Essential Characteristics of Great Entrepreneurs

Kathy and I were in NYC for a wedding last weekend. We met two different young men from two very different backgrounds over two different meals. Both of them had a clear and compelling vision.

Researching Opportunity Changes Lives

Karim Abouelnaga founded a nonprofit at the age of eighteen. He was born in poverty in Queens, NY but wanted an Ivy League education. In researching his financial aid and scholarship opportunities, he found one which changed his life.

The United Negro College Fund and Coca-Cola were offering $10,000 for any student who could solve the big social problem of America’s achievement gap—the gap between the haves and the have-nots. And the solution had to include the involvement of corporate America.

Karim did it. He analyzed the problem and came to a solution. His company Practice Makes Perfect provides summer school in NYC for inner city disadvantaged children. The solution includes college students, inner city mentors, and curriculum which keeps these kids on track to success.

Selling Success for Others

The second young man I’ll call Sam. Sam is a successful technology salesman. He is making great money and living the good life in New York City. But technology sales is not his long-term career.

Sam’s dream after graduating from college was to become an accomplished actor. He moved to Chicago and went deep into the arts community. This networking resulted in a lead role in a fairly high profile play.

His performance was reviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times. He told me “The reviews were pretty positive, but I realized it didn’t matter to me. Seeing my name in print should have been very fulfilling, but it wasn’t. I realized right then, acting wasn’t for me.”

Sam just finished raising $700,000 for a movie which is looking for distribution. He got involved in the movie because of the network he developed. Sam may be in technology sales, but his heart is in serving artists. This is the network he is building in NYC.

He told me he wants to help artists commercialize their work—to get great scripts funded, directed, produced and acted. He wants to be the business development guy for all these projects. He loves selling projects to investors because it makes him, the investors and, most importantly, the artists successful.

Five Shared Elements of Vision

These two men have a vision for their lives. Their visions share five elements.

  1. They have a crystal clear definition of the problem they are solving.
  2. They see what the problem looks like when it is solved.
  3. They think they know what they need to do to solve it and will never stop trying to do so.
  4. They are focused on serving others.
  5. They are continually building a meaningful and supportive network.

These two dinners were the best meals I have had in a long time. Full of energy, purpose, and vision. These men are going places. They will be successful because they are focused on changing other people’s lives. They are being true to a calling and not a job.

Karim said something over dinner which stopped me in my tracks. He said, “The work I do is always bigger than the company I am a part of. I care about education more broadly. My company gives me a platform to talk about this.”

These are men of destiny.

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