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Discover Your Entrepreneurial Archetype: Explore the Big Five and Identify Yours

Entrepreneurship encompasses a diverse range of types, motivations, and goals. Recognizing your specific entrepreneurial type can quickly enhance your potential and ensure you make the most of your journey. 

At Ninety, entrepreneurs form the backbone of our client base, and it's easy to see why: they are the driving force behind societal and economic progress, enriching our communities in countless ways. With their innate knack for identifying fresh opportunities, drawing in talent and investment, and crafting remarkable enterprises from scratch, entrepreneurs outpace larger, more cumbersome entities in innovation and impact.

This is why it’s not unusual for entrepreneurs to enter into other fields like philanthropy, politics, and education. They tend to possess a keen ability to identify opportunities and ways to make the world a better place.

I’ve had the privilege of working with hundreds of entrepreneurs over the past few decades. One key observation I can affirm is that they come from all walks of life, possess an array of innate characteristics (including personalities, talents, and varying levels of determination), display individual strengths and weaknesses, share distinct stories, have their own specific needs, and are driven by unique motivations. In fact, many individuals in this group, including myself, never set out to be entrepreneurs, let alone founders of successful and enduring organizations.

Recognizing this diversity, it becomes clear that lumping together all of the powerful motivations, behaviors, and potentials of the entrepreneurial mind into one category oversimplifies their complexities.

The Big Five Entrepreneurial Archetypes

Distinguishing between the five distinct entrepreneurial archetypes is not just an academic exercise but a practical tool to help entrepreneurs better align their unique traits with the archetype that best matches their vision and approach.

Our aim in this article is not only better to understand what drives entrepreneurs in their unrelenting quest for innovation, but to capture something of the spirit that propels them to bring their vision to life — often against all odds.

By identifying your own entrepreneurial archetype, you’ll gain valuable insights into clarifying and strategizing your unique goals and motivations.

1. Innovator/Disruptor Entrepreneurs

Pioneering Creativity, Disruptive Ideation, and Industry Creation or Transformation

  • Focus: Building something that stands the test of time
  • Need: To craft a vision for the future  
  • Sacrifice: Tomorrow matters more than today

Innovators/Disruptors are visionaries whose invention or process disrupts a status quo and changes the entire nature of a market. This entrepreneurial archetype is often what we think of when we consider well-known entrepreneurs in history and the modern day.

For example, Henry Ford disrupted the then-exclusive auto industry with his invention of the assembly line and the process of using interchangeable parts, which together allowed cars to be mass-produced cheaply. This opened the auto market to the masses, not just the privileged few, and accelerated societal change.

Notable Innovator/Disruptor Entrepreneurs

  1. Steve Jobs redefined consumer technology as the co-founder of Apple, introducing transformative products like the iPhone, iPad, and Macintosh, which set new standards for design, usability, and technology integration in the industry.
  2. Larry Page and Sergey Brin together co-founded Google and transformed online search with their PageRank algorithm, making vast internet information accessible and launching services like Google Maps, Drive, and Docs that further shaped the digital landscape.
  3. Reed Hastings changed entertainment consumption by co-founding Netflix, which adapted from DVD rentals by mail to streaming media, disrupting traditional markets and emphasizing original content production.

Personality of the Innovator/Disruptor

These examples highlight individuals who not only identified opportunities but also introduced groundbreaking ideas and technologies, fundamentally changing industries and shaping the digital landscape.

They all prioritized the future, the long game over short-term gains. They combined powerful visions with the Founder mentality required to build truly great, enduring organizations at scale.

2. Builder/Developer Entrepreneurs

Strategic Resource Management, Operational Excellence, and Scalable Growth

  • Focus: Creating something enduring
  • Need: To build something great that will really make a difference
  • Sacrifice: Today’s efforts are investments in tomorrow’s success

Builders/Developers excel at effectively orchestrating resources, managing teams, and executing highly scalable plans to turn their ideas into reality. While they’re not generally as blue-sky visionary as Innovators/Disruptors, they’re able to see and clearly define what they’re striving to accomplish in clearly understandable ways that quickly attract the capital and talent required to make it happen.

These entrepreneurs possess exceptional leadership skills and thrive in scaling businesses. They generally display considerable prowess in strategic resource management, along with the ability to stick to a long-term focus that drives sustainable growth.

Notable Builder/Developer Entrepreneurs

  1. Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, exemplifies the Builder/Developer entrepreneurial archetype through his focus on achieving the lowest total cost. Walton's vision and operational strategy revolutionized retail by prioritizing efficiency and cost reduction, enabling Walmart to offer lower prices than competitors and scale massively.
  2. Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, is recognized for her exceptional leadership and innovation, enhancing the company's profits by diversifying into healthier products, focusing on sustainability, and expanding globally in the competitive food and beverage sector.
  3. Bernard Arnault made LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) into one of the world’s most recognizable brands through his strategic expansion of the luxury brand conglomerate, emphasizing operational excellence and innovation. His leadership propelled LVMH's prominence, demonstrating his skill in building enduring brands and driving long-term success.

