Every time she opens her mouth to speak, Michelle Duval has some very profound things to say about success & failure and the human side of entrepreneurship. As the founder & CEO of Fingerprint for Success, a cutting-edge profiling system that assesses motivations and attitudes based on over 20 years of research, Michelle can tell you which of these have been found to be crucial in successful entrepreneurship and business-building.

Fingerprint for Success, unlike many popular other tools on the market, is not a personality profiling system that fits people into a defined box or 'type.' It measures 48 different attitudes resulting in a highly unique result, and helps entrepreneurs find out their own unique strengths and benchmark themselves against some of the biggest brains in business. During her keynote at Techsauce Global Summit 2017, Michelle told us what they’ve found distinguishes successful entrepreneurs from the rest of the working population – those whose businesses don’t just survive, but flourish – and many of which go on to successfully scale across the region or globally. 

Do you have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur? Can we predict an entrepreneur’s potential for success based on data analytics & tracking?

Here’s some excerpts from Michelle’s keynote that will answer these questions and many more.

Michelle: In 2002, I also co-founded a second business. It was an international coach-training company based on a self-actualizing coaching methodology. We wrote two books in the field and developed specific models that helped people to go from good to great, which is a completely different psychology than any other type of psychology. That led me to being able to train and work with people in 45 different countries but spend about 3.5 months a year traveling. Incidentally, it also led to a 20-year study.

While I was working with these groups of people, I started to notice that just like the politicians, celebrities, athletes and other people that I’d had the honor of working with, these entrepreneurs who really made it successfully had a whole lot of patterns that I started to notice. This led to a world-first study. I didn’t set out to be a researcher, but I’ve become a world-first researcher. It ended up being a 15-year qualitative study from all of those case studies, and then we spent 2 years doing a quantitative study.

Now, we thought was that this was a really fascinating experience, and it also allowed us to measure, very uniquely, something that has never been done before. We started to measure the attitudes in the workplace of these actual business owners and founders – something you might also refer to as a filter that filters your leadership style; we could also call it a “focus-area,” where you prefer and have a bias to focus on certain things. Other people might refer to it as an interest. So some of you have particular parts of business that you’re interested in, and some of you might refer to it as your leadership style.

The point I want to make here is we’re not measuring personality, because the reality is psychology has moved on from personality theory. You’re not a type, you don’t fit in a box, and as you all know, entrepreneurs certainly don’t fit into a box. What makes this study world-breaking is that we were measuring your attitude and your focus in business – measuring what you attend to and what’s important to you.

The point I want to make here is we’re not measuring personality, because the reality is psychology has moved on from personality theory. As you all know, entrepreneurs certainly don’t fit into a box.

Characteristics of the Fingerprint for Success study:

  • Two different sample groups:

    • The first sample was people who started and sold their businesses (made an exit) within just 5 years, for between 6 million and 1.2 billion
    • The second contained “business-builders” – people who actually started or purchased a business and grew and evolved it over a 10-15 year period.
  • Used 48 attitudes to run correlations on a number of founders with characteristics such as:

    • Number of investment events
    • Successful exits (a successful exit was that they actually sold it & got money out of it)
    • Size of the exit in terms of dollars
    • Types of failures that they had or the number of failures (a lot of people they studied had lots of successes and failures)
    • Profitability

Michelle: We weren’t satisfied with just that data. That data alone was really fascinating, and even though we already had 20 years behind that, we spent another four-and-a-half years taking the data and applying it to various different types of entrepreneurs and business builders and staying to track them annually over a 4.5 year period to start to see what difference this was making to their businesses in terms of their success and progress, traction, and most importantly, them actually being able to improve their results from when they actually first started.

And, as I said, it was groundbreaking.

Key insights & key findings by Fingerprint for Success:

A) What distinguishes successful entrepreneurs from those who are just other people in the working population?

