If you ask an investor what the most important factor is when assessing a startup company, most will tell you that it’s the founders. Ideas can be iterated, products can be developed and strategies can be pivoted – but without an A* team to execute, even the best concepts won’t make the cut.
Founding a company is a big risk, and it sure isn’t easy; that’s why only certain types of people are attracted to building ventures. Although there is no exact blueprint for what a startup founder should be like, there are certain traits and qualities that are commonly found in successful entrepreneurs. If you tick these boxes, you can approach investors with confidence.
Here are a few of the defining characteristics that make for a successful startup founder.
Ambition & Vision
Entrepreneurs dream big. They look beyond their local market to solve real-life problems with solutions that could change the world. They think in millions rather than thousands. Although the best strategy is to start small at first and dominate a niche market segment, it’s important to have a long-term vision that your team is unanimously working towards and that will attract hungry investors.
Determination & Grit
Entrepreneurs who truly believe in their product or service are like a dog with a bone; they won’t let a little word like ‘no’ stop them. You will meet countless naysayers along the way who don’t buy into your vision; rejections are an inevitable part of the startup journey. Don’t let that deter you! Instead, work on testing your assumptions through market research and customer validation to find product-market fit, and prove the naysayers wrong! However, don’t fall into the trap of ignoring good advice; be open to constructive criticism and use feedback to improve your value proposition.
Successful founders believe in their solution so strongly that they shout it from the rooftops! You can see the fire burning in their eyes when they talk about it, and they get genuinely excited at the opportunity to tell someone about it because they know that there is a real need for their product or service. If you passionately believe in your solution, then others will believe in it too – whether it’s investors, potential customers or talent you want to hire. If you don’t believe in it, nobody else will either.
No one person can be good at everything. A good founder recognizes their own strengths and weaknesses, finds co-founders who complement their own skill set and shares equity fairly so that all founders are incentivized to give their all to the company. Most investors look for 2 – 3 co-founders for a balanced team with technical, product, business, finance and sales/marketing skills between them. Humility goes a long way; listen to the advice of seasoned and successful entrepreneurs and executives, and always be open to learn and grow.
Confidence & Fearlessness
There should be at least one founder on the team (usually the CEO) who isn’t afraid to put them self out there. There are plenty of occasions for startups to network and pitch their idea at public events, from local meetups to international conferences. It’s important to get up on that stage and spread the word; meet as many investors, mentors and other entrepreneurs as you can. Build a network of contacts who can give you advice, recommend service providers or refer you to industry contacts or potential customers. Personal introductions often lead to the best business deals.
It’s true that starting a business can be scary. Most people prefer to take the easy road, finding a comfortable job with fixed working hours and a reliable salary coming in each month. That’s the sensible thing to do. But that’s why most people aren’t founders… it takes a special type of personality to take on the risk of running a startup! People may call you crazy, and they might be right… But a true entrepreneur will never let that deter them. As author Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”