Certain qualities are commonly attributed to leaders both in business and in life. That’s because social interactions are complex; when it comes to leading, trailblazing, or entrepreneurship, often there is only room for one individual or small group of individuals to take on the role of guiding others. Their character traits can cause them to be naturally selected from the larger group.

But just what are the traits that create successful entrepreneurs? What does it take to be a startup founder? Must these skills be innate, or can they be learned and honed? In this article, we cover characteristics found in many successful business owners, including experienced, new, old, and young entrepreneurs alike, and give tips for how to cultivate those characteristics in yourself.

What is a founder?

What do Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs have in common? They were all founders of exceptionally successful businesses. A founder is someone who comes up with an idea for a new business and then sees it through to implementation.

Often, part of founding a new business is seeking out venture capital. This is money provided by venture capitalists — people who like to invest in new businesses — that can help you afford the things you need to get your business idea up and running. While many venture capital firms tend to congregate in Silicon Valley or New York, they can be found all over (it’s even possible to connect with investors online). 

Some of the characteristics that create successful founders are the same characteristics that attract potential investors, which are so vital to startup companies in the early days. While this article focuses on first-time business founders, much of what we describe also applies to those with experience, such as serial entrepreneurs. 

What makes a successful founder?

Many different elements make a founder successful, and there’s no exact prescription that applies to every new venture. However, it’s important to put these qualities into practice: With only 10% of CEOs guiding staff by example, aligning yourself with these traits will give your startup a competitive edge.

The following traits were found in common among multiple sources describing successful entrepreneurs.

Strong Leadership

Strong leadership is important whether you are a sole proprietor or have a hundred employees. This is because business leaders don’t just lead employees, but they lead their products or services and must represent those to prospective customers and investors alike.

When your business is early-stage, leadership skills are what will convince angel investors to take a chance on you. These skills are also needed if you are collaborating with a co-founder or business partners, or if you’re recruiting board members. Those with the strongest leadership skills may become founder CEOs, not just participating in getting the business off the ground but staying on in a leadership role long after the initial work is done.

A strong leader not only inspires confidence in others but also has the ability to follow through and make things happen. So just how do you develop your leadership skills?

First, note that not all strong leaders lead the same. Some may lead with quiet confidence, while others are more dynamic masters of presentation. The key is to find the leadership style that fits your personality and innate skills.  Beyond that, consider the following actions associated with strong leadership and consider how you can incorporate these into your routines:

  • Communicate in an open and honest manner and listen to feedback and concerns.
  • Act as a role model, modeling the behavior you would like to see in others.
  • Set clear goals and expectations; be firm but not overbearing.
  • Encourage growth in others by providing opportunities and feedback.
  • Be consistent and fair in your interactions.
  • Strive to always be learning and evolving.

Trust in the Team

When it comes to founding a business and deciding whether to stay on as a founder CEO or to relinquish control to others, the choice is often expressed as choosing between being king or being rich. 

The idea is that if you stay on as CEO, you will be able to maintain maximal control over the company you started, and hence play the role of “king,” though possibly at the expense of financial success. Alternatively, you can hand power over to someone else, let them lead the company to success, and reap the benefits of the profit, becoming “rich.” 

Rare is the individual who can be both king and rich by staying on in a leadership position while simultaneously making wise enough business decisions to lead the company to financial success. This is where trusting in your team comes in. Businesses are more likely to become profitable if decisions are made in the best interest of the business, as opposed to being made in alignment with the founder’s original vision or business ideas. 

Trust in the team members you have brought on to make your business successful. Recognize that their motives are not to work against you, but to work for the business. If you take the time to bring people on board with skills and expertise, you should place value on their experience and show this by trusting their advice and giving space for your business to evolve and change as needed.

Driven and Motivated to Motivate Others

When new businesses start out, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and you will no doubt come across your share of pitfalls and even a sense of being lost in a chaotic hustle. To see a startup through to success, you must remain driven and steadfast in your belief that you will eventually succeed.

Motivation is absolutely required; it’s what will carry you through the biggest setbacks. Maintaining a full-time positive attitude is what will engender the same sense of drive and motivation in others, including partners, employees, and even prospective investors or customers. Demonstrating motivation makes you appear confident, and this confidence can become contagious.

If you find yourself struggling with motivation, try some of the following tips:

  • Make a to-do list. Doing so can make the unmanageable seem less so.
  • Take care of your personal health and well-being with healthy food and exercise.
  • Seek out a mentor or friend for a pep talk.
  • Take a short break if needed so you can clear your mind and start fresh.
  • Tackle smaller tasks first if that seems more manageable. The less on your plate, the easier it becomes to tackle the larger tasks.
  • Read biographies of successful people and identify instances in which they too may have lost motivation, only to gain it again.

Calculated Decision-Maker

Founders are often left with the most difficult decisions to make for the company. This requires an ability to think quickly and calculate the best decisions at the time. Keep in mind that nobody is perfect, and even the best of us may make decisions that we later regret. A good decision-maker will also have the ability to generate solutions and ways out of problems caused by past poor decisions. 

Often, the best way to make calculated decisions is to define clear metrics or measures of the pros and cons (or costs and benefits) of the choices before you. If you can make the choice boil down to objective measures, you can rely less on often-inaccurate gut instincts and be more confident in the validity of choices made. 

Some business decisions are easier than others, and approaching them from a calculated standpoint can also remove the psychological burden. For example, suppose your cash flow has been less than what you had hoped and you need to let go of a partner or employee as a result. If you have done the math carefully, you will know that it simply needs to happen for the health of your business and is not a personal affront to that person, nor simply a guess that you hope was right. 

The key to improving your decision-making skills is to make a habit of always collecting all relevant information, brainstorming all possible scenarios, weighing pros and cons, and considering feedback from reliable partners or other sources. 

It may also be useful to keep a record of decisions you made along with their expected and actual outcomes. You can then reflect on how accurate your past assessments were as you make future decisions to refine your decision-making process even further.

Navigating Your Way to Startup Success

Keep in mind that learning opportunities are all around you at any given time. Seek out seminars or training sessions designed for business leaders, offer to buy lunch for a prospective mentor and pick their brain, and keep a journal of ideas and things you’ve tried in the past (along with outcomes). By developing a learning mindset, you will invariably grow and evolve as a person and a leader.

If you would like more information or small business resources, check out ZenBusiness’s services page today. 

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