Periodicity.: June - September 2014
e-ISSN......: 2236-269X



Marcos Cerqueira Lima

De Vinci Business Lab, PULV, Paris, France



Laila Namaci

De Vinci Business Lab, PULV, Paris, France



Thierry Fabiani

De Vinci Business Lab, PULV, Paris, France



Submission: 26/11/2013

Revision: 22/01/2014

Accept: 27/01/2014



This paper evaluates how the advices of experienced entrepreneurs to young start-up creators in an online community reflect entrepreneurship traits commonly found in conceptual typologies. The overall goal is to contrast and evaluate existing models based on evidence from an online community. This should facilitate future studies to improve current typologies by ranking entrepreneurial traits according to perceived relevance. In order to achieve these objectives, we have conducted a “netnographic study” (i.e., the qualitative analysis of web-based content) of 96 answers to the question “What is the best advice for a young, first-time startup CEO?” on Relying on Quora’s ranking algorithm (based on crowdsourcing of votes and community prestige), we focused on the top 50% of answers (which we shall call the “above Quora 50” category) considered the most relevant by its 2000+ followers and 120,000+ viewers. We used Nvivo as a Qualitative Data Analysis Software to code all the entries into the literature categories. These codes were then later retrieved using matrix queries to compare the incidence of traits and the perceived

relevance of answers. We found that among the 50% highest ranking answers on Quora, the following traits are perceived as the most important for young entrepreneurs to develop: management style, attitude in interpersonal relations, vision, self-concept, leadership style, marketing, market and customer knowledge, innovation, technical knowledge and skills, attitude to growth, ability to adapt, purpose and relations system. These results could lead to improving existing typologies and creating new models capable of better identifying people with the highest potential to succeed in new venture creation.


Keywords: Entrepreneur traits, entrepreneurship typologies, online communities, netnography, Web 2.0 ranking algorithms, crowdsourcing

1.            INTRODUCTION

            This paper looks at the qualitative analysis of the contents in an online community discussion around the topic of ideal entrepreneurship traits.  The idea is to contrast these community perceptions with traits commonly found in conceptual typologies. It has a triple objective: a) to identify entrepreneurship traits and attributes from the literature review that are highly important in the perception of actual entrepreneurs in the online community; b) to establish literature traits and attributes that are considered less important c) to identify emergent characteristics that are present in the community data but are not often mentioned in the typologies considered. The overall goal is to contrast and evaluate existing models based on evidence from the online community. This should facilitate future studies to improve existing typologies by ranking entrepreneurial traits according to perceived relevance.

            In order to achieve these objectives, we have conducted a passive or observational “netnographic study” (KOZINETS, 2010), consisting in the qualitative analysis of an online community answers to the question “What is the best advice for a young, first-time startup CEO?” on Quora is a forum in which experts in a given domain offer their insights based on public queries. Relying on Quora’s ranking algorithm (based on crowdsourcing of votes and community prestige), we focused on the top 50% of answers considered the most relevant by its 2000+ followers and  120,000+ viewers. We shall call this the “above Quora 50” category. We contrasted the most commonly mentioned traits in this category with a list of general entrepreneur characteristics according to the typologies described in the literature review.

            This article is divided in four sessions. In the first we conduct a literature review of common entrepreneur typologies and the traits and attributes associated with them. We then describe the empirical approach used to analyze Quora’s contents. We then present the main findings and discuss them, then conclude by pointing out limitations of this exploratory study and by suggesting future developments in this field.


            Three approaches can be identified in the literature of entrepreneurship typologies: the entrepreneurs, their actions and the context in which they operate. These are respectively treated as the cognitive, structural and praxeological approaches (VERSTRAETE, 2002; VERSTRAETE, et al., 2011). That is consistent with the notion that the phenomenon of entrepreneurship revolves around the entrepreneur (the individual, their traits), the organization (the new venture) and the relationship between the two (JULIEN; MARCHESNAY, 1996; BRUYAT, 1993; OMRANE, et al., 2011). In this review, we are going to focus on the individual (the so-called “traits approach”, mostly based on cognitive and psychological characteristics) and the attributes of the entrepreneurship process (the “process approach”, which can be regarded as a synthesis between the structural and praxeological approaches).

