For the past two years, we have been wandering inside the minds of innovation leaders across Central and Eastern Europe. With every new discussion about their life philosophies, personal development, and leadership style, we got one step closer to contouring the essential traits that make up successful entrepreneurs.
While it’s not a recipe for success, nor does every entrepreneur need to excel in each of these areas, we have been told – and often proven – that the presence of the following 8 qualities can be a predictor of success in entrepreneurship.
8 qualities of successful entrepreneurs
The emphasis on authenticity in the professional realm is gaining momentum, and rightfully so. One can argue that in entrepreneurship, authenticity is not only desirable, but essential.
Stefi Vasilopoulou, a prominent figure in the tech community in Greece, champions the importance of authenticity in the entrepreneurial landscape. Throughout her numerous roles —from serial founder, angel investor, mentor, and community builder —she has been asking a fundamental question to entrepreneurs: “Why are you doing this?”
For Vasilopoulou, the answer needs to be authentic, whether it’s about maintaining a certain lifestyle or aiming for growth. This focus on genuine motivation is not just an exercise in self-reflection for the entrepreneur but serves as a cornerstone for building a community where value is co-created. Authenticity, in this context, eliminates fear and fosters a climate of trust and mutual growth.
Velina Getova, founder of NotYourTherapy, also stresses that the future’s most needed skill is the capacity to manage one’s interior state. This involves breaking free from societal molds that define what a leader “should” be.
Getova underscores the transformative power of being genuine in leadership roles, sharing personal stories of leaders who have opened up about their mental health struggles. The act of authenticity not only strengthens the individual but also has a profound impact on their ability to lead effectively. How to discover one’s authentic self? Velina recommends quality time in solitude, whether through meditation or journaling.
#2 Passion for creating value
The role of passion in entrepreneurship cannot be overstated. Why else would you take on such a demanding, uncertain, and intense journey?
For Vassil Terziev, former managing partner at Eleven Ventures and co-founder of Telerik, entrepreneurship is not just a business venture, but a state of mind rooted in the desire and ability to create value. He emphasizes the importance of being a “free individual,” one who takes responsibility for their actions and leverages their influence on their surroundings to make a meaningful impact. This approach embodies a deeper level of commitment, revealing that the drive to create value is closely tied to an entrepreneur’s intrinsic motivation and passion for bringing about change.
Similarly, Hristo Borisov, co-founder and CEO of Bulgarian unicorn Payhawk, highlights the pivotal role of passion in his entrepreneurial journey. According to Borisov, passion is the fuel that drives him to fully commit to solving a problem. He describes himself as a “firm believer in the problem” he’s solving, and this passion propels him to understand customer pain points and build scalable solutions.
Borisov admits that he can’t engage in a project unless he feels a strong inner drive for it. His all-in approach, even without a safety net, exemplifies the high stakes and rewards of entrepreneurship driven by excitement. As he puts it, “If you want to go to the Moon, you shouldn’t be afraid of the acceleration,” emphasizing that it’s this very passion that enables the audacious goals entrepreneurs set for themselves.
#3 Courage to disrupt
The courage to disrupt established systems is a hallmark of entrepreneurial success.
Take Kinderpedia, a school management software that aims to streamline administration and improve communication among teachers, parents, and students. Co-founder Evelina Necula emphasizes the need for disruptive innovation in order to make a lasting impact. “We realized from the very beginning that we don’t need to be a plaster. We need to be disruptive in order to make an impact,” she says. This constant evaluation of whether they are “disruptive enough” keeps the Kinderpedia team aligned with their ultimate goal of radically improving educational administration and communication, thereby highlighting the power of courage in entrepreneurship.
Likewise, Prof. Martin Vechev, the architect of The Institute for Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence and Technology (INSAIT) in Sofia, exemplifies the importance of ambition and courage in achieving one’s entrepreneurial ambitions. Vechev shares his philosophy that declaring your intentions to the world binds you to your decision, offering you a learning experience even if you fail. “We have one life, time is too little, and we have got to move fast,” he adds.
Missing a bold vision for your entrepreneurial endeavor may even be fatal, Victor Trokoudes, co-Founder and CEO of fintech company Plum, believes. “The most dangerous thing when you’re launching a startup is to think small,” he says. Thinking small brings into focus the cost side of the business, causing us to lose sight of growth opportunities, whereas thinking big echoes in the way you build the team and brings in people aligned to these big ambitions.
In the entrepreneurial journey, the ability to tell a compelling story can be as crucial as the product or service itself. We talk at length about the importance of storytelling many times.
Mike Butcher, Editor-at-large at TechCrunch, asserts that “50% of being an entrepreneur is about communication, because you’re trying to change the world. You must begin an educational process, you have to tell a story.”
Storytelling is therefore not just a marketing tool, but a way to articulate the problem you’re solving, the value you’re providing, and the vision you have for the future. A well-told story can captivate investors, inspire teams, and attract customers, serving as a cornerstone for business success.