  1. Those who are successful are 30% more orientated for the global, abstract, big picture. “Those who are successful love the 10,000 feet view, the 8,000 feet view; they want to get the gist of it; it allows them to move rapidly. They don’t need to get into the minutia to be able to understand something, which allows them to grasp concepts quickly,” states Michelle.
  2. On the converse, Michelle’s team also found that successful entrepreneurs have a very low focus or interest in detail.

“This is the counterintuitive part for those of you who love your MBAs,” she shares. “The correlation was actually really low, and guess what – if it was any higher than low, it was correlated with failure. So, successful entrepreneurs have a low focus to detail. Those of you who are investors and angel investors, you already know this. We can now measure it.”

  1. Those who are successful a much higher priority and need for personal power – that is, having control over their destiny, and having control over their vehicle or their business. The team actually found that this was correlated with having a successful exit.

  2. 28% less orientation toward procedures: Successful entrepreneurs don’t just dislike details; they dislike procedures – but know when to start to implement them to grow their business. She explains: “An example of a procedure is the ability to look for a recipe, a script – knowing that if I do step 1, step 2, step 3, that I can be guaranteed of a “replicatable” outcome. For those of you who actually really prefer to learn that way, don’t be alarmed. You’re going to be best suited to working in a franchise, because the franchise has worked out what are those critical step-by-step procedures and then you just need to go orientate it to your local region that you’re actually doing it within. But this is why it was also correlated with failure: when you’re starting in revolutionary new areas that have never been done before, there is no script; there is no procedure. You have to have the confidence to invent and think on your own; you have to be relaxed with that experimentation. Now if you are naturally more orientated towards a procedure, when you run out of that procedure or if it doesn’t exist, you can experience anxiety, you can freeze, you can struggle to be able to iterate, to flex and to be able to find new solutions.”

  3. They are 34% more motivated to trust their guts. “That means that they have this intuition, and they actually follow it. That means that when they hear negative feedback from others, or things that they disagree with, they don’t feel compelled to follow it. They can follow their own drum. If we were able to measure Steve Jobs as he was around when we were doing our research, he would have been off-the-scale high for being able to trust his own view. Everyone knows that famous quote from Jobs where he says, ‘Don’t ask people what they want; they don’t know.’ That’s the type of mentality I’m referring to,” she says.

  4. They’re very low on external references. “An example of an external reference is looking to data, looking to user feedback, looking to advisors and mentors. Those who are successful, in contrast to the rest of the population, have a very low focus on taking onboard that external feedback,” shared Michelle – but added a caveat: “Interestingly enough, emerging in our data pool, we’re actually seeing that those in e-commerce platforms actually have a higher focus and and a higher motivation on external reference. They definitely do take onboard and let that data & feedback drive their decisions.” Michelle also emphasized that the following are the two most statistically significant highlights:

  5. Successful founders are able to start from scratch, and action oriented – when they get an idea, they don’t mull; they act. They are much higher on their orientation to start things from scratch and as they get an idea, to actually initiate and to take action. “Rather than stopping, waiting, pausing for the organic right time to action, or, worse, waiting for permission from someone to go first, successful founders get an idea and they rapidly take the first action which might be picking up the phone, meeting someone, doing something that’s going to kick off the very first step for whatever it is that they’ve got in their minds. This was probably the most statistically significant highlight,” she explains.

“Again, like our detail, again like our procedures, successful founders have it very low in contrast to everybody else; they don’t like structure, they don’t like planning – everything that you were told in your MBA, throw it out the door for an early stage venture.

“We found that a very small amount of structure was important; there was some, but if it was higher than that amount, it was correlated with failure again. So, as you can see, detailed procedures & structure are the nemesis to an early stage venture in terms of our data and critical findings.”

