‘Being told you have to be superhuman is not helpful’

[Originally published in the Courier magazine Dec 2016/Jan 2017 Issue 14]

I could rattle off a long list of necessary qualities for a founder — ambition, grit, leadership, intelligence, confidence, determination, passion, problem-solving prowess, adaptability and more. Yet being told you have to be superhuman is not helpful; instead I want to share the key attributes of founders I really think move the dial.

Just short of unrealistic

We look for founders that have a bold (just short of unrealistic) version for how they want to change the world, not just their local community or city. Building a billion-pound business is often quoted as a measure of success in our industry and that is because tech entrepreneurs are on a mission to create products that will affect millions of people, thousands of businesses or both.

What distinguishes great entrepreneurs is something I would describe as an obsession with making a vision a reality. It is more than just passion; it’s about having the unwavering focus and relentless determination to do whatever it takes.

Built by an outsider

As an example, one of many things that impressed us about Melissa Morris, founder of Network Locum, was her decision to quit her lucrative career as a management consultant and join the NHS for a year to understand its inner workings, before launching her own doctor-staffing platform.

A common perception is that founders need to have relevant experience in the industry they are disrupting. While this idea of ‘domain knowledge’ can be beneficial, I don’t believe it is at all essential. Great business can be built by outsiders. Travis Kalanick wasn’t in the taxi industry before he founded Uber. General experience from the trials and tribulations of building a startup is, however, valuable.

Excellent at hiring

One final tip: the most exceptional founders excel at hiring people. Entrepreneurs can and should afford to be perfectionists when they recruit. I was constantly impressed by how meticulous the co-founders of Magic Pony were; they used a fine- toothed comb to find the best engineers.

I would also encourage founders to take a similar approach to choosing the right investors. They should set the bar just as high and make sure investors share their ambition.