Truly Great Founders Turn New Markets into Success Stories

Ali Diallo
The Blueprint
Published in
4 min readDec 12, 2016


Very Good Founders turn new startups into success stories. Truly Great Founders turn new markets into success stories.

SaaStr founder, Jason M. Lemkin, wrote a great post about the difference between very good founders and truly great founders. Very good founders are business founders that have exceptional success rates, build great startups and generate high returns for their investors.

Lemkin knows a thing or two about very good founders: He co-founded NanoGram Device Corp (acquired by Greatbatch Inc.) and EchoSign (acquired by Adobe), was a Partner at Storm Ventures (four IPOs, 30 acquisitions), and founded SaaStr, the largest community of SaaS founders and entrepreneurs with over 3 million views per month. He also invests through SaaStr Fund.

Clearly, the guy is a beast. Yet he looks up to another type of founders: the very best ones that are bolder and shrewder than the typical A-type leaders. He calls them the Truly Great Founders (TGFs).

What are Truly Great Founders?

Truly great founders are visionary founders that can foresee the future of an entire market. They can predict the dynamics of a market and create solutions that fill the need of a future demand. And since they live in the present like any other good entrepreneur, they know how to overcome psychological and operational barriers. They are masters of perfect timing — a skill IdeaLab founder and venture builder, Bill Gross, can’t stress enough.

Truly Great Founders Create New Markets

I’ll go one step further and argue that this type of founders not only predict the future outcome of a market, but also create new ones — a point echoed by the authors of the groundbreaking entrepreneurship book, Play Bigger. They are “Category Designers,” or, they invent entirely new market categories and position themselves as the de facto leaders by helping us solve a problem we didn’t know we had.

NY-based investor Mark Peter Davis (MPD) is a great example of such a founder: he and his team built one of the most innovative VC firms of the last ten years — one that builds ventures by introducing the world to an entirely new vertical market for startups, with personalized corporate services ranging from social engineering insurance and legal to accounting and business development.

I met Mark a couple of years ago in his NY offices back when I was scaling my own venture-building investment platform before joining my new partners in crime in Dubai to launch and grow AdVoice. This is a guy that really breathes startups: he struck me as a highly passionate leader who knew exactly how to best support entrepreneurs. I remember him talking about how the startup culture plays such an important role in his life and much of this passion transpires in his partners’ ability to successfully create new markets as Startup Service Providers.

Truly Great Founders Are Polarizing Entrepreneurs

Because of their somehow contrarian approach to entrepreneurship, the very best founders are polarizing figures whose decisions are not always (if ever) understood. In fact, they are believers in a world that the majority of us haven’t figured out yet. Travis Kalanick, Elon Musk and Peter Thiel — three of this world’s most successful entrepreneurs — all made controversial business decisions that existing markets are still failing to grasp.

This controversial approach contrasts with the traditional competitive model of disruptive entrepreneurship, where startups strive to become leaders in existing and crowded market categories. Thomas Edison allegedly said:

“I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

While this iterative and reactionary method works great for lean startup entrepreneurs, it is still incomplete in the eyes of the very best leaders who first create the needs and then invent the solutions.

Truly Great Founders Have a Global Mindset

Lemkin’s TGF syndrome is alive and well beyond our American borders: 500 Startups founder Dave McClure is probably the epitome of the visionary leader that’s gone global and Union Square VenturesFred Wilson wrote an insightful post about those far-sighted trailblazers that are foreseeing the world’s Second Smartphone Revolution.

McClure and Wilson remind us that the perfection of entrepreneurship requires a unique ability to visualize new market dynamics at a global level and claim first-mover advantage. This is what the very best investors are made of.

I have a great deal to say about Wilson’s Second Smart Revolution in my next article as it speaks directly to my experience witnessing the birth of new mobile market categories in frontier markets. From Los Angeles and London to Dubai and Africa, leaders such as my chairman Bassim Haidar, Tricia Martinez and Shivani Siroya are leveraging mobile technology to rewrite the rules of global entrepreneurship and it’s truly a sight to behold. Their beliefs in their abilities to successfully shape new market dynamics are religiously unshakeable.

And there lies the key difference. Very good founders turn new startups into success stories; Truly great founders turn new markets into success stories.


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Ali Diallo
The Blueprint

Venture builder, investor and impact entrepreneur. EIR @ LG NOVA. Partner at United Ventures. White House Presidential Innovation Fellow. @mit @gannett @lgnova