of entrepreneurial opportunities.” The biggest driver? Cultural and social norms, indicating those who’ve grown up in a circle of other entrepreneurs are likely to become one themselves.
All of this isn’t to say you can’t develop an entrepreneurial mindset if you’re not coming from a background of privilege. It definitely is possible—it just takes a little more work.
I think you definitely have to have a certain type of personality to be a good entrepreneur. You have to be highly self-motivated, driven, persistent, and a bit of an overachiever. However, there are several skills that you can develop that will help you, including learning the ins and outs of how to build a business, understanding opportunity costs, developing relationships, and keeping up with industry trends.
How to develop an entrepreneurial mindset
Not everyone is born with the natural drive to run a business, but anyone can become a business owner with the right mindset. Here’s how to develop the most important entrepreneurial skills.
Not all business ideas will end up succeeding. There are tons of elements in both marketing and business plans that determine whether an idea becomes a successful venture.
That’s why keeping the will and determination to make your new business venture a success is crucial. Resilience—the ability to recover from less-than-ideal situations—is the difference between people who have an entrepreneurial mindset and those who don’t.
“Entrepreneurs see losing as not only a part of the process, but essential to it,” says Yuvi Alpert, founder and creative director at Noémie. “For them, the only way to streamline a business to make it as productive as possible is by understanding where the problems are, which requires experiencing loss.
“By having this mindset, a successful entrepreneur can get past the fear that holds many aspiring business people back, and opens their minds up to all possibilities.”
An entrepreneurial mindset is having the ability to make the most out of opportunities that come your way. You know how to overcome and learn from setbacks, as well as how to excel in a variety of settings.
Building resilience and adaptability as an entrepreneur is something you can only do with practice. Roll your sleeves up and follow your business plan. Produce the best version of a product. Do everything you can to spread the word. But know that plans aren’t foolproof; even the most watertight business plans can go wrong. That’s where your problem-solving skills are sharpened.
The COVID-19 pandemic is just one example. It’s an unexpected event that couldn’t have been predicted. Resilient entrepreneurs who changed their plans in spite of store closures stood a much better chance of weathering the storm.
Jess Ekstrom, the founder of Headbands of Hope, planned to host a huge conference just before the pandemic hit. But with attendee safety non-negotiable, Jess pivoted and ditched the conference. She chose to donate masks to hospitals in need instead. “In just a few weeks since this all started, we’ve donated over 100,000 masks to over 200 hospitals around the country,” Jess says.
Where others see problems and challenges and then complain, entrepreneurs see opportunities and think of solutions.
People with an entrepreneurial mindset are curious. They don’t take things at face value; they question why things happen so they can set themselves up for entrepreneurial success.
“The entrepreneurial mindset is all about questioning the world around you and working creatively to improve that world,” says Ethan Goldstein, CEO of Curist. “Constantly asking questions about why things are done the way they are and then positing and executing on new ways to accomplish a goal.”
Ethan recommends developing this mindset by questioning the world around you:
- Weigh the pros versus the cons. Say you’re looking for help to manufacture your new curling iron. Instead of getting quotes from one manufacturer, weigh the pros and cons of local versus international vendors. US manufacturers might be able to ship your product quicker than a European manufacturer, for example—but you’ll pay for that with higher production costs.
- Know when to be aggressive versus restrained. This is especially true with marketing and advertising. The world is your oyster; social media platforms are ready to take your money in exchange for lending their audience. “Does our audience use this platform?” and “Could we get this advertising slot cheaper elsewhere?” are just two of the questions running through the brain of someone with an entrepreneurial mindset.
- Learn when to go with your gut versus examining data. Business executives are more likely to rely on their intuition than the general public. Entrepreneurs who had a gut feeling that TikTok would become popular, for example, are winning today because they started using the platform early.
“I think some of the important internal skills include how to emotionally and mentally run a startup,” Ethan says. Most importantly, that includes “how to manage and plan for the constant uncertainty of running a startup and the potential for anxiety therein, balancing ongoing failure and success.”
Get out of your comfort zone
Great things rarely happen in your comfort zone. When starting a new venture, it’s this drive to try new things that helps people to turn shower thoughts into successful brands. They have the confidence to try things others haven’t.
Take Rick Elmore, founder and CEO of Simply Noted, who started his career as a football player: “Throughout my sports and entrepreneurial career, I have always pushed myself outside of my comfort zone in order to become better at what I do. This includes learning about and building from scratch the technology that is the basis of my business.
“It can be an uncomfortable process, but in the end, this strategy results in finding new perspectives, discovering new solutions, and meeting new people who can bring new opportunities.”
