What do successful startup founders have in common?

As a group, startup founders are an incredibly diverse collection of people. If you were in a room with 50 randomly selected founders, you’d find yourself with people from every demographic group. They’d have many different skills and have had a wide variety of life experiences. Some would be introverts. Some would be extraverts. Some had started their businesses in their teens, some in their 70’s and everywhere between.

Yet, despite all these differences, they do seem to share a number of common traits. Here is my assessment of these common traits. In most cases, these traits also apply to successful leaders.

  1. Founders are driven. They are naturally energetic and have a lot of endurance.
  2. Founders are resilient. Many revel in challenges. Setbacks often harden their resolve. They keep going when things get tough. And, they adapt when faced with new information or challenges
  3. Founders believe that they’ll be successful. Often, they believe that they’re entitled to their success
  4. They’re usually wired differently than their customers (and often their employees). They’re often proud of these differences. Sometimes these differences present as quirkiness. Often, the differences stem from a natural curiosity that leads to an unusual depth of knowledge in their field and related fields
  5. Founders believe that what they’re doing is important and they’re passionate about it. They usually believe that what they’re building is bigger than themselves
  6. Founders are usually frugal. They recognize that a dollar spent early in a startup is MUCH more expensive than a dollar spent after it’s successful
  7. Founders are laser focused. They have a vision for what they’re building and can focus, often in superhuman ways, to realize their vision
  8. Founders are often (sometimes intentionally) a bit naïve. They haven’t learned everything they could before they started. They don’t know that what they’re trying to do is impossible.  They don’t see the hurdles or the reasons not to try that most other people see
  9. Founders are able to let go of unimportant things. It’s easy to stay busy. Successful founders usually have the ability to deselect – even good things – so they can focus on the most important things
  10. Founders can usually “park” problems, even important ones, that they haven’t solved yet. They are able to keep moving forward and making progress before they’ve figured it all out
  11. Founders are usually very curious and open to learning. They may project confidence, even certainty, but they’re usually studying, learning and adapting from every interaction and customer
  12. Money matters to founders, but usually as a means, not an end. While they may want to be rewarded for their success and accomplishments, they often are driven from their desire to build, their desire to win and/or their desire to realize their vision much more than their desire to be wealthy
  13. Founders know what they want. They know what success looks like for them and their business. This sounds simple, but is actually very rare
  14. Founders can bounce between the future state (abstract) and current state (tactics) quickly without conflating the two

Leave a Comment