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Why startup success comes down to the entrepreneur

There is one common theme with all entrepreneurs. Leadership. Yet unlike larger companies, startup leaders have one crucial difference that can make or break the company’s success. Selection of leadership positions in a corporation or perhaps a government position is not something that is rushed.

Professional headhunters search the market and vet potential candidates with reference checks, that include the candidate’s work history and social media exposure. Headhunters boast of their extensive personal networks that allow them to source the exact cultural fit for a corporate or government position.

Corporate leaders spend years honing their rhetoric to express themselves such that at interview time, they present as a team player sensitive to the thoughts and opinions of all.

When the interview committee is formed, it too has been reviewed and double-checked to ensure that it in of itself offends no one.

The selection process will perhaps take days or weeks, with several interviews following a selection process that again will offend absolutely no one.

Finally, a candidate will be declared as successful and that person then undertakes further emersion in the culture and obligations of their new employer.

So what?

Many startup entrepreneurs display all the characteristics of leadership but with one notable difference: Startup entrepreneurs are self-appointed. It is an extreme display of self-confidence.

Having appointed themselves, they obviously wish to do things their way.

The committee of one was unanimous in selecting the leader of this startup. Hence the political correctness expected of a leadership position may well be an afterthought.

The end result may not be pretty, but it is that element that separates the startup entrepreneurs from other leaders in the world of business. Not a perfect person, but the person for the job!

Top-down culture

Then of course comes organisational culture. Again, it’s not always attractive to the populace, but the culture will reflect the leader. Most often it is a sanitised version of ‘my way or the highway’.

Yet how many times have we heard an entrepreneur say they couldn’t have succeeded without their team? Countless times.

Interestingly, the team is a group of individuals who accepted the leadership style and subsequent culture and were successful working in that environment. Obviously, these teams can be hard to find.

The unspoken rule is that the team has a high level of tolerance of a self-obsessed individual with at least some semblance of a business plan.

Rat cunning

Knowing who to hire—and who not to—is just one of the many decisions a startup leader must make. There are decisions around product mix, pricing, marketing, customer reach, supply agreements, technology, partnerships, funding, geographic footprint, and more.

Some suggest making the right call amounts to nothing more than trial and error mixed with a bit of blind luck. But it’s ultimately rat cunning—like the fox who diligently scopes out its prey and awaits the ideal opportunity to strike—on the entrepreneur’s behalf.

Determination, adaptability and an appetite for risk are all important traits for entrepreneurs. But it’s that killer instinct which turns opportunities into achievements.

Taking the lead

A team, business culture and the subsequent success or failure of a startup is always a direct reflection of how opportunities were managed (or lost), starting at the top.

By their very nature, startup entrepreneurs are the centre of their environment. No matter the expertise and insight they bring into the business, they are the ultimate decision-makers who call the shots. And to be successful, they must—and most likely want to—have this total control.

As such, whether they realise it or not, the ultimate success or failure of any startup ultimately comes down to the entrepreneur who leads it.

Alan Manly is the CEO of Universal Business School Sydney (UBSS) and author of The Unlikely Entrepreneur. To find out more, visit