            The individual approach emphasizes entrepreneurial traits and what sets them apart from the rest of the population. It addresses the question “who is the entrepreneur and why do they create new ventures?” This approach is often one of the main components of entrepreneurship typologies (FILION, 2000). It has been severely criticized (GARTNER, 1988) for being incomplete and not taking into account the interactive nature of the entrepreneurship process.

            The process approach emphasizes the relationship between the environment, the organization and the entrepreneur. Less easily identifiable because of its dynamic nature, it is usually detected indirectly in the typological treatments of the entrepreneurship phenomenon. The following sessions will take a closer look at both traditions.

2.1.        The Individual Traits Approach

            As previously stated, early research in entrepreneurship focused primarily on the characteristics of new venture creators and, more specifically, their personality traits. They focused on the psychological aspect of the individual, trying to address questions such as: “Why under similar circumstances some individuals decide to start their own business, while others were do not?” or “is the entrepreneurial character innate or acquired?” (GARTNER, 1989; HO; BARNES, 2012).

            Among the most commonly researched traits found in the literature, we can cite:

·         The need for achievement: the work of McClelland (1961, 1965, 1969 cited by HERNANDEZ, 1999) popularized this concept and contributed to its development. According to this author, entrepreneurs are primarily motivated by their drive to accomplish their vision. They see themselves as masters of their fate, so they seek responsibility for the planning and execution of their unique endeavors.

·         The internal locus of control: it is the perception, closely related to the previous trait, that an individual can control what is happening internally. In other words, these individuals feel that they can influence what happens to them by their behavior. Various studies (FILION, 2000) have shown that the new venture creators have an internal locus of control as the source to their actions.

·         The propensity to take risks: starting a business is an adventure full of risks. According to Belley (1990, cited by HERNANDEZ, 1999) these risks are of different natures: financial, psychological, business related and family related.

            This school of thought has been quite strongly criticized. Critics of the “traits approach” rightly point out that a great number of individuals with similar personality traits never chose to start a new venture and instead preferred more traditional careers. The legacy of this research tradition remains highly controversial, as it has failed to produce traits that would be necessary and sufficient conditions to distinguish between venture creating profiles and non-entrepreneurial types. These studies are characterized by their one-dimensional approach of the entrepreneurial phenomenon, and clearly overlook the role of the environment in this phenomenon.

2.2.        The Process Approach

            A more holistic approach has emerged in the past two decades. This perspective emphasizes that entrepreneurial behaviors are not the result of individual or contextual determinism, but of a strategic intent of specific actors under specific circumstances (BERNOUX, 1990; AMBLARD, et al., 1996; FAYOLLE, 2001; MOROZ; HINDLE, 2012). The entrepreneur is seen as someone who reasons and calculates who evaluates the means they need to achieve certain ends. This self-awareness would explain their actions and, in particular, their professional behavior. This behavior is entirely conditioned by the situation in which they find themselves.

            Hence, the entrepreneurial process involves several environmental variables (social, economic, cultural, and organizational). It is proactively driven by the activities and actions of certain individuals that decide to transform opportunities into new ventures (BYGRAVE; HOFER, 1991, cited by FAYOLLE, 2002). The entrepreneurial process combines behavioral descriptions and organizational contexts into complex, dynamic models. For Hernandez (1999), this approach requires a good understanding of organizational theory and particularly the notion “organizational emergence”.

            As an early example of this tradition, Shapero (1975) discusses four main variables to explain the act of creating new ventures: contextual, psychological (motivation, attitude, etc.), sociological (family, peer group, etc.), economic (availability of resources, economic opportunities and threats, etc.). Several authors have been inspired by Shapero’s model. We note for example the framework by Le Marois (1985), which is structured around three poles: relational, personal and professional.

