Do You Have What It Takes to Be A Founder?

You have a business idea that you’re passionate about and are sure that it will be the next big thing. You’ve asked your friends and family to be your soundboard and (probably) formed a small team to help hash out the idea further. You’re sure that it will work. You have figured out what you will need to turn your idea into a viable business, and (hopefully) make money while at it.

Squarespace Founder, Anthony Casalena.  Source:

Squarespace Founder, Anthony Casalena.

But – you have doubts. Will I succeed? Will I fail? Will this idea be accepted? What if nobody buys what I have? All these are valid questions that plague many entrepreneurs at the very beginning of starting any business. So, how do you know if you have what it takes?

What better way to find out than to hear from other entrepreneurs who have done it?

Qualities of Entrepreneurs

1. Inspiring

“When I started out I was incredibly secretive because I didn’t want anyone to steal my idea. But then a friend asked me if I wanted to be an inventor or an entrepreneur. An inventor works by themselves in a lab, but an entrepreneur needs to inspire others to lend their expertise. I realized that I needed help. I went out and found the best mentors in the fields I was working in and asked for their help. I had to be specific about what I needed and asked them exactly what I wanted them to do. I was amazed at how much help I got! I saved so much time and money by getting help from someone who had been in the toy business for 30 years.”

Debra Sterling, Founder of GoldieBlox 

2. Problem-solving abilities

“Being able to work independently and solve problems is crucial to success at any startup. If you want to be promoted, come up with solutions you weren’t expected to deliver. Using the excuse “I couldn’t get it to work,” is not acceptable at a startup! Building problem solving skills and confidence is the fastest way to a promotion in a startup culture.”

Lucas Sommer | Founder CEO, Audimated

3. Leadership

A CEO who can articulate a vision that excites and imbues a sense of mission in his team is very important. This is often evidenced by the caliber of team he is able to recruit around him [when he has nothing else to offer].

Alliott Cole (@alliott)- Octopus Ventures

4. Ability to listen

I would really suggest that if you are starting your own business, it’s very important to listen to your customers and use their input to drive the growth of your business. We relied on email requests and suggestions from our social media fans when deciding how to move forward and what items to add to our line, and it worked really well.

Nella Chunky, Founder of Fresh-Tops

5. Common vision

’It’s easy to build a team once you have raised money.  We often hear that ‘the team will come once the money is in’.  This is not what we are looking for – we are looking for a team that has been built on a common vision through the tough times of starting a company.  Where the founders have got behind the opportunity, as a team, before the cash came in.’”

Ben Tompkins (@b_tompkins) – Eden Ventures

6. Creative

“To pick one quality which is particularly important from our point of view, the founders need to be able to build a kick-ass product which solves a real problem. As early-stages investors we can and love to help in many areas like sales, marketing, hiring, financing etc., but the ability to create a great product with a clear product/market fit is something we believe needs to be in the founder team DNA.”

 Christoph Janz (@chrija) – Point Nine Capital

7. The Power of Persuasion

“When we look at very early start ups, there is not much to judge, but the story and how it is told. The delivery of the story is as important as its content. The founder(s) have to be credible. One of the issues is that technical founders are proud of their technical competence and tend to overdo it on tech and lose the perspective of the other side of the table, that is thinking “are these guys going to make me money?”  That is the bottom line, but it is not a question you can ask directly. The first attempt to answer comes out of the observation of the team during the first hour of meeting (it then needs more time to confirm it, but if the first impression is negative, there is the end of the journey).

Ivan Farneti (@ivanfarneti) – Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures

8. Commitment

“Do what you say you are going to do. Don’t make excuses and if you make mistakes, take accountability for them.”

Andrew Nguyen founder of Honor Courage Commitment

9. Courage

Courage is something I’d expect to find more of in the startup industry. We’re meant to be all about trusting gut instincts, shooting for the bleachers, and risking everything on a crazy idea. It’s surprising how reluctant people can be to talk.

