Hunger, conviction, depth, and character are attributes every entrepreneur needs to succeed

At numerous points in my entrepreneurial journey, whether when speaking to other business leaders or considering a business to invest in, I’ve been asked this question – what is the most important attribute a founder needs to have to succeed?

In my view, there are a few, but the most important is hunger.

Hunger is never more crucial than when you are starting out. Going from having nothing to something is like lifting mountains – it doesn’t happen unless you have that fire in your belly. For example, in 2002, both Joel, my co-founder, and I were keen to start something of our own. So, in our late 20s and using only $60k of start-up capital, we launched our first business, Copal Partners – which became Copal Amba post-acquisition – a data and analytics business. Over the next 12 years, we scaled that business to 3,000 people across 11 markets, eventually selling it to Moody’s Corporation in 2014.

However, after exiting, neither of us had a desire for early retirement or to spend the next few decades working the conference circuit or writing a memoir. Instead, that hunger remained within us and was, in fact, stronger than ever, as we felt we had discovered a gap in the market that would enable us to build an even more successful business with a strong social purpose. That gap was the funding gap that exists for small and medium-sized businesses, and the business we’ve built to address it is OakNorth.

We had immense conviction in the idea for OakNorth because we’d experienced the gap first-hand when trying to scale Copal. So we went out and found external validation around the idea and then had the confidence to get back on the treadmill and start building another business from scratch. We went straight from selling Copal into OakNorth, and in a fraction of the time and with a tenth of the workforce that we’d had at Copal, we were able to build OakNorth into a business worth several times more.

As long as you have the conviction and hunger for what you’re doing, you can go from zero to one growing business, but going from one to two also has its challenges, which is why depth and character are so important. Depth is the ability to unpick a specific problem, customer, or category and is central to our approach at OakNorth in ensuring that customers are constantly driving everything we do. Character means recognising that great companies are built by having the integrity to treat all your stakeholders fairly and taking a socially minded approach to business.

Be brave and believe that despite the economic headwinds ahead, the best time to be an entrepreneur is now – not next year or the year after – but now. However, you need to be hungry for it and match this with strong conviction, depth and character.

by Rishi Khosla, Co-founder and CEO of OakNorth Bank

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