Do you have the number 1 ingredient any successful entrepreneur has?

Do you have the number 1 ingredient any successful entrepreneur has?

Paul Graham is the co-founder of the entrepreneur incubator, Y Combinator (Its start-ups – including AirBnb & Dropbox – are now worth over $75 billion). Here he explains the #1 ingredient:

“Like all investors, we spend a lot of time trying to learn how to predict which startups will succeed… At first we thought it might be intelligence. But while it certainly helps to be smart, it’s not the deciding factor. There are plenty of people as smart as Bill Gates who achieve nothing.”

“We learned quickly that the most important predictor of success is determination.”

“The simplest form of determination is sheer willfulness. When you want something, you must have it, no matter what.”


“Being strong-willed is not enough, however… The more willful you are, the more disciplined you have to be.”

“We can imagine will and discipline as two fingers squeezing a slippery melon seed. The harder they squeeze, the further the seed flies, but they must both squeeze equally or the seed spins off sideways.”

“The stronger your will, the less anyone will be able to argue with you except yourself… and if you have more will than discipline you’ll just give into them and end up on a local maximum like drug addiction.”

“Another consequence of the melon seed model is that the more willful you are, the more dangerous it is to be undisciplined… In some very energetic people’s lives you see something like wing flutter, where they alternate between doing great work and doing absolutely nothing.”

“There’s one other major component of determination: ambition. If willfulness and discipline are what get you to your destination, ambition is how you choose it.”

Each of these on its own can be seen as a weakness or fault, but together, they make a great entrepreneur:

Wilfulness alone = addict
Discipline alone = machine
Ambition alone = dreamer
All three together = addicted dream machine = success!


“So here in sum is how determination seems to work: it consists of willfulness balanced with discipline, aimed by ambition.”

The good news? You can grow these now: “You may be able to increase your strength of will somewhat; you can definitely learn self-discipline; and almost everyone is practically malnourished when it comes to ambition.”

The bad news? You won’t easily find others that think like you, so you need to hunt them out: “Most people don’t know how ambitious to be, especially when they’re young… And this problem is exacerbated by having few peers. Ambitious people are rare, so if everyone is mixed together randomly, as they tend to be early in people’s lives, then the ambitious ones won’t have many ambitious peers. When you take people like this and put them together with other ambitious people, they bloom like dying plants given water.”

What part does your natural talent, purpose and passion play in this equation? As Paul says, “Note too that determination and talent are not the whole story. There’s a third factor in achievement: how much you like the work. If you really love working on something, you don’t need determination to drive you; it’s what you’d do anyway.”

So now you have a simple formula to improve your chances of success – be OK with being strong-willed, balance it with discipline, and get around ambitious people to think bigger:

Which one of the three do you need to step up in?
Which one of the three needs to be balanced out?
And which one of the three is doing just fine?
Who can you connect with to think bigger?
And who do you know who should also read this?

You might be one small tweak away from your sweet spot: Get a bigger pot to grow your melon and your melon seeds – then get growing and keep adding water and sunshine!

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