Alan Jones Editor-in-chief and co-founder The New Agency

10. Realistic expectations

Be realistic and self-aware. Examine your motivations. If money and being your own boss are main motivations, do not pass go. If you have a sincere passion for what you want to do, dive in. Achieving success in the startup world takes tenacity, and if you’re not doing it for the right reasons, it may be hard to find the strength to persevere.

Kathleen Burdo Administrative Specialist at Vermont Family Network

11. Ability to focus

The CEO is the keeper of the company’s overall vision. I’m not talking about the vision for the next few months, but the larger road ahead. The CEO needs to be able to keep things on course for the current quarter to make sure that the large overarching vision of the company can be achieved. The takeover the world vision of a startup usually can’t be achieved in one year or even in some cases, like Google, in a decade. It takes a great startup CEO to keep the company on track to achieve that vision. A great startup CEO will often judge upcoming initiatives to see if they fit in as a piece of the large puzzle for the bigger vision.

Dharmesh Shah Blogger

12. Humility

The most interesting this is, that it looks like humility makes you successful faster! (Because people want to help you succeed?) Re Jim Collins “Good to Great” where he proves that companies with humble CEOs (who do what’s best for the company, not what makes themselves famous) are consistently more profitable. Re Tony Hsieh, who built Zappos into one of the most successful e-tailers by building a culture of happiness and helpfulness. So it seems, that karma is also applicable to business.

Tine CEO at Everplaces

13. Real Passion

Passion comes in different shapes and forms. It is not about bubbly personality or raw enthusiasm. Instead, it is about deep care and endless stamina. It is the energy you need to run a marathon, not a sprint. This stems from the vision.

 Alex Iskold Blogger Techstars Blog

14. Curiosity

What I have found over the past few years is that we have a huge misperception of what qualifies a useful “skill” for a start-up. You may not have deep finance expertise, be able to design a jet engine, or be an incredible web developer. But if you are reading this article – and showing your curiosity and desire to learn – I bet you have the necessary skills to work in a start-up environment. What skills are necessary to work in a small business? I think that there are three: Hustle, Follow-through and Curiosity.

Aaron Schwartz  Founder and CEO at Modify Industries, Inc

15. Just Do It

“Having the attitude of just do it. Successful entrepreneurs start before they are ready”, says Christine Wanjiru, Founder of Butterlilly Cupcakery. “Don’t get stuck in the planning stage, experience comes when you are doing things – whether its learning, meeting people and creating new connections for the business.” (ButterLilly).

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8 thoughts on “Do You Have What It Takes to Be A Founder?”

  1. David Jesse says:

    Great piece of writing. Great nuggets.

  2. jonathan s ekambi says:

    Like this. I have had this dream for the last 10 years, to start a school(Group of) but yet to start. What can kick me off?

    1. StartupAcademy says:

      Hi Jonathan,

      The first place would be researching what kind of school you want to start? A kindergarten? A primary school? A High School? There are many schools in Nairobi, how would you ensure that yours is different? What gap is there currently? (Eg,Good boarding schools, quality kindergarten schools…?) And so on… Once you have a rough idea of what kind of school you want to start, then look at what things you would need to start this school. (Eg, trained teachers, location, certifications and so on).

  3. June says:

    How do you balance this qualities with the founders syndrome. sometimes this interferes with the performance of the organization.

    1. StartupAcademy says:

      Hi June, this is very true. Sometimes it can feel that if you’re not there, then “things won’t get done”. This leads to founders micromanaging every aspect of the business, leaving them with little time to do anything else. Also, the people working for them can feel that its all about the founder, and not the business, where their suggestions are not heard, or there skills are belittled. This leads to a poorly performing organization.

      As a founder, you have to surround yourself with the best – the people that you hire to help you implement your dream. When you are sure that you have the right people on board, and that they are all on the same page (vision) then you can take a breathe and believe that since you have a) hired the best b) hired qualified people c) hired people smarter than you , then you can trust that they can do what needs to be done, whether you are there or not.

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