Making wrong decisions is the way to success— Carrie Rose (@CarrieRosePR) November 15, 2021
Jeez, I've made so many. But I wouldn't go back and change any. pic.twitter.com/C937GUoJ2j
No matter how uncomfortable it may feel, develop an entrepreneurial mindset by trying new things. A new social media platform on the market? Spend a few hours each week to see how things pan out. A hunch that your product could be made cheaper by using different materials? Have a small production run and see if quality suffers.
The beauty of a comfort zone is that the more you push it, the wider it gets. Entrepreneurs often look back at big decisions that felt scary at the time, only to recognize they’re now doing things they could only dream of. Their comfort zone expanded as their business did.
Entrepreneurs are creators, problem solvers, and innovators. They see possibilities where others see limitations. To be an entrepreneur, you must be willing to take risks and do what it takes to make your vision a reality.
Take responsibility for mistakes
Unfortunately, not all of the business decisions you make will pay off. That won’t always be your fault. Vendors can fall through on their promises, shipping carriers lose parcels in transit, you name it.
Alongside resilience and the drive to solve problems, taking responsibility for those mistakes is what sets entrepreneurs apart.
“To me, the factor that truly defines an entrepreneurial mindset is the refusal to make or accept excuses,” says Mitchell H. Stern, founder of Dead Sea Trading Co. “Taking ultimate responsibility for everything that happens under the roof of a business is what separates real entrepreneurs from the amateurs, because it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s much easier to blame and castigate others when things go wrong, but it’s also a recipe for disaster.”
Mitchell says, “When I came to the realization that everything was my fault, I developed a new sense of empowerment that enabled me to apply a more proactive approach to all of my business operations. The results were immediate and lasting, and it's a lesson I continue to preach to this day.”
Individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset are able to adjust quickly and adapt when circumstances change, are highly intuitive, and rarely shy away from following their gut instincts. They are also decisive, and hold themselves accountable for the outcomes of their actions.
Strive for constant improvement
Gymshark, Harper Wilde, Allbirds—they’re three huge businesses that got their success within the past decade. They have one thing in common: the desire to create the best quality products in their industry.
Take Gymshark, for example. The fitness brand is valued at $1.3 billion, granting it unicorn status in the UK. Part of its success comes from its commitment to always produce the best quality apparel. One of its core values is progression: “To remain at the forefront of both, we need to be fearlessly progressive and consistently future-conscious.”
“Having an entrepreneurial mindset means that you have a natural [affinity] to learn and make your trade better,” says Marie Jones, the founder of Organic Aromas.
“You can have many skills and lack the all-consuming passion to break the barriers. Today, the company makes seven figures worldwide and I believe it’s because of the relentless mindset that always seeks to do more and to do better.”
Surround yourself with other entrepreneurs
Earlier, we mentioned that research shows people are more likely to become entrepreneurs if they’re surrounded by them. It’s easier to spot business opportunities when you’ve been raised by other people who do.
Put this into practice by surrounding yourself with other people with the entrepreneurial mindset. This doesn’t have to be your circle of friends. You can make friends with other business owners through:
- Local business events. The US Chamber of Commerce hosts regular networking events for small business owners. You’ll also find independent events on sites like Meetup and Eventbrite.
- Conferences. Scan the Conference Index to find events and tradeshows happening in your industry. Make an effort to network with people while you’re there.
- Online forums. Connect with global entrepreneurs through Slack communities, Facebook groups, and Reddit’s /r/entrepreneur forum.
Not found your million-dollar idea yet but want to get first-hand experience? Find an entrepreneur you admire and ask to shadow them. Having them as your mentor will help you understand their mindset and thought processes. When inspiration does strike, you’ll have the new skills to turn it into a successful business.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is a motto many entrepreneurs credit their success to. Not only will the entrepreneurial mindset of others rub off onto you, but you’ll have a network of friends willing to help you out when things get tough.
Aligning with like-minded peers allows you to share tricks, tips, and even leads. If that’s not enough, leveraging the influence of other reputable businesses will boost your clout and can help position you as an expert.
The first step to developing the right mindset is deciding to become an entrepreneur
Some people find the foray into entrepreneurship easier than others. Privilege, your upbringing, and being surrounded by entrepreneurs from a young age all influence your likelihood of business success.
Don’t use that as an excuse to wipe “Become an entrepreneur” off your bucket list. You can develop the same entrepreneurial mindset some people say they’re born with by second-guessing everything, getting out of your comfort zone, and always striving for improvement.
“The entrepreneurial mindset is first and foremost about self-belief and confidence,” ViscoSoft’s CEO Gabriel Dungan summarizes. “No matter what industry your business falls under, having confidence in both yourself and your company is integral to success and overall longevity.”