2.3.        Filion’s Synthesis

            Over a decade ago, Louis Jacques Filion (2000) undertook a comprehensive study of the criteria commonly used to develop entrepreneurial typologies. He started with the very first typologies developed by Arthur H. Cole (1942, 1946), a field pioneer who established the Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard University with Joseph Schumpeter in the late 1940s. He then looked at the typologies created by Smith (1967), Collins and Moore (1970), Laufer (1975), Miles and Snow (1978), Vesper (1980), Julien and Marchesnay (1987), Carland et al. (1988), Lafuente and Salas (1989), his own typology Filion (1998) and Marchesnay’s (1998). Based on this collection of typologies, Filion (2000) came up with the following list of criteria most commonly used to develop entrepreneurial typologies:

Table 1: Filion’s synthesis of common entrepreneurship traits

01. Self-concept

13. Need for achievement

02. Commitment

14. Need for power

03. Systemic root

15. Need for recognition

04. Vision

16. Need for security

05. Relations system

17. Attitude to growth

06. Delegation

18. Attitude in interpersonal relations

07. Purpose

19. Attitude to profits

08. Independence

20. Attitude to risk

09. Locus of control

21. Leadership style

10. Ability to adapt

22. Management style

11. Creativity

23. Decision-making style

12. Innovation

24. Strategic style

            This synthesis is clearly biased towards the “individual traits” approach, lacking the dynamic, interactive elements of the “process approach”. It is centered on cognitive and psychological traits rather than contextual, sociological or organizational variables and is therefore incomplete as a tool for understanding the entrepreneurship phenomenon. However, for our purposes of exploring which traits are perceived to be the most relevant in the entrepreneur’s personality, Filion’s synthesis is a good starting point.

            As the following empirical session will show, the above list overlooks at least two characteristics perceived to be quite important by the Quora community: “Marketing, Market and Customer Knowledge” and “Technical Knowledge”. Those are not “psychological traits” as most of the variables in Filion’s list, of course, but rather closer to the “process approach”, indicating how well prepared entrepreneurs are to deal with their organizational and socio-economic environment. Therefore, these two high ranking variables that emerged from the Quora data seem to suggest that this online community is quite aware of the limits of the “individual traits” approach. More interestingly for the purposes of this paper, they seem to suggest that “Marketing, Market and Customer Knowledge” is perceived as one of the most important characteristics of successful entrepreneurs.

3.            METHODS

            The objective of this study was to confront Filion’s synthesis of entrepreneur traits with the perceptions of online community members who answered the question “What is the best advice for a young, first-time startup CEO?” It was assumed that by “young, first-time start-up CEO” the community had in mind an entrepreneur who founded the new venture, as is usually the case in small businesses. The vast majority of the verbatim statements by community members confirm this assumption.

            The chosen method was the passive or observational ethnographic study (KOZINETS, 2010). This is a more superficial, non-immersive version of the full-blown netnography approach, which Kozinetz (2010, p. 60) defines as a “participant-observational research based in online fieldwork. It uses computer-mediated communications as a source of data to arrive at the ethnographic understanding and representation of a cultural or communal phenomenon”. In an earlier work, Kozinets (2002, p. 61) argues that this technique uses “information publicly available in online forums to identify and understand the needs and decision influences of relevant online consumer groups”. Originally designed by marketers to understand consumer behavior, it can be adapted to understand online community perceptions in general. It is less time consuming and elaborate than traditional qualitative methods such as focus groups and interviews besides being more timely, less costly and less obtrusive (KOZINETS, 2002). It is based on the observation of textual discourse, not of the individuals themselves. Informants in netnography therefore “may be presumed to be presenting a more carefully cultivated and controlled self-image” (p. 68).

