upstart Sci-Tech

Grind, luck, and smart decisions

Seamless skillsets bound together make a smart and efficient leader, especially vital in the startup space

Over the last dozen years or so, I have interacted a lot with founders and founding teams. Or at least, I have had enough interactions with them to take a stab at making a couple of observations about what successful founders have in common.

Success for a founder can take one of broadly two forms. One, the startup they founded is considered successful by the market after years of grind, luck, and smart decisions. Or two, the startup they founded is successful in attracting a lot of venture capital or gets acquired by another company with a lot of venture capital. While the latter sounds like a cynical definition of success, here in India, we do see more and more of this form, and I do not begrudge those founders their success.

One important factor that determines a founder’s success is that they are equally good at both building what sells and at selling what has been built. Such a combination is obviously rather rare to find, so very often the founding team gets split in a way where there is one who is great at selling and one who is great at building. But this is sub-optimal because it is not just about being good at these skills independently, but one skill should bleed into the other, which is easier if it is in the same person.

The balance between these two skills also often determines which of the two forms of success defined in the preceding paragraph the founder or founding team achieves. If they are good at building and brilliant at selling, they are likelier to achieve the second form of success. If they are good at selling and even better at building, it is the first and more traditional form of success that is the likelier outcome.

As you can notice, there is no case in either of the two forms of success to be average at either building or selling.

Another trait that a lot of successful founders exhibit in India, and something that is at odds with the stereotype of a successful entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, is that they all exude a certain charm that makes everyone go, “Oh it must be nice to work with this person”, and it is this charm that helps them string along employees, string along investors, string along customers, and various other people who need to be strung along for the founder to be successful. The personality types one sees among successful founders spans across the entire spectrum of forceful Type A sorts, to people who are laid-back and outwardly meek, but they all exude this charm.

It is important to note that neither being skilled as defined above, nor being charming as defined above, is sufficient to ensure a founder’s success. There are too many other factors at play for that. But at the very least, they may be necessary.

The author heads product at a mid-sized startup in the real estate space

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 11:43:02 AM |

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