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Common traits of successful, and failed, entrepreneurs

Michelle Duval
Michelle Duval
25 October 2017 3 minute readShare

Global business coach and researcher Michelle Duval has investigated hundreds of entrepreneurs worth billions of dollars collectively. My Business asked her about the common traits of these entrepreneurs – in both success and failure.

As a professional coach of entrepreneurs, I have travelled the world working with a wide range of founders in different stages of their entrepreneurial journey: from ideation, start-up, funding, scaling, exit and IPO.

Many are considered among the world’s most successful, all with different skills, motivations and ideas, each looking to move from their current level to the next. Also, many of my clients have been at the beginning stages of the process.


Despite the varying stages one may find themselves in when developing or maintaining businesses, there’s so much to take from the similarities.

By far, the most common question I’m asked is: “How do I succeed?” It’s a good question (also a loaded one: success can look very different depending on who you talk to), and it sparked our world-first research of entrepreneurs.


Being exposed to these people who had dedicated their lives to nurturing and developing their entrepreneurial talent, I developed a deep curiosity about what distinguished them from others. I started to notice that they all shared some commonalities – or patterns, you might say.

What differentiated those who excelled and succeeded, who became elite in their fields, from those who were ‘just doing okay’ or even struggling?

Fuelled by my desire to see all people thrive and realise their unique talent, I threw myself into studying and collecting as much data as I could to answer these burning questions. And the results were groundbreaking.

This far-reaching scientific study spanned 20 years, with 15 years of qualitative research, followed by a quantitative component of founders who sold their businesses for between $6 million and $1.2 billion, as well as business builders who grew business over 10 to 15 years or longer.



We measured 48 business attitudes and motivations, looking for correlations with success and failure. We then applied the findings to over 1,000 entrepreneurs over four-and-a-half years to see what impact this had on business success.

Through this, we uncovered correlations that were, in essence, counter-intuitive (and pretty much the opposite of content being taught as part of business school programs), but the proof was right there in the data.

What do I mean by counter-intuitive? Let’s take a deeper look at a few surprising attitudes:

Big-picture thinking

When moving through your schooling and in general working experience, you’ve likely heard the advice ‘pay attention to detail’ frequently. To get ahead is to pore over every element, to be across everything and understand the innermost workings of each piece of the puzzle. As a business owner, this may strike you as an absolutely critical skill.

Surprisingly, our research has found that a high focus on the details is correlated with venture failure.

Entrepreneurs who are less likely to succeed obsess over details 21 per cent more than those who have found success, while classic big-picture thinking - taking in the whole scope of the business, strategy and direction - is found to be 30 per cent higher in those who have achieved early-stage venture success.

Structure and planning (or lack thereof!)

How many times have you heard advice centred around meticulous planning? And certainly in a business environment, one might expect that a lot of planning (and endless spreadsheets, charts and Asana projects) goes into fostering success.

Well, for successful entrepreneurs, it’s actually the opposite.

Starting a business (and keeping one chugging along in early-stage development) requires quick thinking, rapid action and the ability to flex and adapt with the inevitable curveballs that come with start-up life.

These skills are impeded by a need to plan before pulling the trigger on decisions. As such, entrepreneurs whose focus on structure and planning is 24 per cent higher or more than those who have succeeded, are correlated with business failure.

Trusting your gut

Perhaps this one isn’t so counter-intuitive, but our research has found that successful entrepreneurs are 34 per cent more likely than the general population to trust their gut.

There are a few reasons why some ignore the ever-intuitive gut feeling – they may look to advisors, mentors or their team for answers when they have a mistrust of their own decision process, and sadly, that is correlated with venture failure.

Businesses can fail for a myriad of reasons, some of which will not be attitudinal – like a lack of interest from the market, or external factors like the fluctuations of the economy or lack of access to funding. However, identifying your own strengths and blind spots within can put you in a great position for fostering success in business.

Our research has been transformed into a beautiful, seamless online platform called Fingerprint for Success, where you can uncover your personal strengths and weaknesses and become empowered with the knowledge to change and strengthen the entrepreneurial attitudes that will help you most.

Everyone has a uniqueness worth celebrating, and entrepreneurial talents – what are yours? 

Common traits of successful, and failed, entrepreneurs
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Michelle Duval
Michelle Duval

Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016. 

The two-time Publish Awards finalist has an extensive journalistic career across business, property and finance, including a four-year stint in the UK. Email Adam at [email protected]

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