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Your Entrepreneurial DNA: Identify It and Use It to Build Your Company

As a business owner, you have certain native behaviors that help push you in one direction or another. Call it your entrepreneurial DNA. They might make you better at networking than tweeting, for instance, or better at product development than day-to-day management. A serial entrepreneur and author, Joe Abraham, has borrowed the concept of the genetic information blueprint and applied it to entrepreneurial behaviors. The result is entertaining and instructive.

Just as there are four building blocks, or nucleotides, to DNA (A, C, G and T), Abraham says entrepreneurs come in four types: the builder, the opportunist, the specialist and the innovator (B, O, S and I). His 2011 book, Entrepreneurial DNA: The Breakthrough Discovery that Aligns Your Business to Your Unique Strengths (McGraw-Hill), provides prototypical examples of each of these four, describing their behavior with colleagues, their strengths in business and what tend to be their pitfalls.

Everyone Has Entrepreneurial DNA

“Whether or not you have ever started a company, you are entrepreneurial in some respect,” said Abraham in an interview. “Instead of building a nimble, young company, you might use your “entrepreneurial gumption” to operate a lifestyle business or a retail shop or to climb the corporate ladder. We all have that desire to create or innovate or take a risk,” he said.

“Knowing your type helps you surround yourself with people who are strong where you are weakest. And it helps you pursue strategies at which you are most likely to succeed. Most people have a primary and secondary entrepreneurial DNA type that drives key areas in their business life.”

For instance, Richard Branson of Virgin Air, Virgin Records, and 400 other companies in the Virgin Group, has an Opportunist-Builder profile. On Abraham’s website, you can do a free assessment of your own entrepreneurial DNA that involves 10 questions.

Putting Self-Knowledge to Action

“Kombucha Mama, a specialty beverage company in Bend, OR, is typical of many small businesses in that the two partners know where they want to go with the business, but something had been holding them back from deploying their ideas,” said Abraham, who consulted with them after the cofounders took their entrepreneurial DNA assessment and discovered what they were missing. “One partner, Michelle Plantenberg, had very high Innovator DNA and the other, Jamie Danek, had strong Opportunist DNA. She was ‘the ideal promoter or salesperson’,” said Abraham, but “they were missing the Builder or the Specialist side of the quadrant. That’s the one who usually puts the processes in place as well as the strategies.”

Danek said in an interview that Abraham’s book was “absolutely instrumental” in getting Kombucha Mama onto the right path for national growth. “As we were trying to scale the company, we didn’t know what we were doing.

In the end we didn’t have the DNA for it.…” The partners followed Abraham’s recommendation and brought in a Builder. As a consultant, “[the builder’s] not making any decisions, just showing us, ‘This is how you execute it’.”

Since then, their distribution of kombucha beverages has broadened to the entire state of Oregon and they’ve had a mention in The Wall Street Journal. In 2014, they intend Kombucha Mama to be a national brand.

Abraham had his own Aha! moment when he was running a business incubator between 2005 and 2008 and worked with around 20 different companies. “I realized, strategies that I’m recommending to entrepreneur #1 and that worked well for entrepreneur #1, when I took the exact same strategy to entrepreneur #2, fell flat on its face.” He further realized that it was something about the entrepreneur’s makeup or behavior “that inhibits them from executing the strategy.” From there he went on to develop his thesis regarding four types of entrepreneurial DNA, each with strengths and weaknesses.

For instance, he says, certain entrepreneurial types are not geared to using social media well. “They can follow all the steps but they’ll still have…only a few fans on Facebook.” Abraham’s book or website helps small business owners figure out how to optimize their business strategies to their DNA. “[DNA type is] just a filter that the entrepreneur installs in their brain… The people decisions, the business decisions, run through that filter and they find themselves asking, ‘Is this good for me or is it not good for me?’”

This DNA Morphs

Unlike your genetic makeup, entrepreneurial DNA changes over time. “As the entrepreneur’s journey changes and the circumstance changes, they start to show different behavioral patterns,” said Abraham. He himself used to be an Opportunist, wanting to make a lot of money fast. Later he had the personality of a Builder (“my way or the highway”). Now he is an Innovator-Builder and says he can’t properly fill the role of a CEO, he wants to focus on product development.

He explains that entrepreneurial DNA is not a personality type, it’s an operating behavior, and so it can change. Knowing your type today allows you to optimize techniques that can help make your business succeed and take it to the next level. A few years from now, you might need other techniques, not because your business has changed, but because you have. Based on Abraham’s research (including surveys of more than 1,000 entrepreneurs that asked specific questions about their strengths and frustrations), the specific techniques that work for each of the four types are laid out for you. When you hit the next plateau in your business’ growth, you can retake the assessment and use the techniques that apply to your entrepreneurial DNA, which may or may not have changed.

A lot of frustrated business owners come to Abraham’s website (or pick up his book), driven there by a desire to figure out why they are not getting to the point in their business that they can see but not quite reach. “They appreciate the fact that it’s a tool discovered by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs,” said Abraham.

Do you know you know your Entrepreneurial DNA? If not, take Joe Abraham’s assessment here.

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