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8 signs of a true entrepreneur: Have you got what it takes?

At Enterprise Nation’s #ScaleUpSeries event earlier this month, Dhiraj Mukherjee, Co-founder of Shazam, talked about some of the things that set entrepreneurs apart.

Have you got what it takes? Here are Dhiraj’s thoughts on eight characteristics of a true entrepreneur.

  1. A relentlessly positive mindset

The true entrepreneur has a different mindset to many people in business. They have a goal and are determined to achieve it. They may not know how, or who, will help them but they hold steadfast in the certainty that it will happen. In short, they simply don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, whatever the question may be.

At Shazam, none of the founders knew anything about the music industry, nor had they any experience of building a technology business. But they held on to the belief that someone else must have created a related technology, so there was no reason why they couldn’t do the same.

“The important thing at Shazam was just to keep going, and we learned as we went along.”

Since Apple’s acquisition of Shazam, Dhiraj has found he is able to identify the entrepreneurial spirit in people that he is asked to invest in.

“If they email me and don’t get a reply they try again. They don’t assume, as many would, that I am not interested in their proposal. It’s the same when I email them. They are often the ones who will reply to an email at 1am or 2am.”

  1. Nothing beats experience

Although three of Shazam’s founders were MBA graduates, it wasn’t what Dhiraj learned at Stanford University that gave him the desire or the skills to become an entrepreneur.

“The MBA helped give me the confidence to do things like managing cash flows, but there is no substitute for actual business experience.”

After graduating, Dhiraj worked as a management consultant in San Francisco, before joining Viant Corporation, which helped substantial organisations like Universal Music and American Express to launch new digital businesses in the early days of the internet. It was working at Viant that gave Dhiraj the desire to set up a technology business.

  1. The survival instinct

The entrepreneur never throws in the towel when the going gets tough. For a long time Shazam felt on the brink of bankruptcy, and the company didn’t make a profit once in its first fourteen years of trading. In fact, Dhiraj remembers board meetings where he looked at the cash in the bank, as well as the payables due, to establish whether the company was trading insolvent. Dhiraj’s lowest point was having to let go a number of Shazam’s longest serving employees, some of whom were his friends.

But for the true entrepreneur, survival is everything. You have to make whatever decisions are necessary to keep the business running for another week, then another month.

‘It wasn’t fun or easy. But what you learn through the hard times stays with you forever. It toughens you up, and teaches you how to deal with adversity.’

  1. Constant evolution

The true entrepreneur adapts to rapid and constant change. They have an idea. They try it out. If it doesn’t work then they know when to move on and try something else. They may have a gut feeling, but it is almost always supported by facts and data.

“When Shazam started out it was a text based service. Our data indicated that people would try us out but then forget the text number and not use us again. Once we launched the Shazam service as an app, our data showed much better traction.”

  1. Spotting opportunities

As a true entrepreneur not only must you be open to change, you must also be able to spot new opportunities, even if they take you in an entirely new direction. At Shazam the opportunity came in the form of a B2B service, at a time when all the company’s attention was focused on B2C.

Shazam identified an opportunity to license their technology to other businesses, which enabled them to calculate royalties due to artists for music played in bars, clubs and on the radio. The income from those licenses helped Shazam to survive for many years.

Shazam’s other big opportunity came via Apple, when they launched the App Store, and Shazam was one of the first apps made available.

“At the time most people were asking “what’s an app?” We weren’t at all sure whether it would take off. But we benefitted enormously from Apple’s advertising around the App Store, and it cemented Shazam’s transition from text service to digital app.”

  1. Mixing with like-minded people

It’s a testament to the founders of Shazam that all four are still friends eighteen years after the company was founded. They may have different individual strengths and skills, but they share a similar set of values about building a team, how to treat people and looking out for each other.

Those values proved important when recruiting talent to Shazam and the founders also looked for people with the same drive and single-minded sense of purpose they have themselves.

‘If you mix with people with the same mindset then you can achieve great things, even if they aren’t the things you originally set out to do.’

  1. It’s a lifestyle. And a choice

Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle, a way of doing things. But it’s also a choice, and it’s not for everyone. If you make that choice then enjoy it, and take full advantage of it. But if it’s getting to you, becoming too stressful, or having a negative impact on your family then you can (and probably should) stop. It’s your choice. There are plenty of other opportunities out there if the entrepreneurial lifestyle doesn’t suit you.

  1. It’s a balancing act

Even if you are drawn to the entrepreneurial lifestyle you need to recognise that families and other responsibilities are important too. Playing a sport can provide a release, as well as give you something other than your business to focus on. It’s a balancing act. Although it got easier when Shazam was acquired by Apple in 2017, family has always been a priority for Dhiraj, and he especially made sure to make more time for his family after he got married in 2005.


Over recent months O2 has partnered with Enterprise Nation to deliver our #ScaleUpSeries events, where five of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs share their tips and practical advice for scale up success.

Next month’s event features Alicia Navarro, CEO & founder of Skimlinks, on Monday 24 September at Thomas House Lounge in London. If you’d like to join us you can purchase tickets here.

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