            Kozinets (2002, 2010) defines the following six stages for a full-blown netnography: (1) making cultural entrée, (2) gathering and analyzing data, (3) ensuring trustworthy interpretation, (5) conducting ethical research, and (6) providing opportunities for culture member feedback. Being the present study a “passive” version of that method without direct participation of the researchers in the communities, phases 1 and 6 are not as relevant. This exploratory investigation – sometimes called a “netnographic exploration” (see PERKINS, 2010) does not have therefore any ambition of obtaining the in-depth insights offered by the participant immersion in an online community over an extended period of time, such as proposed by the original netnography approach. Similar non-participative, “passive ethnographic” explorations have been undertaken recently by several authors (BEAVEN; LAWS, 2007) and by Kozinets himself (BROWN; SHERRY; KOZINETS, 2007).

            Out of the 102 answers available in the community in February 2013, 96 were considered “valid” (6 off-topic answers were eliminated by community members). These answers were contributed over a period of over three years since the question was first formulated. The following statistics give an idea about the respondent’s profile: 90% are male and 60% declare themselves to be either founders or CEOs of start-up themselves; among the 60% of respondents whose location was known, the vast majority live in the US (50%), followed by India (15%), the UK (10%) and Canada (8%), which reflect the native English-speaking bias of the community members.

            Quora became one of the most popular question-and-answer services on the web due to the efficiency of its answer-ranking algorithm. Using a combination of a public voting system with community reputation scores, it makes sure that the most relevant contributions will emerge to the top. We’ll call “Quora Relevance” (QR) the position of an answer relative to the others according to Quora’s ranking algorithm. Note that answers with a very high number of votes can be ranked lower than a contribution with less votes; community prestige and the quality of previous answers sometimes are more important in Quora’s algorithm than the mere number of votes.

            Figure 1 shows the number of votes received by answers in four categories: 75-100% QR (the top 24 answers, which we will call “Quora 100”), 50-75% QR (the 24 answers that follow, “Quora 75”), 25-50% QR and 1-25% (the 50 lowest ranking answers, respectively “Quora 50” and “Quora 25”).

            As indicated by the above Figure, only 3 “nodes” (answers) in the “Quora 100” tier had 5 votes or less. That proportion jumps to 70% in “Quora 75” and over 90% in the “Quora 50”and “Quora 25” tiers. We had the choice of focusing only on the top 25% or using the “above Quora 50” cutting point (half the total number of answers). We decided for the latter option, in spite of the high number of questions with few votes in the “Quora 75” category. We did this because, as explained previously, the number of votes is only one of the criteria used by Quora’s algorithm to rank the relevance of an answer. The fact that an answer is in the “better half” of the list means it is considered much more relevant than an answer with a similar number of votes which are ranked lower. Therefore, all answers “above Quora 50” were deemed relevant.

Figure 1: Number of Votes in Four Levels of “Quora Relevance”

            We used Nvivo 10 as Qualitative Data Analysis Software to code fragments of the answers into the categories of Filion’s synthesis. Cross-coding was used among the authors to ensure consistency. When a Quora statement didn’t seem to fit any of Filion’s variables, new categories or “nodes” were created. These 9 new “emergent variables” are listed below:

Table 2: Entrepreneur characteristics emerging from the Quora data which were not listed by Filion

25. Marketing, Market and Customer Knowledge

30. Patience

26. Lifestyle

31. Communication Skills

27. Technical Knowledge and Skills

32. Attitude Towards Failure

28. Ethics

33. Ability to Learn

29. Reputation Management


            The frequency with which these nodes appeared in the Quora community was then retrieved using matrix queries with NVivo. The top 12 results are presented on Table 1 below.





Table 3: Top 12 entrepreneur traits ranked above “Quora 50” (asterisks indicate emerging categories)


            It is perhaps unsurprising that “management style” emerged as the top characteristic; the term is so vague that it can encompass several of the “process approach” variables related with organizational and environmental contexts. By breaking down this category into sub-categories (Table 4), we found that the vast majority of comments (64%) were related with hiring and firing practices. Peter Berg (whose answer was ranked number one by far with astounding 320 votes!) for example advises young entrepreneurs to “Be really picky with your hiring, and hire the absolute best people you possibly can”. The comment “Hire people smarter than you” by Adrian Aoun was the only sentence he contributed to the discussion; it earned him 82 votes. Mark Otero had 186 votes with the comment “Hire for passion: Hire for passion over experience. When you can afford it, hire employees who have both”. Eleven other “Quora 100” answers had similar recommendations.

