How much security do you need?
This is closely tied to the question above. Can you really handle not knowing when you’ll have a paycheck? How about no health insurance? Are you really okay with ramen noodles and numerous roommates till you get funding (or beyond) after being used to a $100k+ salary plus bonus, “it” restaurants, and bottle service? Having previously chosen a job that paid less (or nothing) than other offers is one way to convince adcoms that you’ll be able to live more frugally if need be. (Of course, if you’re a Rockefeller, the security question really doesn’t apply!)
Are you resourceful?
Since (adequate) funding may be a long way off, do you have a track record for making good use of what you have on hand, or have a knack for finding or magnetizing resources? Have you found creative ways to manage cash (without completely angering your vendors), get things/services at steep discounts or for free, source cheaper or reuse materials, or redesign what you’re doing to save money or time (without unnecessarily sacrificing quality)? When starting your own venture, you won’t have access to the office-supply cabinet, both literally and figuratively. Can you prove you’ll be adept at bootstrapping?
Are you good at identifying and rallying support?
To some extent, this is a subset of the above. Are you resourceful when it comes to people? Are you good at spotting and enlisting people who complement your skills? Seeing how much a summer intern with search engine optimization experience could contribute to his online-directory startup, Tyler brought this intern on board as co-founder. A former VC associate, Tyler had also previously created and cultivated many ties in the VC community, and he very effectively leveraged those when he sought seed financing. As an entrepreneur, you are going to need A LOT of help—in terms of both money and people. Are you comfortable with the ask? Are you good at inspiring people, at either getting them to join you as employees, advisors, or board members; or convincing them to pull out their checkbooks? Can you come up with examples of this?
Are you adaptable?
You may have the greatest idea under the sun, but what if a competitor executes first and seizes your market? This could happen so easily, especially if you’re planning on being an Internet entrepreneur. What if you lose your biggest supplier? What if your funding falls through? Are you able to turn on a dime? Better yet, do you enjoy such challenges? I’ve had several clients who realized at either the prototype stage or even beyond (post-funding) that what they’d planned to do wasn’t going to work. At that point, some decided to give up the goal, while others persevered, rethinking and redesigning their offerings. In which camp do you find yourself?
It’d be ideal to demonstrate this quality through sharing examples of having started something and having been forced to change course; however, if you haven’t had such an experience, we have other options! Perhaps you play a sport that demands agility, like basketball. Or maybe you’ve trained for years in a martial art, so you’re used to having all sorts of unexpected things thrown at you and you’re unfazed by surprises. You may have also had to deal with a drastic change in your family—a divorce, an unexpected death—that may have required you to step up and dramatically shift course.
Are you resilient?
If you take the path of the entrepreneur, odds are, you will fail—at least once. Are you able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, learn from what happened, and believe in yourself enough to go for it again?
One client’s experience with a beloved, yet maddening hobby provides a solid example of this type of stick-to-itiveness. Wanting to feel closer to her father, who was flying helicopters in the military, Kate saved her allowance to purchase a radio-controlled helicopter. Working tirelessly to construct the model, she thrilled as it took flight on launch day, yet within minutes, the helicopter crashed due to, shall we say, operator error. After fixing the battered model, Kate set it to the skies again and it crashed—ten more times, to be exact—over the following year. Never deterred, however, she eventually learned how to better fly the helicopter with the help of an instructor. When I heard this story in conjunction with the rest of her background, I knew Kate had entrepreneurial DNA.
Still wanna be an entrepreneur?
If the questions above have freaked you out, you may want to reconsider becoming an entrepreneur. It’s a crazy thing to do, if you really think about it. If you can answer “yes” to most of the questions above, can provide supporting examples, and feel even more passionate about the prospect of building your own business or social venture after reading this, fantastic! You’re on your way to convincing adcoms; and future partners, investors, employees, and customers as well.
**I’ve changed all of my clients’ names to maintain confidentiality.
Deborah Knox is founder and CEO of Insight Admissions. While she works extensively with traditional MBA applicants, she loves the challenge of assisting qualified nontraditional candidates. Devoted to the study of leadership excellence, Deborah has also served as a researcher and editor on numerous book projects for best-selling management author Jim Collins.