Do You Have to Be Fearless to Be a Successful Entrepreneur?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On March 14, 2016

Do You Have to Be Fearless to Be a Successful Entrepreneur?What does it take to be a successful businessperson in today’s world? The majority of us know that it’s not just about being lucky. Most of are pretty well aware that it doesn’t happen overnight. We understand that it takes planning and discipline and good old-fashioned hard work to rise above the crowd and really make a difference in our chosen field.

At the same time, many of us would point toward those that have an entrepreneurial spirit—that sense of adventure and willingness to try new and unproven things. At some level we know that the people who take risks are the ones who reap rewards, right? So do you have to be fearless in order to be a successful entrepreneur?

Adam Grant is a Wharton professor, NYT writer, and author. In his book Originals (check it out here), he takes a look at a lot of entrepreneurs to find out what makes them tick. He interviewed some very prominent entrepreneurs (including Larry Page, Elon Musk, and Mark Cuban) and he recently wrote about something rather surprising that he discovered in that process.

When I asked them to take me back to the early days, they caught me off guard. They all felt the same fear of failure that the rest of us do. They just responded to it differently.

He went on to explain that fearlessness is not something entrepreneurs possess. In fact, you could argue that fear drives many of the great business leaders—but it’s not the kind of fear you might think it is. These “Originals” aren’t afraid of failure. In fact, they are well acquainted with it.

  • Mark Cuban passed on the opportunity to invest in Uber.
  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin tried to sell their search engine (which later became Google) for less then $2 million, but their potential buyer turned them down.
  • K. Rowling had her manuscript for Harry Potter rejected because publishers felt it was too long for a children’s book.

What is it that entrepreneurial thinkers fear more than failure? They fear the failure to act. They fear not having tried. And in that regard, entrepreneurs are like many of us. Research has shown that what people regret most at the end of their lives is not the mistakes they’ve made, but the opportunities they never took advantage of.

When you look at your business, are you more afraid of trying and failing, or are you more afraid of never having tried at all? That’s what really determines your entrepreneurial spirit. You don’t have to be fearless—you just have to be afraid of the right thing!