            The other components of “Management Style” recommendations were “Structure and Governance” (comments such as “build a great board and/or advisory board” by Jared Kim, 52 votes), “Processes” (“Trust your team but constantly measure them on goal” by Paul Singh, 13 votes) and “Culture” (one single comment by Chris Prescott, “Build the company culture around achievement and momentum and the rest will generally fall into place”, 17 votes).

Table 4: Breaking down of the “Management Style” category into its sub-nodes

            For the sake of synthesis, Table 5 reproduces some of the representative comments for each one of the other 11 top ranking traits above.

Table 5: Sample comments for top ranking entrepreneur traits on the online community at




Sample Comments (numbers in parenthesis = votes on Quora;
comments are presented in decreasing order of relevance)


Attitude in interpersonal relations


"Find a couple trusted, experienced advisors/mentors" (320), "When fundraising, ask people for advice, not money" (320), "Share, don't be afraid that others will go out and copy your business" (29),  "Don't be afraid to have tough conversations" (8), "Being actively social (in the real world, too!)" (8), "Trust your co-founders" (10)




"you're responsible for steering the vision of the company, including setting long-term goals for your eventual total world domination" (320), "Focus Sounds simple, but probably the best bit of advice I've received so far" (17), "Learn to Say No In the early months" (17), "Find a co-founder who shares your vision" (14)




"Know your weaknesses" (187), "Stay Humble, Stay Positive" (17),  "the best answer I can give you is not to call yourself a CEO" (9), "Be honest to yourself" (14), "consider removing your tear ducts" (8).


Leadership style


"Communicate and be transparent with your team" (52), "Eat with your team often" (21), "Find someone who disagrees with you often to be in your think tank" (8), "have an inventory of your team's strengths and weaknesses. their attitudes and personalities" (6)


Marketing, Market & Customer Knowledge*


"Go to industry-specific events" (186), "The most important thing is to understand what constitutes value to your customers" (9), "Read a lot about your market and talk to smart people" (4), "Learning by doing including things like: - constantly talking to people - listening to customers" (7), "Know your market - research, ask, be mentored, be a sponge of data about your market" (6)




"Fail fast: start with a working set of assumptions and test them out in the market very fast" (186), "Get *someone* to pay you to test product/market fit" (135), "Without the right product, you're building your house on sand with no foundation and everything else will fall apart" (17), "Keep your idea/product/feature simple and gradually expand" (6), "Try it fast with little money. Make adjustments" (3)


Technical Knowledge and Skills*


"Learn how to set up and run the hell out of an Amazon Mechanical Turk, Google Analytics, etc. now" (135), "Read up on what successful and smart people have written about the topic" (7), "Know your financials - burn rate, capital, expenditures, etc." (6), "Do something within your area of expertise" (5), "Learn how to sell or find a partner that can" (5)


Attitude to growth


"Don't give away equity too easily" (320), "don't be a startup, be a business" (47), "50% of a successful company is better than 100% of a failure" (8), "Always raise more capital than you think you need" (0).


Ability to adapt


"Get used to feeling not good enough" (135), "Dont waste time in the pursuit of perfection" (4), "Learn to quickly balance pros and cons" (6), “Do everything that makes sense to you but be aware of red flags and remain resilient to change” (5)




"Be obsessed with your idea" (135), "Catalog a list of hobbies you'll take up 'when you make it" (135), "Build your company, product & culture with intention" (8), "The intentional mind leaves no one behind - that is the true code of an entrepreneur" (8)


Relations system


"Your choice of partners and investors should be thought of as permanent and are therefore the most important two decisions you make." (73), "Just pick up the phone, I want to stress that with a few exceptions almost no one is out of reach these days." (29), "Have your cheerleaders (friends/family/supporters) on speed dial" (5)

            Special attention should be given to the so-called “emerging categories”: Marketing, Market and Customer Knowledge (ranked 6th) and Technical Knowledge and Skills (ranked 8th). Filion seemed to be quite focused on limiting his choice of variables to the cognitive / psychological traits of the “individual approach” when he created his synthesis, otherwise he would have added these two components which are an inherent part of his own “visionary process” (Filion, 1991) framework. Most of the other elements of his model (vision, leadership style, self-concept, relations system) are present in his synthesis and have actually ranked quite high in our Quora study.

