5 Key Talents of Successful Startup Founders
Posted by Nawito
Nick Hughes is the CEO and co-founder of Seconds, a mobile commerce platform that provides text messaging and mobile payments for local commerce. In his spare time, he inspires entrepreneurs to build meaningful and enduring companies through his writing.
Startup founders are fascinating creatures. They have to be multifaceted and dynamic, yet laser sharp and narrowly focused. During the early days, they must wear many hats and perform a variety of foreign duties, such as HR, PR, sales, marketing and product design. Above all, they have to be just a little bit crazy to even think about stepping into the roller coaster lifestyle called entrepreneurship.
As crazy as they may seem, the entrepreneur’s many duties create a uniquely talented individual. Yet subtle differences in personality and perspective can determine success or failure.
The talents listed below are detailed in the book Now Discover Your Strengths, a great read for anyone looking to improve on his or her unique talents. In the book you’re introduced to the StrengthsFinder metric, which measures the presence of 34 different categories of talent. According to the StrengthsFinder, “Talents are people’s naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied. The more dominant a theme is in a person, the greater the theme’s impact on that person’s behavior and performance. ”
Some talents are essential to a startup founder. Without the presence of these five specific talents, it would be very difficult to start and grow a new venture.
According the the StrengthsFinder, “People strong in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.”
If there is one talent all founders must possess, it’s the Activator. Activators find ways to simply get things started and make things happen, which is synonymous with the definition of a leader. Activators build out the core founding team, establish the general “idea” and strategic direction, line up legal representation, find office space, organize meetings, etc.
An Activator jumps up and say to his friends “Hey, let’s start a new company!” Some people have a hard time breaking from their ruts in life, but not Activators. They never fall into ruts because they are always starting something different or recruiting others to join them and their new pursuits.
Take for example Jason Jacobs, co-founder of the fitness app RunKeeper. While training for a marathon in 2007, he was using Nike+ and realized the world needed a simple, independent, open health metrics platform. As an Activator, he formed a company and convinced others to join. Another truism of entrepreneurship in action? You usually have no idea what you are doing, but you just learn as you go.
Do you have what it takes to make the jump, knowing you’ll be learning as you go?
According the the StrengthsFinder, “People strong in the Adaptability theme prefer to ‘go with the flow.’ They tend to be ‘now’ people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.”
Nothing in a startup ever goes as planned, and thus, startup founders must be able to adapt to changing circumstances. Successful founders go with the flow of startup culture, where markets change quickly, funding seems both eminent and impossible, co-founders come and go, and products evolve.
Pivoting (i.e., adaptability) is essential to today’s startups. Smart founders should initiate the process not with the “dream company concept” in mind, but rather, with the commitment and pursuit of solving a consumer problem.
You’ve probably heard of Instagram, the breakout photo sharing app that has attracted more than 27 million downloads. But you might not have heard of Burbn, which was what the founders built before changing to “Instagram.” Co-founder Kevin Systrom explains how they launched the service primarily as a checkin, social geo-location app, on which users could quickly upload photos and share them with friends. Burbn had attracted a core following of users, but was not exactly taking off. Upon further evaluation the founders noticed that photo uploading was the strongest and most used feature. Going with the flow, they cut all other features and moved forward with the newly minted Instagram. Twenty-seven million users later, I think they made the right choice.
Do you have the guts to cut 95% of your existing product and redirect its focus if necessary?
According the the StrengthsFinder, “People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.”
Acute pattern recognition, finding alternative ways to succeed, spotting signal and relevance from all the noise — this is strategic thinking. It’s what separates the idea-and-fail group from the execute-and-succeed group.
Strategic thinking names the company, defines what makes you unique, finds where in the market to position your product, determines how to best orient the value proposition, discovers how users will find your service, and figures out who will ultimately become a strategic partner. This requires a founder to see the entire competitive landscape, to understand where the holes are, and to align the company in the appropriate position for success.
Steve Jobs was probably the best strategic thinker we have encountered in recent history. It’s no coincidence Apple has risen to become the most valuable company in the world; Steve Jobs realized computing was not just about productivity, but that people wanted to be liberated, creative and entertained. Jobs determined to create a computing and entertainment ecosystem around the entire consumer.
How did he recognize this potential? Jobs turned the corner when he decided to make a better portable music player and integrate iTunes into the computing experience. He noticed that consumers wanted a hub, one place to access all their music and entertainment. After taking the music industry by storm, he made computing mobile with the iPhone and the iPad, again reinventing computing for the post-PC era. Finally, the advent of the App Store opened an entirely new market for millions of entrepreneurs, and has already generated billions of dollars in less than five years.
Although we lost him late last year, Jobs may not be done transforming our world. Apple TV has the potential to change how we interact with digital content. Jobs did all this by seeing around corners, observing the how and why of the consumer, and using strategic thinking every time he made a decision.
Do you see and understand all angles of your market, and have the ability to spot patterns or counterintuitive trends?
According the the StrengthsFinder, “People strong in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create.”
Entrepreneurship has an entropic feel to it — each day is totally different. Roles and responsibilities can pull a founder in so many directions that he can feel lost in the chaos. Therefore, establishing routine and structure is essential to moving a business forward.
Discipline is what forces a founder to fill his calendar with customer discovery interviews each week to help uncover the problem they are trying to solve. Discipline is also what keeps foundering teams together, often when founders are working two jobs and struggling to make time for the business. Discipline keeps the startup lean, efficient and moving forward.
The “lean startup movement” can be loosely defined as a focus on discipline. Eric Reis and other lean startup proponents teach principles such as “fail fast,” “iterate quickly,” and “release, test, evaluate, toss out what doesn’t work and stick with what does.” Validated learning — or the constant search to establish your market, value proposition and ultimately your initial customer segments — is all about discipline for the early founder.
Based on the teachings of people like Reis, we have finally determined startups aren’t all built on lucky breaks, but rather on a methodical and disciplined approach to finding a sustainable business.
Do you have the daily discipline to methodically test your value proposition, product and customers to find a sustainable and repeatable business model?
According the the StrengthsFinder, “People strong in the Focus theme can take a direction, follow through, and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act.”
You have 100 things to do today, but you only have time to accomplish three. Which ones do you get done?
You may have all the talents described above, but if you cannot focus on the right things, you will not succeed. Focus takes your discipline, narrows it down on the essential few things that are important, and makes sure you get them done. How many people do you know who have said they are starting some new venture only to tell you six months later they just couldn’t get going and are already doing something different? These people might be an Activator and even excel in strategic thinking, but if they cannot focus in on what’s important each day, they will never get to the next level.
Launching a successful company can be one of the most challenging experiences in your life. Don’t make it any harder than it needs to be. Focusing on the critically important and dismissing all other distractions will make all the difference.
Noah Kagan, chief Sumo of AppSumo, explains how focusing on the important tasks will not only improve daily efficiency, but will significantly benefit business as well. He describes it as “maximizing the best use of your time.”
Ask yourself, which are the most important tasks on which your business depends? Now, focus on those and only those tasks. Evaluate all the other stuff on your plate and delegate accordingly. Trying to do everything will result in getting nothing done.
Startup founders are indeed uniquely talented individuals. Do you think you have what it takes to be a successful founder?
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Posted on March 29, 2012, in Business, Information Technology, Science, Study and tagged Activator, Burbn, Entrepreneur, Instagram, iTunes, Kevin Systrom, local commerce, mobile payments, nick hughes, pr sales, Social media, Steve Jobs, technology, Twitter. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.