10 Key Qualities of Successful Startup Founders


It is a sad but true fact that only 10% of startups will ever succeed. Conversely, however, that doesn’t mean that 90% of all entrepreneurs that try and start a business ultimately fail. It simply means that the 10% of successful startup founders that eventually succeed didn’t let all of their previous failures stop them.

In truth, almost every successful business or company was started by a single individual with an extraordinary drive to succeed. Here are 10 key qualities that those individuals often possess.

Passion is a key quality of successful startup founders

People don’t actually invest in businesses, companies, ideas or products — they invest in people. In fact, one enterprising entrepreneur recently raised $2 Million in seed money just to create a product! Passion is infectious, it’s contagious — it makes people feel alive, and that is what they invest in.

Humility helps small businesses to grow

When you think of humility, Steve Jobs might be the last person to come to mind. By all accounts, he was arrogant, demanding and might even at times be potentially labelled a bully. The truth is, however, humility does not always look like what we think it should look like and particularly not in leaders.

Humble people are not doormats. Humble people can still be fierce and ferocious, capable of clawing their way all the way to the top. While leaders and entrepreneurs must most definitely be humble, they at the same time must also possess an almost relentless sense of self. In Jobs’ case, he was what could most accurately be described as a humble narcissist.

characteristics of startup founders

Decisiveness is the backbone of leadership

Much has been made lately of the effectiveness of a more collaborative style of leadership, while top-down leadership has gotten a bad rap. The truth is, no one form of leadership is the right type of leadership, but rather there is a right time and place for each style of leadership.

When a crisis hits, it is not the time to start asking everyone’s opinion about what should be done. Successful startup founders have to make decisions quickly and trust that even if their choices are not the best, sometimes making a decision period is better than not making one at all.

Conversely, however, if leaders have not established a good rapport with their subordinates in non-crisis times, they may find themselves making a decision with no one to follow them.

Patience is a virtue

This is another area where entrepreneurs must hold oppositional qualities. On the one hand, they need to be driven and determined, always pushing forward and yet at the same time, they need to possess almost supernatural patience.

Starting a startup is a lot like deep sea fishing. You can sit and wait for hours with nary a bite but always be ready for action in a split second.

Successful startup founders have to know when to move and when to wait. In some cases, they may literally have to wait years for the right opportunity. When it comes, they need to be ready to pounce with the alacrity of an angry rattlesnake.

Resilience — just keep going!

While most people might look at Michael Jordan as one of the biggest success stories of the 20th century, this Nike commercial tells a very different tale. According to the commercial, Jordan missed more than 9,000 shots in his career. He also lost almost 33 games and was entrusted with taking the game-winning shot — and missed — 26 times.

Steve Jobs was infamously fired from his own company. Donald Trump has filed bankruptcy six times.

Successful startup founders are not successful because they never fail. Some of the most successful people in the world have failed a lot. They just don’t quit.

Confidence and experience are critical to growth

There is most definitely a fine line between confidence and arrogance. But in truth, some of the most successful entrepreneurs are a little bit of both. One of the key differences between confidence and arrogance is about 10,000 hours of work.

In his best-selling book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion of the 10,000-hour rule.

By that, he meant that the most successful people in the world generally got that way by investing roughly 10,000 hours honing their craft. While confident people may sometimes come across as arrogant, the big difference between confidence and arrogance is experience.

Another way of looking at it is that confident people get to be that way by having a lot of failure under their belt.

Creativity to face your challenges head-on

No two start-ups will ever face exactly the same problems, obstacles and challenges — but face them they will. While you may find people that have experienced similar difficulties, they will not have faced exactly the same problems as you.

The answers that worked for someone else will not necessarily be the same answers that will work for you. Successfully ushering a startup from fledging enterprise to a full-fledged business requires outside-the-box thinking. Every company will have very special, specific and unique challenges. And unique challenges will always require unique solutions.

creativity characteristic of successful startup founders

Positivity vs reality

Another one of the many balances that successful startup founders must always maintain is the balance between positivity and reality. It’s one thing to always look for a silver lining, it’s an entirely different thing to completely ignore the storm clouds brewing.

There is a vast difference between positivity and naïveté, and it is imperative not to confuse the two. It is also important not to confuse positivity with an arrogant assumption that you simply cannot fail. Positive people still carry rain insurance, and they still look both ways before crossing the street.

Once again, the big difference between positive people and naive people often comes down to failure. The more failures a person weathers without it sinking their ship, the more storms they become positive they can weather.

Persistence and hard work go hand-in-hand

Building a business is not for the faint of heart. It requires hard work, patience, perseverance and above all — more hard work. Thomas Edison was famous for many quotes that show he well understood the delicate interplay between these qualities.

Here are some famous Thomas Edison quotes that show just how much he understood that value of persistence. And that persistence alone wasn’t going to get you far.

  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.”
  • “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
  • “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Salesmanship: believe in your own product, and others will follow

Salesmanship is not the ability to be slick and smooth. It’s simply the ability to make others believe in your product or service. Just as resilience and persistence are inextricably intertwined, passion is one of the most essential ingredients in salesmanship. If you believe in your product or service, so will everyone else.

It can be tempting to believe that great companies are built because they had a great product. This would be false. Many great companies were started with inferior products and a complete lack of experience or expertise on the part of their founders.

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Phil Knight, Mark Zuckerburg — none of them knew anything about building a company when they started their empires. In most cases, their products were clunky, unwieldy and far behind the competition.

What they all had in common was a ferocious drive to succeed and the will to make it happen. The rest they learned along the way.


Jen McKenzie is an independent business consultant from New York. She writes extensively on business, education and human resource topics. When Jennifer is not at her desk working, you can usually find her hiking. You can reach Jennifer @jenmcknzie

Want to contribute to PeoplePerHour blog? Get in touch via community@peopleperhour.com

No Comment

Post A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.