Common Attributes of Successful Startup Founders

Through our work at the Accelerator Centre, I’ve met hundreds of entrepreneurs. In those meetings, I often get asked what the Accelerator Centre looks for in a potential startup client. The answer always revolves around one thing: founder attributes - who is leading your team and do they have what it takes to make it in the long run?

June 1, 2017

Through our work at the Accelerator Centre, I’ve met hundreds of entrepreneurs. In those meetings, I often get asked what the Accelerator Centre looks for in a potential startup client. The answer always revolves around one thing: founder attributes - who is leading your team and do they have what it takes to make it in the long run?

Over the years, our team has gotten pretty good at spotting the founders that are the best fit for our programs and the ones most likely to succeed in the long-term. This isn’t because we have a crystal ball that tells us what ideas are great, where to find that magical unicorn, or who the next super-star CEO will be. It is because successful founders have many common traits. There are no hard and fast rules, but in my experience, the most critical traits are the ones that are not always easy to spot - curiosity, patience, courage, and resilience. I sat down with Larry Smith, Professor of Economics at the University of Waterloo, to discuss what personality traits make for a successful entrepreneur and how to practice and learn these skills if they don’t come naturally to you.

Curiosity - Curiosity is essential. It’s the trait that drives most founders to pursue entrepreneurship. They see a problem, they explore ways to fix it. The first idea doesn’t work? They explore the next and the next, until they find the solution.

Curiosity also extends to an openness to critique and criticism, and a willingness to learn. Whether it is from a mentor, co-founder, or your customer, great founders stay open to feedback and are prepared to take action on that feedback when appropriate.

Patience - I know...patience is not necessarily the most exciting trait you can practice, but it is critical. The stereotype we see in startup culture is usually evident in founders - charge full speed ahead, seize the moment, be restless and quick to action. But the truth is, starting a business can take time - a lot of time. The founders who fail to give their ideas time to produce results, through thoughtful action and patience, will ultimately become frustrated and fail. Larry describes the trait as one of the most difficult for founders to master.

Courage - Courage is the trait that is most recognized and respected in startup culture. It’s that special something that drives founders to take the risks that are necessary to push past the challenges and naysayers and lead their businesses to success. But courage isn’t just the drive to take risks. It’s also being ready to accept failure and knowing when to adjust, pivot, or scrap an idea altogether.

Resilience - What happens when you fail? With all that courage and all those risks, failure is almost guaranteed at some point. What really sets a great founder apart from the crowd is what happens after that learning experience. Great founders get up, dust off and try the next thing - until they get it right.

Resilience is another trait that doesn’t come naturally to people. Being an entrepreneur is difficult, stressful and often a lonely experience. We often don’t know how we will react to extreme stress until we are in it, but recognizing that the experience is normal and that failure is an important part of the process can help you develop the characteristic over time.

In our next post, we will be talking specifically about the attributes of a CEO and how good CEOs make the transition from a startup CEO (Chief Everything Officer) to a true Chief Executive Officer watch for “Are You the Right Person to Lead Your Startup?” soon!About the Authors

Clinton Ball is the Director of Client Programs and Initiatives at the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, Ontario.  As the co-founder of a small software company, Clinton can relate to those building out a technology company and is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs build and scale their companies. When he’s not designing or delivering Accelerator Centre Programming you can find Clinton reading up on the latest marketing, technology and entrepreneurship resources, exploring a new trail or coffee spot, or trying to get better at his swing on the golf course.

Tabatha Laverty is the Marketing and Community Manager at the Accelerator Centre. As a passionate storyteller and digital marketer, she has worked with entrepreneurs, not-for-profits, and public service agencies for 5 years – helping them develop content, share their stories, and build their brands. When she isn’t writing or meeting new entrepreneurs, you can find her spending time with her husband and 2 young children.

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