The top reason for most investors to commit funding into a startup is the founding team. Clearly, the leaders of a startup set the tone for the entire team. So how does one identify a good leader? At 9Mile Labs, we've attempted to tease out the traits of great startup leaders. We term these traits “Entrepreneurial Aptitude” and constantly look for these among startup teams, especially during our cohort selection process
1. Self-awareness: Successful entrepreneurs know what they don't know. Successful leaders recognize their gaps and want to surround themselves with people smarter than and different from themselves. This awareness is a critical determinant of hiring, funding and mentoring decisions. Great startup leaders appreciate the importance of listening and learning, can handle the push back, and don’t surround themselves with yes-men.
2. Strong bias towards action: Speed is a critical determinant of success in a startup. It's better to make three wrong decisions now and learn from them to arrive at the right one than to have endlessly (over-) analyzed in the quest for perfection. Successful leaders have a sense of urgency, are comfortable with risk and trust their instincts.
3. Fluid intelligence: Great leaders have the ability to learn and make new rules as they go along…by first recognizing that the old ones just don't work any more. While remaining flexible and nimble, good startup leaders are able to maintain the fine balance between coachability and deep conviction about their vision in the face of all odds.
4. Internal motivation: Great startup leaders don’t need to be coaxed out of bed in the morning, they don't make excuses for failure, and they don't ask or wait for permission. They take accountability for their decisions and believe that the buck really does stop with them.
5. Ability to motivate and lead others: These leaders are able to infect others with their irrational optimism even while being transparent about the facts. They take responsibility for bad decisions and give credit to team members for the good ones. Great startup leaders are able attract others into working with them for next to nothing because of their sense of mission and caring.
Just to be clear, this list is by no means static and will continue to get refined; it also does not obviate the need to trust intuition and gut instinct. But the attributes listed above continue to rise up to the top in our discussions.
If this sounds like you, then don’t give up! If your idea doesn’t work the first time or doesn’t fit into a market opportunity, you likely have what it takes to evolve it or fail quickly and start working towards your next idea.
Startup accelerators are an exceptional source of support for helping to develop leaders and businesses for market-readiness in months. The 9Mile Labs B2B startup accelerator is accepting applications for its Spring 2015 cohort now, with information and applications online here.