The One Thing All Great Entrepreneurs Are Obsessed With

Aaron Dinin, PhD
3 min readNov 21, 2019

Over the years, I’ve welcome hundreds of experienced entrepreneurs into my Innovation & Entrepreneurship courses at Duke to speak with students and share the stories of their entrepreneurial journeys. Doing so has allowed me to recognize patterns among entrepreneurs and the kinds of things they focus on. The most interesting pattern relates to who the entrepreneurs choose to talk about.

When most entrepreneurs — myself included — are asked to tell the story of their entrepreneurial journey to a group of college students, they focus on themselves and their personal roles within their companies. They talk about what they were doing before starting their companies, they explain how they came up with the ideas that would become their ventures, they discuss challenges and struggles along the way, and they usually end with a collection of motivational messages about persistence, determination, coping with failure, and so on and so forth.

None of that stuff is bad. Persistence, grit, goal setting, resilience, etcetera are all important concepts for young entrepreneurs to be thinking about and practicing, but none of them get to the core of what makes great entrepreneurs so great. After all, doctors tend to be persistent, gritty, goal-driven, and resilient, and they also tend to be non-entrepreneurial.

In contrast, the best entrepreneurs I’ve heard tell the story of their entrepreneurial journeys — the ones who have launched, scaled, and exited from multiple successful ventures — never actually talk about themselves and their personal roles in their ventures. They don’t discuss the challenges they faced, they don’t wax poetically about learning to handle rejection, and they don’t insist that the secret to success is determination.

Instead, the truly great entrepreneurs are obsessed with their customers. It’s the only thing they think about.

Great entrepreneurs constantly want to understand things like:

  • Who are my customers?
  • What problems do my customers have?
  • How big are my customer’s problems?
  • Are the problems my customers have obvious to them?
  • Can I help my customers solve their problems?

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Aaron Dinin, PhD

I teach entrepreneurship at Duke. Software Engineer. PhD in English. I write about the mistakes entrepreneurs make since I’ve made plenty. More @ aarondinin.com