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We often think of people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Steve Jobs when imagining what it takes to be the founder of a great tech company. Most of us then wonder if we have the charisma, charm, genius, etc. to be such a person. However, those are not the skills required to succeed as a startup founder.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet and learn from many highly successful founders. They all had very different skill sets, backgrounds, and personalities. So while there is no personality archetype for a founder and you don’t have to be a charismatic genius, there are some common traits that most successful founders seem to share:

  • Laser focus on solving a specific problem
  • Intelligence / resourcefulness
  • Grit / resilience

If you have those traits, then you likely have the raw talent necessary to be a founder. The next question is whether you have the discipline and skills necessary to identify the right opportunity to which to apply your talent and the resolve necessary to execute effectively on that opportunity.

You likely already have an idea, maybe even a prototype or actual product. That’s probably what has you thinking about starting a new company. However, before you start “building” anything (or expanding on an existing prototype), you should take some time to learn the skills necessary to identify real markets and build great products to service those markets.

Educating yourself on the science of product development will equip you with the ability to objectively judge your existing idea/product to determine if it is truly worth investing the time and energy that building a real company requires. Be intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that your existing idea may not be great once evaluated from an educated perspective.

Once you learn these skills, you’ll find that you see opportunities for great startups everywhere you look. This won’t be your last idea. Ideas are easy. Having the discipline to focus only on the great ideas and then taking the right steps to execute them is much harder. So subject your idea to the scrutiny it deserves before you commit more of your time and resources to it.

It is never too late to abandon a mediocre idea and look for a better one. The biggest mistake most founders make is being passionate about a specific solution or idea rather than a well-defined problem space. Don’t fall in love with your idea or your product. Fall in love with solving a real problem for other people. Ideally, a big problem shared by lots of people.

Glenn Clayton
Managing Partner
MKII Ventures

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