I have had the good fortune to be close to many successful entrepreneurs. And so I have a perspective as to what separates those who make it big from those who don't. Yes, the quality of the idea is critical, of course, as is the access to capital. And certainly being at the right place at the right time is the ultimate good fortune.
But, if I had to put my finger on the one dominant factor of entrepreneurial success stories, it is the absolute total unwillingness of the entrepreneur to say "uncle."
My premise is that if you put twenty entrepreneurs in a controlled environment, all with the same idea and the same access to capital, only some (if any) will take the idea to the moon. And those who do will be the men or women with the most resolve.
Recently I interviewed Arthur Levitt, former Chairman of the SEC, about successful entrepreneurs he knew. Arthur, an entrepreneur himself, noted that he had observed many entrepreneurs but one stood out:
"Michael Bloomberg ... he has an ability to simply deny defeat. While I am an obsessively tenacious individual, I observed him in several situations reach a point where I would have pulled back - but he just kept pushing forward until he got what he wanted."
Bloomberg is of course a self-made multi-billionaire (and 3d term mayor of NYC).
For Bloomberg, and certain entrepreneurs I know, there is no such thing as defeat. Setbacks and failures are just distractions until the target can be subdued. What makes these people this way, I cannot say. I am just sure it is the one factor that separates the great from the almost-great.
Dr. William James is considered the father of the American psychological movement. Here, from Robert Richardson's great biography of William James (including excerpts from James' 2900-page Principles of Psychology) is how James might describe the soul of an entrepreneur:
"There are, of course, cases of volition that involve real determination, when we must make a distinct effort - a 'slow dead heave of the will' - to hold on to an idea, to 'fill our mind with an idea which, but for our effort, would slip away.'
"(Some people) choose their attitude and know that the facing of its difficulties shall remain a permanent portion of their task ...They find a zest in this difficult clinging to truth, or a lonely sort of joy in pressing on the thorn ... and thereby they become the masters and the lords of life. They must be counted with henceforth; they form a part of human destiny."
One phrase says it all: "a lonely sort of joy in pressing on the thorn."