I am part of a group of investors that formed a funding platform for early stage companies. Some might call us angel investors. We look at a lot of start-up companies and evaluate their founders and product or service ideas. Over the years we’ve identified a number of founder attributes that are needed for entrepreneurial success in the start-up world. So, what traits and tendencies does the ideal founder possess?
A clear vision is at the top of the list. I’ve said before that vision is what it looks like when we get there. A great entrepreneur can articulate with clarity what the future looks like for his or her company and the products/services that it provides. For example, here’s an example of a clear vision statement – “To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.” It’s pretty clear what it looks like when Southwest Airlines “gets there.” Of course the appropriate metrics can be layered onto this vision in order to quantify it.
Not only must a great entrepreneur be able to explain the vision for the company, but he or she should be able to constantly communicate clearly and effectively across a wide range of topics. We’ve funded some promising companies that have high potential for success. Unfortunately the founders are tone deaf when it comes to staying in touch with their investors. We must always think about what others need to know. You’ll go a long way to building confidence with us if you communicate proactively and we don’t have to chase you for status updates.
We are reluctant to fund solo founders. There’s simply too much risk when betting on a single individual to grow a business and make all of the right decisions. Instead, we are looking for a founding team that offers strong domain expertise and business acumen. A great entrepreneur is able to assemble such a team and retain them to build a great company.
The entrepreneurial world is a rough and tumble business. Setbacks are experienced every single day and can really take a toll on morale over time. We’re looking for founders that are able to get off the ground, brush themselves off and get back on the horse. An almost stubborn resilience is highly valued and also is requisite for another quality – perseverance. Patience does not come easy for entrepreneurs – we want things to happen yesterday. As an angel investor, we need to know that not only will a founder be able to bounce back from adversity, but will also stick to his/her plan over the long haul.
Great entrepreneurs have high levels of energy. Their energy is palpable and contagious. Moreover they are indefatigable and can outwork everyone. Entrepreneurship requires a great deal of stamina and you’ll never hear a top-flight founder say that there aren’t enough hours in the day. He or she simply figures out a way to manufacture more hours!
There’s no question that passion is a quality that is a mandatory element of success. When we’re listening to a founder’s pitch, it’s obvious if there’s passion. He or she exudes confidence and is actually inspirational when explaining the product or service. This enthusiasm is powerful in persuading customers, investors and other stakeholders to say yes.
Finally, we’re looking for entrepreneurs that know their stuff. They have mastered the facts and avoid the B.S. I remember one pitch session where a founder was asked about his projections and how he justified capturing such a large market share. His response was, “We’ve studied the market and don’t see much competition. So we think we can hit our target.” This was a classic B.S. response unsupported by any factual evidence. Needless to say he didn’t get funded. Contrast this with a similar response from another founder who answered the same question. She walked us through the various factual assumptions that built to a market share that felt realistic to us. It was quite clear she had done her homework.
Great entrepreneurs – whether they are founders or not – possess traits and tendencies that constitute a winning formula. A clear vision; clear communications; the ability to assemble and retain a team; resilience; perseverance; energy and indefatigable spirit; passion; mastery of the facts, and avoiding B.S., are what we look for when interviewing great entrepreneurs.
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.