Starting out

Six attributes of successful entrepreneurs

If it were easy, everyone would do it. Creating a thriving business is no mean feat and most people who manage it have overcome more than their share of setbacks. 

So, what attributes do you need to become a successful entrepreneur? Fred Schebesta is the founder of Finder, one of Australia’s largest and best-known comparison sites. He shares his thoughts.

1. Persistence

It’s natural to despair when things get tough but throwing up your hands – or throwing in the towel – doesn’t help when you’re getting an enterprise up and running. True entrepreneurs don’t even think about it, they’re too busy doubling down on their efforts to find a solution.

That’s been the story of Schebesta’s life for the past 14 years – turning his big idea into a venture that receives more than 4 million visits a month and employs a team of 400 across Sydney, New York, London, Manila and Wroclaw, Poland.

“You need an inordinate amount of persistence to establish a successful company,” Schebesta says. “You’re constantly dealing with obstacles and problems and you need to find a way to innovate around them and carry on even if they’re really tough.”

Schebesta was recently forced to do this when three consecutive attempts at creating a mobile phone comparison service failed.

“The first time we did it we had to tear it down, the second attempt was over-engineered and, when we built it a third time, it still didn’t work,” Schebesta says. “We’d taken the learnings onboard on our fourth attempt, dealt with the problems and created something that did.”

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2.  Courage to make mistakes

No one likes making mistakes, but they’re part and parcel of doing something new. It takes courage to strike out for yourself and accept you’re going to make more than a few of them, as you work towards your goals.

“When a baby is learning to walk, you encourage them and they take little steps and fall over, and then they get up again and keep going,” Schebesta says. “It’s the same thing when you’re trying to create something.

“My first business, Freestyle Media, was building websites and it was terrible. I learned every single thing not to do, but I also learned everything I should do. We made it out the other side and used those experiences to build our own successful website.”

3. Financial know-how

Being financially proficient is also a must for those who aspire to run their own show. That includes being across your overheads and operating costs, knowing your break-even point, and taking a keen interest in cash flow.

“It’s more of a skill than an attribute, but you’ve got to be able to understand the numbers,” Schebesta says.

“If you can’t, it’s like driving a car without a speedometer.”

It may not come naturally to everyone, but it’s possible to learn from experience, particularly when it comes to dealing with cash-flow crunches.

“We had a bad run a while ago with a court case and ended up owing legal fees and payroll and money to the tax office, such that we were $250,000 in the red,” Schebesta says. “I had to mortgage my shares in Finder but we dug our way out slowly and went on to make a profit. The mistakes I’d made in the past helped me to work my way 

4. Creativity

It’s easy to do things well when funds are plentiful, less so when you’re operating on the smell of an oily rag. For entrepreneurs in the latter category, being able to think creatively and bootstrap is essential.

“You need to be able to figure out ways to run as lean as possible and stretch whatever resources you have,” he says.

"This frugality is an attribute that will stand you in good stead, even when your business grows and becomes profitable, as Schebesta’s has done.

“We launched Finder in the US in 2015 and there’s a video of me on YouTube, running over the Manhattan Bridge to buy an $8 whiteboard that was advertised on Craigslist,” he says.

“A new one would have cost $150 but by going the frugal option I saved money and got some exercise!”

5. Willingness to make sacrifices

Establishing a successful enterprise is not without its price – think stress, sleepless nights, and long hours on the job while others are off enjoying themselves. Giving things up to achieve your goal is part of what it takes.

“If you’re prepared to sacrifice the time and energy you spend socialising with friends and on your hobbies, and dedicate it to your business, that will definitely put you in a better place,” Schebesta says.

“It’s got to be everything to you, especially in the early years. I used to just work and eat and sleep for the first few years after I started Finder.”

6.  Self-belief

The world is full of naysayers. You’ll come across plenty of them when you announce your plans to start a business from scratch. Unwavering self-belief can help you shake off the doubters and stay the course, even when the going gets tough.

“No matter what happens, you’re going to find a way around and achieve your goals – you just have to believe in yourself and then anything is possible,” Schebesta says.

Successful enterprises aren’t created by chance. It takes perspiration, persistence, and a healthy dose of self-belief to turn your good idea into a great company.

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