Entrepreneurs come in different shapes and sizes. Which type are you?

There’s an old saying attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” That’s certainly true of business. Time and again I’ve read that the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who left school in their early teens and set up their own businesses.


Some examples would be helpful here. Apple was founded by the two Steves in a garage. Microsoft began in a similar fashion. UPS was founded by two teenagers with $100 and a bicycle.

The meme of the maverick entrepreneur is widespread. Yet the majority of successful entrepreneurs are not high school dropouts. On the contrary, most of them completed school and further education, perhaps gaining an MBA along the way. The successful maverick is the exception, not the rule. It’s just that exceptions are more easily remembered.

So which type of entrepreneur are you? Do you fit into the category of the studious and educated, or are you a clever maverick flying by the seat of your pants? And does it matter?

Whose footsteps are you following in?

From the entrepreneurs I’ve met and interviewed, the early years do matter. They influence office behaviour, decision-making, awareness of opportunities, level of risk-taking, life goals, staff interactions and financial expectations. It’s not that one approach is better than the other. It’s that the path to success is very different.

It’s hard to tease out cause and effect from all of this. Psychologists would call it a false dichotomy – you can’t easily separate the behavior from the personality.

But if you’re starting a new business or planning to expand an existing one, you can certainly get some hints. The trick is to identify the type of entrepreneur you most resemble, then learn from them.

This is different to emulating people you admire. Admiration won’t change your personality. No matter how hard you try, if you’re a spontaneous creative type trying to emulate your favourite logical analyst, you’ll get nowhere.

Far better to identify someone similar to you who’s already successful. Look carefully at what they did and how they did it. Since you’ll have a similar frame of mind to them, this will give you useful insight into what steps to take next.

You don’t have to be perfect, any more than the investors who follow Warren Buffett’s public stock trades need to match his exact behaviour. Many of them do quite nicely simply by ambling along in his shadow. By copying some of your role model’s actions, hopefully you’ll also emulate some of their successes.

Unfortunately I’m still searching for my ideal business role model. I completed further education but started my own business because the money was better and I had no respect for authority. I suspect I’m also a bit lazy. I’ve done OK in my career, but I’m no Bill Gates.

If you can think of someone successful who fits this description, let me know. I’ll knock on their door and ask them what I should do next.

Meanwhile, try to identify your own entrepreneurial role model. Then see what you can learn from them. There’s no guarantee of success, of course. But sometimes following in someone’s footsteps is a lot easier than forging a new path all on your own.