How to Think Like an Entrepreneur

There's a lot of discussion these days about the entrepreneurial mindset. But what exactly is it? Is an entrepreneur someone who starts a business? Not exactly. Entrepreneurship is less about a job description and more about a state of mind. It's an attitude that shapes how you live and work.

I was raised by entrepreneurs (both my parents and grandparents). I launched my first business in law school, and together my companies have helped more than half a million entrepreneurs start their businesses. During this time I've come to recognize several key traits shared by entrepreneurs, and these traits have nothing to do with how many employees you have or how much money you make. Artists, doctors, parents, and teachers can have an entrepreneurial mindset just as much as a small business owner or CEO.

So what are the key ingredients to having an entrepreneurial mindset? Here are my top five:

They are the change they want to see
One of the most influential quotes often attributed to Gandhi is, "Be the change you want to see in the world." While on a large scale, this can apply to important missions in social justice, environmentalism, and charity, I find it just as applicable with each of our personal lives. Not happy with the status quo in your job or family? Entrepreneurs understand that they (and they alone) are ultimately responsible for making the necessary changes.

Each act of entrepreneurship is an active choice to alter your course and improve your life. This could be starting a company, but it could equally be moving across the country, pitching your boss to take on a new responsibility, or going back to school. The opportunities to embrace change are endless.

They look for the right opportunities
In the book The Entrepreneurial Mindset, Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian MacMillan outline five key characteristics that habitual entrepreneurs have in common. According to the authors, entrepreneurs passionately seek new opportunities; pursue them with discipline; and pursue only the best opportunities. Entrepreneurs don't chase after every option.

I've always understood the first point; when my family immigrated to southern California from Iran in the 70s, my parents started an antique business selling the Persian antiques we brought with us. However, it has taken many years as a business owner to understand the importance of their third point.

When you are just starting out or building a business, you're naturally inclined to dive into any and every opportunity that comes your way. I did this with advertising, networking, and public appearances. However, success doesn't come from doing everything, but rather being able to prioritize all the opportunities that come your way. I once read a great quote from Steve Jobs: "I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying 'no' to 1,000 things."

They pay it forward
A common stereotype of an entrepreneur is a cutthroat businessman, always looking to get ahead at the expense of others. But the best entrepreneurs I know are incredibly gracious and generous. They promote and recommend other people's companies and products. They're willing to offer advice. And, when they can't help with a particular need, they dig deep into their rolodex of contacts to find someone who can.

To build an entrepreneurial mindset, you need to start pushing other entrepreneurs forward rather than holding them back. Start building your network of professional contacts, interact with those you like, and recommend and share whenever possible. Don't look at networking in terms of what other people can do you for, but what you can do for other people. In no time, you'll have a strong community of trusted people around you.

They don't take no for an answer
Whenever you're working on a new business, product, or idea, you're bound to face a lot of rejection, stumbling blocks, and naysayers. But for entrepreneurs, "no" is never the end of the story.

In the early days, Airbnb was rejected by nearly every VC they saw - with some investors even walking out halfway through the meeting. Unable to get money from investors, the cofounders found a different solution: they bought up generic cereal, created numbered editions of cereal boxes for Obama O's and Cap'n McCains and sold them for $40 each at the Democratic Convention. The Obama O's sold out, providing the seed capital they needed to get Airbnb off the ground. Now the company is valued at $13 billion.

It's a perfect example of pure entrepreneurial hustle and not letting rejection slow you down.

They are willing to embrace failure
Too often, we're taught that mistakes are bad and should be avoided at all costs. But entrepreneurs have learned to reframe this line of thinking. Any mistake or rejection -- whether it's a failed company, lousy product idea, or rejected loan application -- isn't the end of the story. It's a life lesson. This is what gives entrepreneurs the courage to put themselves out there.

One of my favorite quotes is from Emerson: "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better." Starting a business or taking any kind of action away from the status quo is stressful, there's no doubt about it. But you can't let fear stop you from pursuing your dreams.