Tag Archives: Collective energy

Integrity, intelligence, personal energy, collective energy, adaptability, salesmanship, and ambition

In an earlier post, I wrote that the attributes of a great founder are integrity, intelligence, personal energy, collective energy, and salesmanship.

I recently gave a presentation on what makes a great founder, and in preparing for the presentation, realized that I was missing two attributes.

The first attribute is adaptability. Since a startup is essentially a series of experiments designed to solve different problems at different stages of the company, adaptability is a key part of being a great founder. Specifically, knowing what you need to do (intelligence) and doing it yourself (personal energy) or by attracting and motivating others (collective energy) isn’t enough. You also need to be able to change what you’re doing altogether when it isn’t working, or to change how you go about what you’re doing based on where your startup is in its life journey. This requires adaptability.

The second attribute is ambition. Startup outcomes are governed by power laws, whereby a portfolio’s best performing startup’s return can be exponentially greater than that of the second best performing one, the second best performing startup’s return can be exponentially greater than that of the third best performing one, and so on. As a result, each of the founders that an investor backs needs to have the potential to deliver that best performing startup outcome that will drive the investor’s fund level returns. And this requires being a very ambitious founder.

So the attributes through which I now define a great founder are integrity, intelligence, personal energy, collective energy, adaptability, salesmanship, and ambition.

Integrity, intelligence, personal energy, collective energy, and salesmanship

Depending on who you ask, a startup’s founding team is either the most important determinant of the company’s success, or the second most important following the attractiveness of the startup’s target market.

But what makes for a great founding team? The most common answer is a combination of integrity, intelligence, and energy.

Integrity is a requirement because without it a startup’s success will eventually falter or, even if it doesn’t, only the founders will walk away with anything following whatever level of success the startup achieves.

Intelligence and energy refer to, respectively, knowing the right thing to do and doing it.

However, the “doing it” component needs to be further broken down. Specifically, you can either do things yourself or attract and motivate the right other people to do things. And the latter is required to scale what you’re doing.

In other words, being a doer isn’t enough. You need to be a doer through others. I think of this as being able to draw out collective energy. This is one of the two biggest predictors of the eventual scale of a startup’s success.

The other is the founding team’s ability to sell what will be done using what has been done. The founders who are able to do this, without crossing over the thin line of repeatedly overpromising and underdelivering, attract greater resources (like investment, talent, and partners) which enable them to do more faster than their competition. As a result, the companies of two founders faced with the same starting conditions can reach widely different heights in a few years’ time if one founder is a better seller than the other.

So integrity, intelligence, and personal energy are necessary but not sufficient. Great founders also need to be able to draw out collective energy and sell.