Entrepreneurs

Here's what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, according to Harvard MBAs who have been there

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What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?

The Harvard Business Review conducted a survey of founders of enterprises — 141 Harvard Business School alumni and 20 non-MBA — to find out. The study participants were asked to rank which skills are most crucial for entrepreneurs.

The answer? They're all important.

The survey revealed that "founders need to be management jacks-of-all-trades," with respondents describing a wide range of skills as crucial. The ability to build a great team was No. 1, with 88 percent of respondents calling it "high" or "very high" priority. Then came things like leadership (82 percent), team management (74 percent), selling (72 percent) and marketing (71 percent).

Here are some insights and ideas from the survey that anyone can use to get ahead.

The people around you matter

Getting the right team of people to support you is critical, according an overwhelming majority of founders surveyed. One Harvard alumnus wrote, "the crucial skill is learning how to form a founding team that can cover the gaps," in your own knowledge. Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons and billionaire Dropbox CEO Drew Houston have emphasized how finding the right people helps create success.

Learn as you go

As the business grows and develops, so will the skills needed to manage it, say respondents. That means, first, the ability to keep learning is very important. Billionaire Mark Cuban agrees; he says if he were to deliver advice to graduating students, he'd tell them: "Never stop learning. Never stop grinding. Never stop loving every single minute of your life."

The respondents also emphasized the ability to shift focus — from the details (early on) to the big picture (when scaling). Mark Zuckerberg says a "big picture" mistake he made while first growing Facebook was failing to get his team on board with its mission.

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Self-awareness is key

The founders highlighted a need for self-awareness, citing "openness to receiving feedback without being defensive" and "the ability to prioritize" as important keys to success. To stay focused on her priorities, "Shark Tank" investor Barbara Corcoran starts her mornings with to-do lists that she says move her business ahead.

Everything's a negotiation

Although negotiating was not a skill initially asked about on the survey, respondents pointed out that it should be. One wrote, "As with selling, a founder is constantly negotiating." So is everyone else, whether it's for a raise, a promotion or a student loan payment. Speaking at the Iconic Conference this year, Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra said anyone can improve their negotiating skills with a few techniques like better preparation and follow-up strategies.

Your mindset means everything

"Persistence and grit were frequently cited as prerequisites for success, as was scrappiness," according to the study. The alumni discussed flexibility, accountability, drive and confidence as valuable traits. In "The Millionaire Booklet: How To Get Super Rich" Grant Cardone writes that a mental shift can separate millionaires from the middle class. He writes, "The biggest mistake is to think becoming a millionaire is impossible." Other experts agree on the importance of attitude. For best-selling author and top Wharton professor Adam Grant, resilience is the most important skill for success.

The one thing that's not as crucial

Learning the nuts and bolts of finance came in as the second least important skill, with one respondent arguing "you can hire someone to do it." Knowing when to delegate and have others handle tasks is key for serial entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky, who has had two businesses hit valuations over $1 billion. "The most important skill an entrepreneur has is recognizing the talent of others, which then leads to delegation," he says.

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