  1. Successful founders who exit have a much higher orientation to pay attention to the commercial side of their ventures in a real, practical way rather than just thinking or saying they’re motivated for the business to be financially successful. They also concretely, actively measure how to improve their value for an exit. Now this is the second important research finding in this section to pay attention to,” shares Michelle. “Successful founders are oriented for value. They’re looking at, ‘Will this improve our value in the business?’ because they’re already orientated for an exit. This means [they’re really looking at] whatever the metrics are in the business – looking at unit economics, profit and loss, the usual things.
  • Additionally, when we did our research, we found that for those who failed – and this was the critical finding: Although every entrepreneur will tell you that they’re motivated for the business to be financially successful, what we found through all of our data sets was, [even if you say you are], it doesn’t mean you actually pay attention to those things. That is the potential bias or what we refer to as an actual blind spot.

B) How about founders that successfully scale, what distinguishes them?

If we look at the other distinctions, there other critical things the Fingerprint for Success researchers looked at that distinguish the difference between those who start a venture and those who go on to scale them. Michelle shares that this is very often where the errors actually occur, because it’s where the leadership lens fails to change.

  • Those who exit or start to exit are 18% more focused on exiting
  • They also have 21% more focus on indifference. “Indifference is that you don’t care about rules; you literally do not see them. You’re not constrained by a box; you don’t need to play in that sandpit… you don’t even see them. It means you’re incredibly creative and even revolutionary,” states Michelle.
  • They are 15% more likely to stop and jump on their ideas

Remember the structure and planning that she mentioned above, or lack thereof? It’s not surprising that founders who last in the business know when to implement more structure and planning – In fact, an increase in structure of more than 1/3 is going to be needed at a key point to sustain business growth:

  • Most importantly, as entrepreneurs become business-builders, the success factor is a 37% increase on structure & planning. Says Michelle, “You might tell me, ‘Well that makes sense,’ – but here’s the thing: very often the founder who came all that way thinks egotistically that what got them to that point will get them to the next stage. Without this awareness [of the need for additional structure & planning], it becomes a terrible blind spot.
  • “The same is true around what we call procedures,” she states. “Procedures will operate and need to become much higher for the obvious reasons of being able to replicable quality and replicate the experience of the user and the customer.”

Michelle: So as we can see, these are just a few of the critical insights to come. What is the impact of these insights for us? Whether you’re an investor, leading an accelerator or considering a transition, or an entrepreneur building your business rapidly and looking for that edge, what we know is – and it’s surprising – Is that two-thirds of the world’s population now actually believe that a career in entrepreneurship is a good thing. The same research also shows that in the next 3 years, 1 billion people are going to start their first venture. What most of us know is that 60% of those businesses will fail in those same 3 years. As we know, 98% overall will go on to fail.

What keeps us awake at night is that 44% of those overall failures are actually due to poor entrepreneurial leadership. At Fingerprint for Success, that’s not a statistic that we can even bear to see. As a result of our studies, what you can start do now is – just like you do with data analytics & tracking in your business – you can do the same around yourself, your founders & importantly, the entrepreneurial spirit within your team.

Most importantly, you can start to differentiate the phase of business that you’re at, or those that you’re mentoring, coaching or investing in, and you can assure that they’ve already got their blind spots covered.

And you can also start to use data to now design & engineer higher performing teams. We’ve told you about some of the samples that we’ve done; you’ve got the same ability now to use some of the algorithms that we’ve created to do the very same thing for your high growth venture or for your own portfolio and for your own region that you actually operate within – that’s where the big opportunity is.

We’ve turned this into a platform to make it universally accessible to the entire world. We released a white paper last year titled “Can entrepreneurial success be predicted?” where you can get many more insights into what we just shared with you now. We are on the hunt to be able to support ecosystems globally to be able to build up your own data sets so that everybody can benefit from these critical insights.

Fingerprint for Success has started to build up a data set for Thailand so that entrepreneurs in this country can start to have their own samples and utilize a data set tailored to this region. Read more about Michelle’s work & Fingerprint for Success in this article, or visit their website to see how you can start to utilize data & analytics toward more successful teams & leadership.

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