What qualities does it take to become a successful startup founder in 2019? As simple as the question might be, the answer is decidedly not.
Every founder is an individual. Unique in their own way. They are brought up in different environments, develop their own way of thinking and problem solving. All the challenges they have faced over the years have shaped them and have helped shape the baseline for the qualities of successful startup founders.
We, as seekers, analysing the right mould, need to scratch deeper than just dusting the surface. To develop an understanding of the type of founders we come across and how to become one. Identifying and learning from the right type of founder, then, becomes an integral part of the potential future success, or a contributing factor to the loss, of any budding entrepreneur. Let us look at the most potent types of founder we may come across in our journey.
An individual who has a deep-rooted interest in making things happen. They often are the core founder of a company. The nucleus to the startup cell. They have a vision, a clear idea, of the direction in which the product or service, will evolve and disrupt. A near perfectionist. He demands only the best quality of the final product. If best isn’t possible, he’d push to innovate to get the best. The enthusiasts inspire those in and around the company to be part of the processes, with active persuasion, to contribute to its success. They not only set the works in motion, but they also remind everyone involved of the bigger picture – the higher calling.
These types of entrepreneurs are not out there to make friends, they are out there to get the job done. They are there to make a success of their startup.
Steven Paul Jobs – Steve Jobs. The co-founder of Apple was notoriously particular about ‘getting it right’. His intention was always to create products that excited consumers and helped auger loyalty. He had a clear vision that he held on to – throughout his life, always pushed for innovation and was ambitious. It was a result of his unflinching desire for perfection and innovation, as Forbes points out, that even seven (07) years after his death Apple is still reigning supreme as the most valuable brand in the world.
“Today is difficult, tomorrow is much more difficult, but the day after tomorrow is beautiful. Most people die tomorrow evening.” – These words are of Ma-Yun or Jack Ma as we know him. His is a story of an undying passion to succeed. Of the key aspects of his personality is his emotional investment in his idea followed by his perseverance, persistence and ambition. Jack’s passion to succeed led him to become one of the most successful and celebrated businessmen of modern age. He actively engaged his team and inculcated the belief in them that they will make it big. A trendsetter and innovator, he transformed the face of Chinese economy and led what is now the face of China’s e-commerce identity, Ali Baba. He has always been open about his views on how one should lead their professional life. Of the many anecdotes of Ma’s early days, the best one is of him being refused a job over 30 times in different companies and being the only one to be rejected out of the 24 that applied for a job at KFC while 23 others got accepted. He did an even more unthinkable thing, he retired in his prime, from active business, but moved on to pursue his other passion: improvement in education, health and environment. Hence inspiring to be a leading man, both in professional and personal life.
Every successful organisation needs a happy team and happy customers. An individual who has insight into these processes and is proactively working on improving those experiences either are, or will find a way to get ahead of the curve. If your team is happy and motivated it will automatically guarantee their earnest efforts and dedication to the cause. They will gleefully deliver what is expected of them but will also never shy away from going the extra mile. This then extends into delivering the type of customer services that make a visit to your business or consumption of your products a must for a customer. That is a dream for any business, any founder.
Likewise, the businesses that actively improve and adjust their offerings based on the feedback from their customers and consumers are highly likely to prolong their product life. Customer-focused organisations are almost always ahead of the curve and, barring some unseen disruption or uptake in the market, enjoy longevity. It is as if such an individual has their finger on the pulse of the market and can feel the changes in the blood flow.
One of the prime examples form the current crop would be one Elon Musk. He has a tremendous work ethic, putting in upwards of a hundred (100) hours a week. What transcends Elon’s elan and enterprising self is his willingness to listen to consumers. It is a well-documented fact that he regularly engages in various discourses on social media. It is known that he prefers to hire fresh graduates over experienced individuals and gives them his full backing. Elon can be found working alongside his engineers on the ground and is a regular sight in Tesla factories. He loves celebrating his success and does it so with his staff.
A more seasoned but equally exciting founder is Vincent Kennedy ‘Vince’ McMahon. He single-handedly took WWE (formerly WWF) from a mere regional wrestling company and made it into a global ‘Sports Entertainment‘ behemoth it has become today. From an extremely poor background, put his entire life on the line for the first-ever Wrestlemania. It is a global event the size of any world cup, superbowl, you name it.
Vince has been known for his feuds with a number of his ‘superstars’, however, it is worth noting that any and all reported feuds whereby the wrestlers have refused to work with WWE have always come around to work. Be it Sting (Steve Borden) joining WWE, be it Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart and The Ultimate Warrior (James Brian Hellwig) returning to WWE and being inducted into the WWE Hall of fame.
One aspect that is less noticed but in plain sight is the longevity of his talents staying on his books. Professional wrestlers have been working with his company for years, some of them for decades. Vince has even successfully transitioned his stars into backstage roles. Star performers like Shawn Michaels, John Layfield ‘JBL’ and Billy Kidman have joined in important positions along with a host of other seasoned professionals joining the ranks. A big part of the success of WWE is his ability to keep his audience engaged. He has helped wrestling evolve and innovate to adapt to the changing demands of the industry. Vince gives people what they want, mostly, and then he gives them what they don’t want but does it so that they love it. The transformation of a sport that was limited to regional fights into a global product with a fan following spanning generations – a testament of Vince’s understanding of his audience.
