The 3 traits that successful founders all share

What the most successful founders have in common
What the most successful founders have in common

Passion, focus and hard work. Sounds like a recipe for success, right?

Think again. In fact, when it comes to achieving real, runaway greatness, the well-versed trope isn't even the half of it.

That's according to wealth expert and best-selling author Robert Frank. In his almost two decades studying the world's wealthy entrepreneurs, most recently as CNBC's wealth editor, Frank said he's identified the three traits that actually unite top founders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk — and they're a far cry from the old cliches.

"I have three things that I've discovered are really important, and they are not the usual things that people say," said Frank, speaking to CNBC's Jon Fortt on his "Fortt Knox" program last week.

So what are the traits and how can you replicate them?

1) Ignorance

First up, top founders are blindly ignorant to the problem they're seeking to solve, said Frank. That means they think outside of the box and are undeterred by the failings of those who have tried before them.

"The reason that Jeff Bezos reinvented retailing is because he didn't start out at Macy's. The reason that Elon Musk has reinvented cars is because he didn't start out at GM (General Motors)," said Frank.

"All these guys tell me the best thing they brought to reinventing their industry and starting a brand new disruptor was (that) they didn't know what couldn't be done in that industry," he added.

2) Obsessiveness

Next, they are obsessed with their idea — regardless of what others say.

"When you have an idea and you see the vision for that idea, everyone will tell you that it's the wrong idea. If they tell you the opposite, you know it's not going to be a winning idea," explained Frank.

But it's that absolute dedication amid adversity that keeps them focused and enables them to reach the end goal, he said.

"These guys," said Frank, referring to famous founders, "are almost obsessive compulsive personalities: When they get onto something, they just can't let it go."

3) Desire to do things differently

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they absolutely want to do things differently, said Frank.

"A lot of these people, everything they look at they try to figure out how you could do it differently," he continued. "Whether it's a coffee cup or whatever they're doing, they're always looking for a different way to do it."

That's not necessarily something that can be learned or practiced, he said.

"There are just some people who are naturally like that," Frank noted. "They're like: 'How else could you do this?'"

Elon Musk speaks near a Falcon 9 rocket during his announcement that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will be the first private passenger who will fly around the Moon aboard the SpaceX BFR launch vehicle.
DAVID MCNEW | AFP | Getty Images

Frank's observations were echoed by Scott Galloway, a serial entrepreneur and NYU Stern professor.

Appearing on the show alongside Frank, Galloway said: "Anyone who tells you to follow your passion is already rich."

Instead, said Galloway, you should find something you're good at. Then, "the accouterments of being great at it will make you passionate about whatever it is."

He added that really successful founders have a total willingness to invest in their end goal — regardless of the risks.

"The thing that separates entrepreneurs from other people is just an incredible endurance or ability to absorb risk," said Galloway, whose New York Times bestselling-book explores the characteristics that unite world-leading tech companies Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google.

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