What Successful Start Up Leaders Do Differently
First, an apology. My blog has been quiet. I traveled to Europe with my wife Pam and had to wait in our daughter’s apartment in Madrid for a negative test so I could return. Back in business.
I just read in an INC newsletter the review of a study from “Google for Startups” which looked at the traits of the most successful founders of new enterprise. This is critical since over 50% of starts up fail because of people problems rather than issues of technology or market. The study, based on 900 cases, found seven factors to be associated with successful founders. Three of them caught my eye as critical and distinct.
The first is protecting the team from distractions. Entrepreneurs are often, themselves, distracted by new ideas. Their embrace of the next shiny object during a project can be highly disruptive to others who find the work or the vision shifting. Distractions are everywhere in a startup where so much is unsettled. I like the language in the Google report. Actively shielding requires steps not necessarily included in having a strong focus.
The second factor is inviting disagreement. Founders, the study found, often undervalue opinions that are different from their own. This is understandable especially when the new product or idea is divergent from common wisdom and where counterplay of thinking is such a strength. Note that the factor is not called welcoming differences. It is labeled as inviting disagreements. Disagreements are the lifeblood of collaboration.
The third factor I found very useful is overcoming discouragement. The study found that successful startup leaders had more self-doubt and issues of confidence than did unsuccessful ones. Without self-doubt the enterprise starts with a flourish but often falls to earth quickly. The key is turning doubt into value—increasing level of effort and learning better paths.
Keen-eyed readers of my blog know my penchant for quotes. Here is one about artists that seem to apply fully to start up leaders: “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt; a perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” This from Roberrt Hughes.
These and other such definers of successful people in many realms are often called “soft skills.” I am not sure they are skills as much as they are attributes. The abilities to drive out distractions, embrace and harness disagreements, and admitting and using self-doubt are found at the core of successful startup founders. The good news is that diagnostic tools for seeing such factors are far more advanced and appreciated than a decade ago. Instruments such as the Caliper focus on attributes more than knowledge, experience, or general personality profiles. If you are going to be or to select a successful founding leader, my thought is to ask how strongly and comfortably you will do the three things discussed here. They appear to be essential for startup success.