An innovator will help realise the dream of the enthusiast. A product may need hundreds of tweaks and adjustments during the design thinking and product development phase until the product is finished, and then some. The innovator will scrape out efficiencies and improvements from within the system and add some from outside the resource pool. He will be ably supported by the people’s champion who will provide the manpower and willing contributors.
The technical brains behind the tech, the creator – who builds on the vision and makes it a reality. A prime example would be Steve ‘Woz’ Wozniak – the silent machinator behind the mac that helped Steve Jobs and Apple start on their way to be the behemoth they became. Woz, however, ventured out outside Apple and created some other products, one of which is a Programmable Universal remote. He further set up Wheels of Zeus that created a GPS based wireless hardware to keep track of the physical location of devices that were live tagged or GPS enabled.
The face of the American Dream, as declared by Forbes Magazine in 2012. Shahid Khan has been championed as the face of diversity in the land of opportunities. An engineer by profession and an architect at heart, he even admitted that during his interview, as he graced the stage at Chicago Ideas week, 2015. Khan worked his way through the life as a student, in a foreign land and integrated in a new culture. Working in his first job at YMCA, washing dishes, through to earning himself a unique acclaim to be the first member of an ethnic minority to own an NFL team. However, before all this, his claim to fame was due to his craft, his endeavour. It was in his design. Khan developed a one-piece truck bumper. His invention not only made it convenient for the engineers to fit the bumper on the vehicles but also made it lighter – which had a direct impact on fuel consumption. That invention became the corner stone for his success; His company now has over 24,000 employees with 64 plants throughout the world.
The Financial Wizard
A startup, a business, an organisation can spend hundreds of millions during the R&D, product development and marketing phase. Not all businesses are able to fulfill their potential. A startup may expose itself to the risk of failure because of bad financial management. The financial wizard is the one who will keep a stern eye on all matters finance. The spending, financial plans and projections, the pre and post-development costs, the break-even point and the milestones – all fall under their purview. Their projections can also come in handy for attracting investment into the business and/or to take loans from financial institutions.
The basic ideas of investing are to look at stocks as business, use the market’s fluctuations to your advantage, and seek a margin of safety. That’s what Ben Graham taught us. A hundred years from now they will still be the cornerstones of investing. Those are the words of none other than the oft-quoted financial wizard, the one, Warren Buffett. The ‘Oracle of Omaha’. Any conversation about business, investment, stocks, wealth accumulation is incomplete without the his mention. Warren exhibited entrepreneurial streak from an early age. He went door to door and sold chewing gums, Coca cola and weekly magazines and further developed an early interest in investing as he spent time in customer’s lounge at his father’s brokerage. He made his first investment at the age of 11 as he bought 3 shares each of Cities Service for himself and his sister, Doris Buffett. The biggest proponent of value investment, his investment portfolio has varied from construction material to media to beverages and food to business services. Take a look at this list of investments over the decades.
One of the most shrewd businessmen of the current crop of entrepreneurs is Theo Paphitis. When it comes to number crunching and reading into the financial records – he is completely at home with it. Theo, during his job at Legal & General, as a commercial mortgage salesperson, learned to read balance sheets of other businesses. He was only twenty-one (21) years old at the time. His experiences early in his life, the subsequent application of those very lessons, set him up for success in his business dealings. He has earned himself a reputation for turning around failing businesses like Ryman and Robert Dyas.
A successful product launch means the world to the business. A strong product awareness drive can help land unprecedented business opportunities. Even a poor or sub-standard product can make a decent return if the product placement and timing are ripe for it. All these come down to the marketer. If you can have an effective marketer on board, it is a blessing. They will create hype via the use of social media, press releases, collaborations, and personal networking. Addition of formal product teasers will help drive anticipation fever-pitch even before the launch of the actual product. They will find product ambassadors and seek endorsements from revered critics and celebrities alike post-launch. All those activities and effective brand decisions will help achieve success.
Talking about The Rainmakers – One rainmaker comes to mind. His conglomerate controls more than 400 companies under the moniker ‘Virgin’, of the Virgin group. Sir Richard Branson, is the ultimate charmer, a business magnate, a charismatic personality but one with an exquisite sense of marketing. He has used outlandish ideas for marketing his products. His stunts include driving in a tank down the fifth (5th) avenue in New York city and pretended to blow up a Coca-cola sign. He celebrated the launch of Virgin America, part of Virgin Atlantic airline operations, by doing a bungee jump off the 407-foot tall Palms Hotel Casino in Las Vegas.
Vince McMahon, although listed as a People’s Champ can also be termed as ‘Rain Maker’ for his savvy marketing techniques. Not only his business and his athletes but he himself is a walking, talking branding and marketing machine. Every single action on-camera is a flash of his persona of ‘Mr McMahon’. His commercial activities and eye for an opportunity has made WWE Network a resounding success. The recent multi-billion dollar broadcast deals for WWE’s franchise shows SmackDown on FOX and RAW on USA Network are a testament to his vision and marketing prowess. He has sparked controversy with many a storyline in his business ranging from weird to absurd. The bottom line, though, is that Vince makes it rain, time and again.
Keep in mind, just having the psychological characteristics of a successful founder does not guarantee success in startups. You could be endowed with the ultimate skillset, unwavering resolve while you are a font of infinite charisma, yet, success requires the right opportunity, luck and consistency to turn an idea into a full-fledged business. That does not mean you should look at a mountain and give up, it just means you need to be prepared for the long arduous trek ahead that may or may not result in your triumph.