At a recent accelerator demo day, someone asked me what I look for in a founder. It took a bit of soul searching to construct my answer. Here’s what I came up with.
- Mission driven: startups are such a rollercoaster ride that it takes someone who won’t get distracted by the ups and downs of the journey. A founder who cares about changing something that isn’t working quite right in the world is more likely to stay grounded during the highs, and grind through the lows.
- Intellectual honesty: a founder who sees things as they are rather than how she/he would like them to be will more likely confront problems early and fix them.
- Self-awareness: a founder who understands her/his weaknesses and assembles a team that is complementary is more likely to be successful.
Being mission driven is probably not required to lead a startup that gets acquired and makes decent money for the investor. But it is essential for a startup that wants to go it alone and become huge.
Being unable to see things as they are can be the other edge of the proverbial sword. Often, an ability to see things as they want them to be is what makes founders set out on the perilous startup journey.
Not being self-aware and being unable to assemble the right team, however, is often the most common fatal flaw. This, more than anything else, is what makes me decide against an investment.
Alongside every founder’s strengths are shortcomings. I look for the founders who have at least two of these three characteristics.