            It is a testament to the so-called “wisdom of the crowds” (as Web 2.0 crowdsourcing is often called) that these two components emerged from the Quora data to enrich Filion’s synthesis. This confirms the need to go beyond the “individual traits” approach and to embrace more complex -- albeit difficult to measure -- variables inherent to the “process approach”.

            Finally, it is necessary to look at the attributes that scored extremely low in this study and speculate why that was the case. Table 6 presents the Quora ranks from the 13th to the 33rd positions.

Table 6: Lower ranking entrepreneur traits on the online community at

            Among the least important characteristics (in the bottom five positions) we found the following: independence, systemic thinking, locus of control, need for achievement and need for power.  We believe that the very low score of these traits is related to the way the original question was formulated: “What is the best advice for a young, first-time startup CEO?…” Very few people would advise young entrepreneurs to seek power or even achievement for achievement’s sake. Systemic thinking and locus of control are very abstract concepts, difficult to formulate as an advice.

            Among the “emerging traits” that were seldom mentioned in the literature review but were considered highly relevant in the “above Quora 50” category, we found: good lifestyle habits, patience and ethics. These could be valuable additions to Filion’s synthesis. Traits like reputation management, ability to learn and communication skills had surprisingly low scores in the same category (they ranked much better in “Quora 100”, which includes all 96 respondents and not just the 50% most relevant).


This is clearly an exploratory study based on a small sample of users of an online questions and answers service and therefore its findings cannot be generalized. It needs to be followed up by quantitative studies based on a representative sample in order to allow for generalizations. Furthermore, it is based on a specific question about advice to be given to young start-up creators and managers, and hence has a bias towards the positive qualities we expect these people to develop. Classic traits found in the literature, such as the need for achievement and the need for power are therefore ranked understandably low in the perception of the “advisers”.

The preliminary implications of our findings are manifold: a) as well as finding “common traits” in existing typologies, researchers should also seek to rank them according to the perceived importance in the eyes of experienced entrepreneurs; b) young entrepreneurs may be overwhelmed with hundreds of “best practice” advices found in both academic and professional publications; giving them a sense of what skills and traits to prioritize in their development may help them focus on the attributes that are perceived by a large community of practice to be the most relevant; c) teachers and researchers of entrepreneurship may acquire a more nuanced view of entrepreneur traits perceived as relevant. This could lead to improving existing typologies and creating new models capable of better identifying people with the highest potential to succeed in new venture creation.

Online communities such as Quora and their “relevant content algorithms” are becoming increasingly meaningful as a resource for understanding how certain groups feel about specific issues; one must be reminded that behind the 50% most relevant answers used in our ranking system there are the “voices” of thousands of users who voted them up and down in Quora’s relevance hierarchy during a period of more than 36 months. Even if online communities have been a major source of qualitative research insights in the recent past, the collaborative nature of Web 2.0 “crowdsourcing” technologies, which evolved in the last five years, remains underappreciated in academic discussions.

Future studies could use a similar “passive netnography” approach to expand the sample used in this exploratory investigation, or even follow the immersive procedures suggested by Kozinets (2010) by interviewing community members about their opinions and validating the findings with them later. Parallel communities have been formed at based on questions such as “What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?” (54 answers, 5000+ viewers, 200+ followers) or “What should you do if you want to be an entrepreneur, but have no background in business?” (44 answers, 19000+ viewers, nearly 400 followers). Filion’s synthesis, enriched by some of the emerging categories found in this study, could be used to compare results among these communities and improve the overall value of the present findings. 


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