Serial entrepreneurs focus on core strengths

The most fabulous part of my work life over the last decade has been to observe at close quarters the craziness, the inspirations, the quirks, and the discipline of entrepreneurs and serial entrepreneurs. The main thing that separates a first-time entrepreneur from a serial entrepreneur is that the latter shows a more profound and pragmatic understanding of risk and leverage.

But I wrote that in the last post already. This post is about something else. About how serial entrepreneurs continue to create new businesses, well, serially. Here are some of the things I have observed (for confidentiality reasons, I have to write about my clients in abstract terms but those are stories that I am excited to be part of, so share them I must!)

I am sure you have stories to tell too. Please do share them in the comments.

Core strength über alles

Serial entrepreneurs, especially the successful ones, know their core strengths and rarely stray far from them. This sounds simple enough but the difficulty of such focus is only revealed when one stops to count the dead bodies that litter the field called entrepreneurship.

Core strength enhanced opens new markets

Serial entrepreneurs are lucky. And their luck is not by chance, but made by their attitude, behaviour and choices.

Core strength + new knowledge –> new market

One of my serial entrepreneurs clients is an animal health specialist. That is the area in which he founded his first venture 25 years ago. That is the area in which his current venture’s main revenue streams lie. But as he got familiar with a different kind of animal from the kind he knew well before – moving from vertebrate quadripeds to invertebrate arthropods – he learnt about a certain manufacturing process and new materials.

This new knowledge set him on the path to invent a product for human health. It has opened a new market for his venture. One could call it serendipity, one could call it luck. I think it is the fruit of positive curiosity, the desire to understand things well and the ability to think laterally about possibilities.

Core strength + removal of a constraint –> new market

Another of my serial entrepreneurs clients emerged from his last exit, in pharmaceutical manufacturing, with his hands tied by a tight non-compete. He spent the next few years making new contacts and expanding his horizons. And plotting his next venture. Now his non-compete has expired and he has in the interim developed a business line in biologics. Contract biologics manufacturing is in demand but also faces a shortage in certified facilities. His new venture is already serving large orders and he is looking to expand them further.

The constraints of the non-compete gave him time to absorb new developments and be creative with his core strength in a way that was relevant to emerging market trends.

Core strength + emergent opportunity –> new market

Dharmesh Shah‘s new venture, Hubspot, illustrates this point beautifully. A profound understanding of what technology is and does is Dharmesh’s core strength. More importantly, as a good engineer, he knows that the user only cares about the ease of use of the front-end and must not be exposed to the complexity of the algorithm or the back-end. His venture before Hubspot, Pyramid Digital Solutions, was founded on these core strengths.

Fast forward to 2006, as social media were gathering pace, and Hubspot was born to help small businesses harness the power of the internet to grow. If you run a small business and are not already familiar with Hubspot tools, do try them out. You will see for yourself.

Core strength is fortified by complementary skills/ how to pick, motivate, reward and retain good teams

Successful entrepreneurs are aware that they owe their success in part to strong teams which are strong in skills they lack. All the serial entrepreneurs I have met, observed and worked with show an amazing knack for picking the right teams. While they have king-size egos otherwise, they are brutally honest to themselves about the skills they lack. Once they pick their trustworthy lieutenants, they treat them well thus motivating and retaining them and their loyalty.

I am aware that while the post is focused on serial entrepreneurs, these could equally be characteristics of a strong strategist and a good leader in a business. How do you see these lessons applying to your business or your clients’ for that matter?

7 thoughts on “Serial entrepreneurs focus on core strengths

  1. I love this, thought-provoking as usual, as well as inspiring. Do you have any recommended reading for identifying one’s core strengths?

    @Alice: Thanks for your kind words. That is a good and important question. With many possible answers. Much has been written about core strengths of companies. There are also several tools for individuals to assess their strengths e.g. see this or even this for some hints as to various tools. In my view, however the best tests remain simple questions such as: What am I good at? What do I feel most motivated to do? What do I like learning about? When am I most “in the zone”? What makes me happiest? More specific exercises can be found in the repertoire of the Brand Me programme (I recently was at a workshop sponsored by 85Broads, and found it quite thought-provoking), and in a book by Cambridge alumnus John Purkiss titled Brand You. Hope some of these will be useful in answering your question. I hope other readers can contribute too. Specific professional competencies may/ will be composite strengths. Thanks.


  2. I have found in the main that entrepreneurs of whatever classification can recognise opportunities when others cannot. I am sure all of the qualities described above pay a role but there is that “indefinable something” thats sets some people apart from others who also have all the right attributes but dont see the success they perhaps should or could achieve. The one distict ability I have seen in the best entrepreneurs is the one that allows them to make connections between things that others cannot see.

    @Jamie: Thanks for your comment and I agree fully. That je ne sais quoi is definitely the secret sauce and the “luck” link in the post also refers to that. If I had the liberty to tell my “animal health” entrepreneur’s story in greater detail, this ability to make amazing connections is also at the core of his success. But for an uninvolved observer that sounds too much like abracadabra, and to untangle that for others to comprehend and be inspired by, even emulate is essential too. Don’t you agree?


  3. Absolutely a very well written (and thought provoking) article. Absolutely agree with you on the idea of creating new markets by adding on new idea and/or removing previous known restrictions to core competencies. Thanks for the insight.


  4. Nice post. As a blogger, I feel my core strength is “willing to write about issues that most people find too boring to write about themselves, but don’t mind reading if someone else has written about it”.

    Still trying to figure out how to make this into a startup. 😛


  5. Very good article Shefaly. What a coincidence. I also wrote a quick blog post today on Build on your strengths, not your weaknesses. I’ve included a link to this post to benefit my readers. Thanks again for this post.


  6. Shefaly
    The Je ne sais quoi, serendipity, alchemy if you will are by their very nature hard to “quantify”.
    Apropos nothing BUT maybe in keeping with the subject matter I recently read an article on IQ scores/tests and intelligence. As per usual there were no absolute statements saying high IQ test scores were indicative of greater intelligence. However when the question “how many uses can you think of that a brick could be used for- answer in 60 seconds” was asked of two groups, one very high IQ and one average IQ, the best results/uses did not come from the above average IQ group, they were realatively evenly spread across both groups. Flexibilty of thought may be a key attribute of the entrepreneur?!


  7. Just curious. What happens to ventures that serial entrepreneurs start? Do they let go of a venture they’d started for the next one they’re keen to start-up? Also curious about the avarage time-gap between any two ventures that serial entrepreneurs start-up?


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