Top 10 Traits of a Successful Founder
Let me start off by giving you my defintion of success; to be fulfilled through balance. I measure success by this because you could have a billion dollar company but if you’ve neglected your family and your health along the way then are you truly successful? Are you “fulfilled”? Also to note that balance is not something you achieve and then have forever, it really is a “balancing act”, something that needs constant work and adjustment.
It comes down to personal values too and I’ve learnt through my own experience as a founder that I do not want to sacrifice my well-being for any business, but instead I want to have more well-rounded “success”. I want to be fit and healthy, I want to look after my mental health, I want to work on my relationships, I want to enjoy my life, AND I want to have a successful business.
It’s an ongoing effort to balance all of these aspects of my life and adjust my time and energy that I put into each area at any point to achieve the outcome I want. It works on give and take. Yes, you might have a launch coming up and you work a few more hours than usual, and so you reduce time spent with your family or at the gym, but you don’t fully neglect those things. It’s not a long term strategy but rather a short term adjustment to achieve a particular goal.
So now you know what I mean by “success”, here are my Top 10 Traits of a Successful Founder. I feel like there are many more that can be added! If there’s something you think I’ve left off, comment and let me know!
- Resilience / Grit
Like most things in life, you don’t just start off in pole position. Sure, some of us are more privileged and are afforded more opportunities but whatever your lot in life, you need to work hard to get where you’re going. Nobody is a master on day 1, so have the audacity to be bad at something and keep going. Improvement is something that happens incrementally and every small piece will keep adding up until you’re where you want to be.
You will fail. People will say no. You might be living on minimum wage but you only lose if you stop trying. So get comfortable with being uncomfortable and know that resilience is not easy but it’s number one on this list for a reason!
A positive outlook is everything because when the 60th person has said no to you it’s the one thing that will remind you “I can do this”. You need to know that if someone else has done it, so can you and you can probably do it better.
When you get feedback take the bad into account but also celebrate the good. Creating a successful startup is a long road and as much as you learn from your mistakes, you should acknowledge your progress and keep feeding your optimism if you want to make it through.
Optimism and grit are a powerful combination and vital to achieving success.
Ask questions, find out how or why things work. Observe the world and look for problems to solve. If you enjoy something, let that motivate you to find out as much as you can on the topic. Be eager to learn and you will no doubt find things that can be done better. Turn off autopilot and engage in the world around you! If your eyes are open, you will find inspiration or answers!
Something I do often is to listen more than I talk. As a founder, I understand the importance of user feedback, for example. When I talk to users, I give them a brief intro but then let them take over. It’s the best way for me to learn about them and to gain insightful feedback. In general it’s a great learning tool and I truly believe we don’t need to say half of the things that we do.
4. Having a strong purpose (WHY)
It’s totally natural for the things that motivate us to change and mature as we grow older, so stay in tune with yourself and always make sure you have a great reason for doing something. It will be incredible hard to remain optimistic if the reason you have for doing something is flimsy.
Consider your values and how you’d want to contribute to the world — maybe there’s a specific cause or issue that resonates with you. Let your instincts guide you and find something meaningful to you, this is a great way to find satisfaction in your work!
5. Making time for people
Spending time with people is important for our mental health and above this we usually have obligations as friends, siblings, partners and so on. We play a role in the lives of other people and maintaining relationships while running a business is hard work, but something I recommend you prioritise.
Decide which people you are willing to spend your time and energy on and make a conscious effort to cultivate that relationship. This might be making a phone call when it’s so easy to put it off (yes, call your mom!). Or making sure that for the 1 hour you have with your kids today, you are completely present and disconnected from your phone or other distractions.
As an entrepreneur your time is precious, and so focus on quality time with people. This isn’t about just optimising your time, but it’s about giving people your time and attention so that your relationships are meaningful connections.
Something I like doing is to have walking meetings. I’ll go for a walk with a member of my team or while on a phone call to make the most of this time. I’m getting exercise, fresh air, a mental break from my screen and spending time out in the world, but I am still focussed and present in the conversation I am having.
I also encourage you to meet new people! Strike up a conversation, reach out to people you’d like to meet. I think you’d be surprised at how many people will be willing to have a coffee with you after a DM exchange on social media.
6. Understanding that nobody owes you anything
Taking ownership of your journey and being able to hold yourself accountable will also help you with this: nobody owes you anything! You’re not entitled to anyone else’s time or energy just because you want it. Someone might sound interested and excited about an idea of yours but that doesn’t always translate into their participation, and that doesn’t mean they can’t get involved with your competitor either. Don’t rely on someone else to make your dreams come true, they have their own ambitions and are not responsible for yours. You cannot control other people, and it’s not worth trying to.
Take ownership of your well-being and make time for yourself!
There are so many benefits to this and it’s even more amazing because you can practice mindfulness in a way that speaks directly to you. Not into yoga? Then don’t worry about it.
What I would recommend is designing a morning and/or evening routine for yourself that will help you start your day in a positive, focussed frame of mind (mine allows me to feel ready and energised for the day ahead). An evening routine will help with shaking off the day, letting go of stress and promoting better sleep.
Some of the things I do as part of my mindfulness practice are mediation, breathing exercises, journalling, cold water submersion. You can find whatever works for you and make it a daily ritual!
Once you are more aware of yourself and the people around you, you are equipped to make better decisions, keep cool in high pressure situations and ultimately treat people better. What’s not to love?
The days of men (in particular) not celebrating their emotional intelligence are over and it’s time to acknowledge our complexities as humans. There is strength in knowing yourself on every level.
8. Knowing your limits
Starting and running a business can be a gruelling process and it’s not any easier if you are burnt out! I believe in pushing limits and finding new territory to explore, but as with most things in life, it’s about balance!
Mindfulness will help you to be in tune with yourself and to know when it’s time to push a boundary or respect its limitations. You cannot eat poorly and work 14 hours a day and expect your mind to stay sharp and focussed. Remember that you might need to make short term adjustments (working long hours) but they are not sustainable in the long run.
A generalist in the startup world is also a huge asset, but it’s also key to know when you are spreading yourself too thin, or if you are beyond your personal skillset. Knowing when to ask for help or to let someone else take the lead on a project or task is crucial in maintaining balance.
A limitation that I’m very interested in is sleep! You should prioritise your rest and recovery by making sure you sleep long enough and well enough. Use your evening routine to wind down for a goodnight’s sleep and make sure your sleep hygiene is up to scratch. I also encourage you to find out more about your circadian rhythm and what Chronotype you are (night owl vs early bird). If you need to sleep in during the morning and you are most productive in the evening, then try to design your day around that!
Similarly to knowing your limits, know how you work best and set yourself up for success!
9. Eating Well
You’re busy, you need energy! Make sure you’re adequately fuelling your body so you have the energy to perform. It goes deeper than that though, it’s about looking after yourself and taking responsibility of your health. What you eat will effect your physical health, your mental health, your sleep…
Again, set yourself up for success. Fill your fridge with healthy things that you will eat. If you’re not into cooking or don’t have the time then make things as easy as possible for yourself; find meals that don’t require a lot of prep or get someone to help you. Make eating well an important part of your routine and remember, coffee is not a meal!
10. Giving back
As much as you want to be curious and keep learning, give back by teaching and empowering others. I believe that in order to make the most progress you should always consider yourself a student and a teacher. Share your knowledge and mentor those that are behind you.
I am successful (fulfilled through balance) because I decided to be successful, it’s not just something that happens. I work on being successful, and I do the things I love, I embrace the process with all its challenges and love the grind! Do you?