The Startup Playbook – Characteristics of a Founder

Are you cut out to be a founder? Most people aren’t and that’s ok. The long hours, emotional ups and downs, the extreme stress, and humbling experiences are difficult for most people to grasp and come to terms with. But, we’ll let you in on a little secret – you aren’t born an entrepreneur and more importantly there isn’t just one way to be one.

While there are some characteristics, traits, and habits that help make it easier to be an entrepreneur, people of all walks of life have succeeded in building businesses. It is also important to take a second here to acknowledge that the definition of success is in the eye of the beholder. Your definition doesn’t need to match anybody else’s or for that matter, what the press, analysts, and investors would have you believe is success. It’s important for you to be clear with yourself and your teammates on what success means, but outside of that it doesn’t matter whether it matches anybody else’s definition.

Let’s be clear that if you don’t have some of any of these characteristics it does not mean that you are doomed. And, if you do, that isn’t a recipe for success. These are just some traits and habits that will help increase the odds of success. By no means is this a complete list, but a great starting point – in fact, this list is a subset of what we discuss in our book, The Startup Playbook. If you would like to read our complete list, grab a copy when the book hits Amazon on February 19, 2018!

Curiosity – any entrepreneur sees a need in the market. They see a gap or a hole. That gap needs to be explored and not to a surface level. Founders are curious about the reasons why the gap exists, why it hasn’t already been filled, and what that says about their bid to solve that problem. As the business gets going, they continue to stay curious about how their business is evolving. Why are customers purchasing and why aren’t they? Why is the business good at some things and not good at others?

A founder’s curiosity needs to extend into how to run a business as well. Learning from others and those that have gone before is a time worn process to shortening the learning cycle. At times the history may take founders in the wrong direction – a new model is necessary, but the learning and understanding that comes from being a student of entrepreneurship helps avoid mistakes.

A high level of curiosity and openness will help uncover more opportunities and translate into a better business.

Passion – it is really hard to build a successful business if you aren’t passionate about what you are doing and what you are selling. You don’t have to be excited about the product in particular, but you need to be excited about what it can do for your customers. Passion isn’t just shown by external emotion. Passion can just as easily be a quiet drive to build a great company. Passion is the driver that helps you – as a founder – ensure that tasks are done well. It is far too easy to do half the job or get to a point that it is ‘good enough’. Passion for your company and your customers is what helps you go the extra mile. It helps tie out loose ends; it makes sure that your customer is tucked in and doing well; and, it helps you with that conversation with the employee that has so much potential, yet isn’t quite there. Find the passion in your business and it will help you push harder, perfect more, and deliver better.

Vision – it is definitely easier for some people to see the big picture and harder for others. Having a clear vision of what you want to create for your customers and employees is an important characteristic to have. If you don’t have it, all is not lost. That vision doesn’t often just magically appear but takes work and effort. It is easier if you have a sense for it when you start, but it will still take a tremendous amount of work between you and your team to get to a crystal clear vision. Iterating and writing your vision down is a great place to start. From there share it with customers and expand and grow your vision. Even if you aren’t ‘visionary’, you can be if you listen well, ask insightful questions, and talk to the right people.

Realistic – despite having grand visions, entrepreneurs deal with reality. Managing the emotions of the highs and lows is difficult, but the founders that can be pragmatic and realistic about both tend to have an easier time dealing with the emotions. The realistic view also listens intently to what the market, customers, employees, and investors are saying. Often times those around an entrepreneur are sending a number of messages and giving pieces of feedback that the realistic entrepreneur will hear versus missing. These critical pieces of feedback are put into an appropriate context where the actions will match the level of magnitude of the input.

These are four key characteristics that we see founders having. There are a few more that are incredibly important and critical to success. As we said earlier, you aren’t born an entrepreneur, so if you work at it, you can embody many of these characteristics and more leading you to success.

If you would like to learn more about the characteristics of startup founders, download or purchase a copy of our book, The Startup Playbook. It’s available in hardcover and via Amazon Kindle on February 19, 2018.


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