Silicon Valley has gazillions of successful entrepreneurs and brilliant innovators.
You can’t walk down the street in Palo Alto or Mt. View without bumping into two or three top executives who started out in a little garage shop, research lab, or college dorm room.
Funny thing is, they all seem to have unique outward qualities, some more eccentric than others. Marissa Mayer is a high-fashion workaholic. Mark Zuckerberg is obsessed with the product. Larry Page is a geeky introvert. Larry Ellison is an adrenaline freak that races yachts, flies planes, and buys entire islands.
All that may be true, but it’s a big mistake to think that defines them.
You see, everyone gets so caught up in the public personae and the hype that it’s easy to forget just how much these folks have going on under the hood. I’ve worked with loads of them and one thing I can say for sure, they will surprise you.
One minute you’re getting grilled about your crazy idea and the next minute the guy’s not only on board but asking why you can’t get it done sooner. It can really freak you out if you’re not used to it. Not only that, but it’s dangerous to take everything they say and do verbatim. They’re not infallible. They don’t walk on water, you know.
In any case, if you want to know more about what makes these people tick, what makes them the way they are, here are seven things that, in my observation, successful entrepreneurs seem to have in common.
They all have a process. It’s the strangest thing but every single one of them seems to have their own process for thinking things through, making decisions, whatever. They’re very process-oriented. Sometimes they don’t even know it. Also they definitely do not want you inside their heads so mum’s the word, if you know what I mean.
They trust their gut. It seems they’ve spent their entire lives being self-absorbed or self-sufficient. As a result, they’re extremely self-confident when it comes to trusting their own instincts and following whatever it is that inspires them. They will listen to others -- a trusted few -- but they’ll still make the final call in the end.
They have a passion for what they do. That’s why they do it. Whether it’s writing software code or coming up with the next hot gadget, they love it. It inspires them. It makes them feel safe, comfortable. It draws them like a powerful magnet. They feel at home doing it. And there’s nothing else they’d rather do. Nothing.
They’re unusually quick on the uptake. They can assimilate data, come to grips with a situation, or grasp something that took you two hours to understand in what seems like a heartbeat. It goes without saying that they’re unusually smart.
They’re born problem solvers. To them, problem solving is a fantastic game. They get off on it. They live for it. And they’re the best at it. Once they understand the problem, they revel in bringing their intellect, inspiration, and observations to bear in coming up with the right solution, plan, decision, whatever’s appropriate for the situation.
They’ve got something to prove. It’s not usually clear -- to you or to them -- who they need to prove it to, but I really don’t think it matters. They all just seem to have this relentless need to achieve, to make things happen, to do great things. It drives them and motivates them.
They work their tails off. Their work is, to a great extent, their life. That’s sort of an obvious result when you consider how passionate they are about what they do and how driven they are to accomplish great things. And you won’t always see them working, either. Day or night, at work or at home, they usually have a hard time turning it off.
One more thing. If you end up working with some of these folks, the worst thing you can do is be in awe of them. They don’t generally like yes-men and are quite impatient with folks who don’t add value. They have you around for a reason. Do what you do best and be straight with them. That’s generally the way to go.
This column originally appeared on Inc.com.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.