Here are a few things I’ve seen founders do that made me confident in their ability and dedication.
Elevator pitch in LinkedIn tagline
A founder who is all in is constantly selling. That means their tagline will:
a) be for their company, not for them
b) be the sales pitch, not a vague aspirational vision
Value proposition keeps getting more specific
If every time you talk to a founder and their value proposition is more and more specific to me indicates that they’re learning more and more about their USP, about their target customer, about the market.
The opposite of this is a company that pivots every six months.
No short stints in the CV
Building a startup is decidedly a marathon. I think it takes about 4 years to make real progress in a startup.
Folks who jump positions every year are chasing a career and are unlikely to want to slog through for such a long time. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not the right profile.
Worked at companies of different sizes
A founder who’s seen multiple stages of a startup is more likely to be successful.
While they might not have been in the top leadership positions they would have seen the challenges the organization faces, especially during the transitions.
Worked in different industries, or not
There is a difference between the technical and the business founders.
The startups I’ve seen where the business founder was part of the industry for a while worked well. But I’ve also seen them get so focused on how things are that they can’t see how things should be.
For technical founders, on the other hand, I think it’s a clear advantage to have been in different industries and seen different approaches.
Switched to full-time as soon as possible
It might be obvious but the sooner the founder goes full time the more skin in the game, but also belief in the business, they have. They’re that much more committed to it.
The opposite of this is founders who are simultaneously CEOs of multiple companies. I don’t think that can ever work – least of all for startups.
Don’t succumb to the hype
The founders who aren’t always talking about how they’re going to incorporate the latest hype in their product seemed to get more accomplished.
Founded, or was an early employee, of a startup that raised a round or two
I think this is probably the biggest indicator. Having done the early stages, seed and maybe series A, eliminates A LOT of uncertainty.
At least the company won’t fail because the founders aren’t competent at running a business, since they’ve done it before.
I’d even be biased toward someone who did a startup over someone who’s been employed at a name-brand unicorn simply because the skill set is not at all equivalent.