So I've been thinking a lot about important traits of startup founders. I keep coming back to the notion that the single, most indispensable trait of a startup founder is the ability to pick up the phone and make a cold call to a potential client about a product that is far from perfect. I can't think of any skill that is more important than this one (and all of its variations...arguably the elevator pitch is a good realization of this ability). In my opinion, all of the technical and business know-how won't mean diddly if the founder(s) don't have this skill.
I'm interested in what others think about this assertion.
I look at most of those "most important entrepreneur traits" articles as absolute garbage. Success attribution is one of the worst skills in entrepreneurs and those who analyze them.
But there was something I have heard recently that really struck the chord with me:
"With passion and vision comes delusion. Good entrepreneur has the ability to recognize when he/she might be going down the path of delusion"
I have seen plenty of software startups in my time in the industry. From my experience, the startup founder in many of these firms was often incapable of making any type of coherent sales call to anyone. These founders were brilliant software developers, not brilliant sales people.
Without an idea and a product there is nothing to sell. Someone with a brilliant idea can hire people to develop and sell that idea. Someone with a brilliant product can hire people to sell it. Brilliant sales people are useless without something to sell.
Cold calling is a fine thing but it's not THE single biggest trait of a founder.
The most important trait is a relentless focus on execution .
The ability to recognize talent in people and products. It also leads to an honest self-assessment which helps you fill the talent gaps with other founders.
I'm trying to envision the train-wreck of Steve Wozniak making a cold call. He was smart enough to leave that to one of the best pitch men of our time. Steve Jobs stayed away from the technical aspects of computers, but knows a good one when he sees it.
A cold call is the culmination of a lot of skills and abilities: product knowledge, customer knowledge, communication and probably a bit of competitiveness to excel at it.
Personally I would say fortitude and will power. Those are very broad qualities however, even spilling over into your cold calling.
Ben Horowitz recently wrote an article suggesting leadership is the most important trait in a founding CEO.
Not every successful founder is a great leader, but I think it's fair to say that every startup will need some great leaders during its formative years.
The gist of Ben's argument is that great leaders are people who can get the right people to follow them. Sounds like a tautology, but he asserts there is a certain personality type -- eloquent, ambitious, and talented (and I would add: humble, hard-working, persistent) -- that tends to attract like-minded people. I've seen companies hurt by leadership that lacks these elements, and thrive where leaders embodied them.
I would agree with the writer above that the most important trait is the ability to execute. Having said that, here's an interesting series of blog posts on the topic by Mark Suster:
Cold calling makes sense if each sell has a substantial value. If you sell a product for $50 a unit, you can't afford to spend 15 minutes trying to close with a customer.
To me a very important trait is being able to keep in mind the different aspects of the business: tech, marketing, billing, accounting. It's easy to start banging out code and forget about all the rest, but you really need to keep an eye on everything, and do so every day.
I can think of many successful founders who don't display that trait in any real manner. So, while it sounds good and for some it is the most important, one should consider that there is so much involved and so many things to do well and to do poorly that you just have to keep trying until something works.
For me, persistence is about the most common denominator. (though I have to agree with Apollo that there really is nothing to be gained from taking others' experiences and advice and trying to fit it to your own niche.) You have to be able to do what works for you.
All the above are very good, but the single most important trait is
"not giving up - commitment & determination to succeed". If you have this, then you'll be able to do all of the other suggestions above (at least in some form or another until you succeed...)
It's tempting to pick out one quality and focus on building it but it's the same fallacy as asking "which is the most important finger on your hands".
Work on being well-rounded. It's much more satisfying as entrepreneur and ultimately make you a more interesting person.