Traits of successful founders I’ve noticed

Here are some traits I’ve noticed among my successful entrepreneurial friends and those I have the privilege to observe.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Curiosity — a lot of them have interest in many different fields. After all: creativity is the ability to combine ideas from different areas.

Willingness to learn — I know a lot of people (including myself) who are mainly driven be the desire to learn and grow as a person. It fits the startup lifestyle: If you adapt your mindset every problem is just an opportunity to learn and every failure is just another experience.

Surround themselves with knowledgeable people — You’re the average of the people you spend most of your time with. Lots of people I know chose their closest peers very carefully and sometimes even strategically.

Learn from other peoples experiences—I would argue that all of your problems have already been solved by someone in some other place & time. This means that the solution to your problems are in someone else's head. Successful founders I know realised this and learn as much as possible from others. This is were EO comes in really handy by the way.

Strong drive — This really shows when you go on vacation with 5 other successful founders... They all have a very clear picture of how their reality should be and what they should do about it. Mediocre founders accept a “no” after three tries and give up. A lot of successful entrepreneurs I know are ridiculously determined to achieve their goal at all costs (this is usually good but will become a bad thing at a certain point).

Open-mindedness — What’s interesting is the balance between a strong drive and self-reflection. Between self-esteem and self-doubt. Between assertiveness vs. open-mindedness. Between confidence vs. humbleness. Successful founders I know have often found a healthy balance between the two extremes and know in which situation to use which mindset.

Say no— This is hard for me and I’m not particularly good at (my curiosity trait is probably too strong). But being focussed on a goal means closing a lot of doors and saying no all the time. I heard that Bill Gates attributes a lot of his success on focus and it makes so much sense.

Intelligence — Of course pure IQ is never enough and too much of it can be a burden. But pure analytical capabilities are simply important for things like prioritization (biggest area of executional failure in startups in my opinion) or understanding cause-effect-relationships. Most of the successful founders I know are pretty intelligent.


Besides those traits I didn’t observe many common characteristics so far. Some founders are strong in sales and others are not. Some are rhetorically brilliant and some can’t go on stage. Some are introverted and a lot are extraverted. Most are very nice and humble, some have really big egos. Many roads seem to lead to Rome on the founder-personality-spectrum.

When I use the list in assessing founder teams it’s impressive how easy it becomes to filter. Also it’s interesting how many founders fall through the grid. Especially the strong drive and learning-mindset seems to be missing quite often in young first-time founders.