Personality of the Builder/Developer

Builders/Developers are crystal clear about the brand they intend to create and are very adept at assembling talented teams capable of building strong enterprises that achieve long-term scalability.

3. Lifestyle Entrepreneurs

Personal Freedom, Work-Life Balance, and Value-Driven Ventures

  • Focus: Excelling and finding deep satisfaction in their work
  • Need: To control their destiny
  • Sacrifice: Striving to have their cake and eat it too

Lifestyle Entrepreneurs prioritize building businesses that align with their desired lifestyles, granting them personal freedom and a balanced work-life harmony.

These individuals use their specialized skills and knowledge to create value-driven ventures. 

Notable Lifestyle Entrepreneurs

  1. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, embodies the Lifestyle Entrepreneur by promoting work-life balance through automation, outsourcing, and effective time management. His ventures and teachings emphasize a lifestyle of freedom and autonomy, aiming for minimal engagement in traditional work.
  2. Joanna Gaines, co-founder of Magnolia, a lifestyle brand, has developed a business mirroring her personal aesthetics and values, covering home decor, real estate, and a television network. Her endeavors enable her to maintain a balance between family life and her passion for design and renovation.

Personality of the Lifestyle Entrepreneur

Lifestyle Entrepreneurs are excellent at spinning up businesses that allow them to live life on their own terms. Their unique attributes lie in their commitment to personal freedom and the pursuit of ventures that resonate with their core values.

4. Accidental Entrepreneurs

Adaptability, Resilience, and Transformative Opportunities

  • Focus: Making a decent living
  • Need: To earn enough to retire — the sooner the better
  • Sacrifice: Dreams of becoming rich

Accidental Entrepreneurs are individuals who had no intention of starting and building a company. They’re people who find themselves thrust into entrepreneurship unexpectedly, navigating unique challenges and opportunities.

They set themselves apart by their ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances with resilience and to transform these unexpected situations into opportunities for growth.

Notable Accidental Entrepreneurs

  1. Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, became an entrepreneur almost by chance when she invented footless pantyhose. Her journey began with a personal need and a simple idea, which she turned into a billion-dollar business without any formal training in fashion or business, showcasing her adaptability and resilience.
  2. Matt Maloney and Mike Evans were software developers looking for an easier way to order food from restaurants. Their solution to a common problem led to the creation of Grubhub, an online food ordering platform that transformed food delivery services, showcasing their adaptability and entrepreneurial spirit in response to a personal need.

Personality of the Accidental Entrepreneur

Accidental Entrepreneurs are tenacious and can acquire necessary business skills on the fly while leveraging new and unforeseen circumstances to fuel their entrepreneurial growth.

5. Opportunist Entrepreneurs

Agile Adaptability, Market Trend Identification, and Rapid Exploitation

  • Focus: Generating revenue
  • Need: To earn wealth and gain recognition and esteem
  • Sacrifice: The joy of being singularly committed to a compelling cause

Clayton Christensen, the famous academic and business consultant, said that "People often think that the best way to predict the future is by collecting as much data as possible before making a decision. But this…is like driving a car looking only at the rearview mirror — because data is only available about the past.”

Opportunists understand the power of making data-driven decisions. They also possess a keen eye for identifying emerging, timely market trends and gaps.

Oftentimes, the Opportunist Entrepreneur may not even be interested in building a great company but is more focused on swiftly exploiting an opportunity for the purpose of making lots of money or building something that can be sold to a strategic buyer.

Notable Opportunist Entrepreneurs

  1. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, co-founders of Instagram, launched the photo-sharing app that rapidly gained popularity due to its simplicity and novel filters. They quickly capitalized on its popularity by selling to Facebook for $1 billion, demonstrating their ability to exploit market opportunities rapidly without a long-term commitment to managing the company.
  2. Andrew Mason started with a platform called "The Point" which focused on social campaigns but shifted gears to create Groupon, a site offering daily deals to consumers. This pivot capitalized on the emerging trend of online group discounts, driving Groupon's fast growth and leading to a successful IPO. Mason's strategic shift exemplifies his opportunistic entrepreneurship, quickly seizing and exploiting a market niche for significant gain.

Personality of the Opportunist

Not only do these entrepreneurs seize opportunities swiftly, but they are agile, adaptable, and quick to pivot their strategies to align with market dynamics.

Opportunists to the core, they generally have no interest in sticking around to see what a company turns into over the long haul. In their eyes, that’s the job of a strategic buyer and/or new management team.

What Type of Entrepreneur Are You?

Understanding the distinctive differentiators of the five entrepreneurial archetypes — Innovator/Disruptor, Builder/Developer, Lifestyle, Accidental, and Opportunist — provides valuable insights into the various types of entrepreneurs and the respective playbooks and operating systems they will require to thrive at their highest and best calling.

Appreciating the distinct traits of each archetype — from their innovative creativity and strategic resource management to their agile adaptability, deep expertise, dedication to personal freedom, or resilience in unforeseen situations — enriches our comprehension of the varied entrepreneurial landscape today. Embracing these differentiators and identifying what types we resonate with not only helps us celebrate the diversity of entrepreneurship but also empowers us to unlock the potential for greater innovation, growth, and collective success along our own journey.

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