What Does a Successful Founder Look Like Today?

The changes wrought by the pandemic and ongoing economic instability provide a chance to assess what makes a good founder. Our expert shares his thoughts here.

Written by Jesse Downing
Published on Mar. 27, 2024
What Does a Successful Founder Look Like Today?
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If the first few months are any indication, 2024 seems determined to keep us locked in a state of economic uncertainty. The result? Layoffs, leaving hundreds of thousands of tech employees out of work and an understandable trail of fear and insecurity amongst employees still in the workplace. Those who have found themselves out of a job are likewise in emotional straits.

But in an effort to find the silver lining, we can’t lose sight of the fact that the languid state of the VC markets means there’s a surplus of great talent seeking new opportunities. This fact, paired with a trend in the post-Covid world that people expect both a paycheck and to find deeper meaning in their work, has made this a perfect time to build.

The timing seems serendipitous. As people crave more from nine-to-fives than a living and comprehensive health insurance, they will likely gravitate to organizations that stand for something more than healthy profit margins. Thus, mission-driven companies may be better positioned to thrive in this new economy and are more likely to do so when led by a qualified, experienced individual.

Popular culture has painted a picture of young entrepreneurs, fresh out of college, building ventures that will surely change the world. But history has proven time and time again that this image is far from reality. And with so many experienced, talented individuals finding themselves at a career crossroads, there’s never been a better time to identify what truly makes a strong founder who has what it takes to lead a scalable, sustainable, and successful business.

4 Key Qualities for a Founder

  • Clarity of vision.
  • Communication skills.
  • Grit.
  • Expertise and data acumen.

Starting a Company? Read This First.Scrap the 5-Year Plan. Start Thinking 10 Years Ahead Instead.

 

Clarity of Vision

We’ve all heard the term “visionary” thrown around in the entrepreneurial world, and for good reason. A competent leader needs to see where the business is headed. Can you articulate what your vision tastes like, looks like, and smells like so that others can have confidence that the end result will be worth the bumpy road ahead? 

Maintaining an overarching vision of the business needs to come hand-in-hand with focus and prioritization. Distractions and diversions are myriad, and despite all good intentions, they may be the detours that pull you further and further away from the end goal. The ability to maintain laser-focus on the mission and end-goal — and guide others on board to do the same — may be the difference between a successful venture and an unsuccessful one. 

 

Communication Skills

People often say communication is the key to success, and for good reason. The essence of good communication as a business leader is cultivating versatility so you communicate clearly to a variety of audiences, including customers, employees, partners, and investors. Can you adapt your tone, vocabulary and points of emphasis in a way that energizes and fosters connection with each group? A great leader can quickly toggle between these communication styles without compromising clarity or impact by conveying the material that is most relevant to their focus area.

 

Grit

Leadership in any capacity requires resilience, but startup founders must possess a level of grit that continuously pushes them forward. You must learn to love the sound of a door closing and the click of a phone line going dead. You have to understand that a fast “no” is a gift, even if it feels like a failure at first. A founder needs to knock on many doors to develop traction, and it’s not the fast “nos” but the slow “maybes” that are painful.

Resilience and grit are like scar tissue, strengthening over time as a result of experience, and often, hard lessons. Rookies often lacks composure, maturity, and experience in their game in comparison to a veteran, even if they have natural talent. Likewise, those further along in their careers are more likely to demonstrate the necessary level of toughness.

 

Expertise and Data Acumen

Founders need confidence in their areas of expertise and self awareness about where they lack it. Overestimating your knowledge or making assumptions is dangerous. You can’t be afraid to reach into your network of resources, whether other experts or reliable data, to fill any gaps in an effort to stabilize the business.

For human data, you need to validate the depth of expertise that an individual possesses by investigating their background and asking questions to which you already know the answers to ascertain their competence. Beyond a human network, in order to form data-supported assumptions for a business model, an astute leader must be very critical about the sources and methods used to collect and synthesize information. 

More in Founders + EntrepreneurshipHow to Avoid the Startup Death Spiral

 

Are You Fit to Found?

If there’s a deep yearning inside of you to follow a dream, innovate, or build something from scratch, keep these things in mind. Are they skills or traits you already possess, or something you can develop over time? 

Capital isn’t as readily available as it once was, but the standards of what makes a great entrepreneur have held true for years. It’s hard to discern who may or may not be successful based solely on life experiences when so much is at stake in a new venture. These elements can and should be considered the minimum for entrepreneurial success as well as a timely reminder that when one door closes, another bright new venture could be on the horizon. 

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