However, storytelling is an area where many entrepreneurs falter, according to Butcher. He notes that one of the major pitfalls startup founders face when pitching their product is the failure to adequately describe the problem they aim to solve. Entrepreneurs must not only create solutions but also craft narratives that make the problem palpable and the solution indispensable. Effective storytelling helps to bridge the gap between a startup’s vision and its potential audience, solidifying its place in a competitive market.
#5 Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is increasingly recognized as a key ingredient for entrepreneurial success, as it directly impacts team dynamics, customer relations, and decision-making.
Elina Halatcheva, managing partner at BrightCap Ventures, emphasizes that entrepreneurs need emotional intelligence “to know how people feel, how they interact, whether they are happy or unhappy.” This understanding is vital in creating a harmonious work environment, and thus in retaining talent and fostering innovation. A leader with high emotional intelligence can better navigate the complexities of team interactions and can more effectively resolve conflicts, ensuring that the team remains focused and motivated.
Similarly, Vicky Foteinou from CrowdPolicy underscores the role of empathy in entrepreneurship. She clarifies that “empathy doesn’t mean to be like the other person. Empathy means to understand the other person, remain in our beliefs, and move further better along with them.”
This perspective on empathy highlights its role in building stronger relationships, both within the team and with external stakeholders like customers and investors. By exercising emotional intelligence, entrepreneurs are better equipped to understand the needs and motivations of others, thereby making more informed and impactful decisions. This is especially critical in the fast-paced, high-stakes world of startups, where interpersonal dynamics can significantly influence the trajectory of the business.
#6 Continuous learning
The philosophy of continuous learning is an essential tool in the box for any successful entrepreneur.
Orlin Dochev, managing partner at Next Consult, emphasizes the importance of self-challenging and adaptability in business. According to him, the key to adding value for clients lies not just in delivering a service but in continuously questioning both the client’s and one’s own processes and operations. “This requires a lot of sales psychology, discovering business models, challenging the client, challenging yourself, and listening,” Dochev points out.
His mantra, “If you stop, then you die,” encapsulates the notion that stagnation is antithetical to entrepreneurial success. A constant drive to learn and adapt is crucial for both personal growth and business innovation.
Apostolos Apostolakis, partner at Venture Friends, also highlights the never-ending nature of learning in the entrepreneurial landscape. He believes that “learning is constant” and the knowledge acquired becomes relevant not just for the individual but for others in the ecosystem. He advocates for a professional environment that values communication and learning from example, which fosters a compelling problem-solving mentality.
This aligns with the concept of a “growth mindset”, where even failures are viewed as valuable learning experiences that contribute to future success. In a rapidly evolving business world, the ability to learn, adapt, and apply new knowledge is more than just a skill – it’s a necessity.
#7 Risk management
There comes a time when entrepreneurship revolves around the mastery of risk management.
Elvin Guri, Managing Partner at INVENIO Partners, advocates for a rigorous approach to identifying both “the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns” and preparing for all possible outcomes. According to Guri, an entrepreneur must be able to accurately assess an opportunity, determine its value, and then decide whether they are willing to pay the price in terms of risk. From this perspective, risk management is a skill that entrepreneurs must cultivate to both avoid pitfalls and seize opportunities effectively.
Radu Negulescu, founder of Sessions, adds another angle to the discussion. He views entrepreneurship as the “craft of taking risks to build something from nothing.” In his opinion, entrepreneurship isn’t strictly a science or an art but a balancing act that requires the ability to take calculated risks.
Both entrepreneurs highlight the inescapable nature of risk in any venture, suggesting that it’s not about avoiding risk, but about how we manage it, by understanding, measuring, and turning it into an asset for growth and innovation.
In entrepreneurship, failure is almost an inevitable part of the equation; having resilience, therefore, can determine whether entrepreneurs are made for the game or not.
As Maya Zlatanova, founder of FindMeCure, puts it, entrepreneurial success or failure is not the end game; instead, it’s about “moving on”. This philosophy encapsulates a critical aspect of resilience: the ability to separate one’s self-worth from the outcome of a single venture and view setbacks as opportunities for growth and redirection.
Successful entrepreneurs are not only passionate and flexible but also remarkably resilient in the face of setbacks, Vicky Foteinou, a program manager at CrowdPolicy, observes. “Even if they fall, they stand back on their feet, even if they face failures. And they try again, and they never stop evolving,” she says.
Ilia Krastev, CEO of A Data Pro, adds another layer to this discussion by emphasizing the need to “embrace change and own it”, especially in fast-paced sectors like data management. Resilience, in this context, is not just about recovering from setbacks but also about proactively adapting to new circumstances.
Finally, Galia Jordanova, co-founder and CEO of the tech company Gaida.AI, shares a raw, authentic view of the entrepreneurial experience, describing it as a “moving target”. She admits to feeling like a “huge failure” at times, yet it’s clear that her resilience has enabled her to pivot multiple times and continue in her journey.