Editor's Note: Kim Lysik Di Santi recently spoke to Sterling
Women, a networking group that meets monthly in
the suburbs of Washington, D.C. She adapted her speech for this month's column.
Let's start with the definition of "entrepreneur" from Dictionary.com: An
entrepreneur is a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a
business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.
I remember the first time I realized I was an entrepreneur. I was sitting in
class at Coach University, where I received my coach training. It was early
2000. The class was called, aptly, "The Entrepreneur." The instructor was going
over the characteristics of an entrepreneur, and I had kind of an out-of-body
experience. I looked back on my life, and it felt like dominoes were falling
into place. Everything I was, everything I had done, was because I was an
entrepreneur. It all made sense. I was almost high from the realization. So I
called my mother.
I said, "Mom, I'm an entrepreneur." She said, "Yeah?" So I repeated it. "I'm
an entrepreneur." And again she said, "Yeah?" I thought she didn't understand
me, so I repeated it once more. And she said, "I'm saying 'yeah' because I know,
and I figured you had more to say." Then I called my sister and both of my
brothers, and they said basically the same thing. They all knew I was an
entrepreneur; it was a surprise only to me.
Over the past 10 years, I have worked with about 175 individual clients. At
least 125 of them have been entrepreneurs. I have developed my list of
characteristics by observing the entrepreneurs I know, which includes my
clients, other small-business owners and me.
- Most entrepreneurs start working at an early age. My
entrepreneurial clients and I have had similar experiences. I started
baby-sitting when I was 10 and had a paper route when I was 12, which lasted
three years. I was the only girl in our paper station. My brother Kevin and
I rode our bikes about a mile to the paper station, waited in line to get
our papers, stuffed in the inserts, folded them, placed the loaded bags on
the back of our bikes, rode a mile back to our routes, delivered the papers
and then went home. Seven days a week, no breaks unless you found a sub. I
moved up to a fast-food restaurant at 15 and at 16 began working as a
lifeguard at an indoor pool in the winter. From sophomore year in high
school on, I worked two jobs most summers, sometimes three. Like many of
you, my work life has continued pretty much like that.
- Most entrepreneurs have exceptional drive. Dictionary.com defines
the verb "drive" as to strive vigorously toward a goal or objective; to
work, play or try wholeheartedly and with determination.
Drive is that feeling that you want something and that you're going to do
whatever it takes to get it. It's the part of us that gets us up early or
keeps us up late looking for another way to do it, pushing ourselves to keep
going. Entrepreneurs have an excess of drive.
"Drive" is my default mode. Sometimes I run into conflicts over priorities.
I have a 5-year-old son, Zachary. A friend of mine won an award and invited
me to an awesome cocktail party as her guest. I looked at my calendar and
saw that the party conflicted with one of my then-2-year-old son's series of
eight swimming lessons. What do you think I did--the cocktail party or the
That's right. I graciously declined and went to the swim lesson. I overrode
my default because being with my son is more important to me. Since I sent
my 2-year-old to preschool much of the day, I wanted to be with him and
share in his evening activities.
- Entrepreneurs are typically impatient--more hare than tortoise.
To pull off many of the things we have to do, entrepreneurs need to be
hares, moving quickly and getting on with it. To us, the tortoise seems
boring. And yet, we all know the end of the story: The tortoise wins. So
while I am definitely more of a hare, I have learned when and how to
leverage tortoise behavior.
I had a client who started doing a "sample of the month." His program
involved assembling the samples and delivering them to his top-20 prospect
list each month. Before my client (the hare) even started this project, I
told him my experience with new marketing initiatives: It takes at least 18
months of consistently doing any form of marketing to see tangible results.
And that's assuming you're in the right business and marketing to the right
The first month, my client assembled the samples, drove around to the top 20
prospects and delivered them--whew. The next month, he assembled the
samples, drove around to the top 20 prospects and delivered them. The third
month, he did the same thing. During his coaching call around this time, he
asked me, "When am I going to see business coming in from this?" I reminded
him of my original prediction. "It takes about 18 months. Is three months
the same as 18 months? No? That's probably why there are no results yet."
Yet how many times have I done something similar? Truthfully, I have lost
My solution now is to work with my assistant, Deb Mac Lean of SED Services,
who exhibits the tortoise-like behavior needed in my business. I see the big
picture, and Deb attends to details.
- Entrepreneurs are competitive. Dictionary.com defines
"competitive" as having a strong desire to compete or to succeed. I find
that my competitiveness comes out even at times when I wish it wouldn't.
A perfect example is my neighborhood's ladies' bunco nights. Bunco is a dice
game. I was invited, went to the first night and won, leaving with all of
the money. When the second invitation came, I went and won again, leaving
with all of the money. I went to the third one, knowing my luck had probably
run out, and won again. When the fourth invitation came, I was afraid to go.
Guess what? I won again.
Why did I win? In hindsight, I recognize that I was paying attention to the
game and playing to win. My neighbors said, "Come play bunco." I heard,
"Come play bunco." What they loosely meant was (lest I give the wrong
impression of my neighbors), let's call it bunco but use it as a reason to
get out of the house, catch up, have a drink and talk about American Idol.
So we were playing two different games. I kept
the game moving along, so I got more rolls than anyone else, and I believe
that's why I kept winning. Needless to say, bunco has run its course in my
Do you recognize any of these characteristics of an entrepreneur in yourself
or others? In next month's column, I'll talk about some other characteristics of