About eight years ago I made a promise to my wife that I would retire as an operating executive by the end of 2011, and I made a promise to myself that I would still be engaged in companies in a meaningful way. That led to a lot of thought about what inspires me most and I found that it was working with startups, which led me to create an angel investment network, WIN. I love the energy that emanates from entrepreneurs creating new companies. They definitely roll out of bed determined to change the world.
Like everyone, I knew the stats — most of them would fail. But I discovered that the very reasons I loved working with founders were also the same attributes that would determine success. I’ve now worked with over 60 startups through WIN and have seen that the characteristics that make them successful are not a trend, but a constant. From our earliest investments in Zain Jaffer at Vungle, Mike Bergelson at Everwise or Jay Srinivasan at Appurify to our most recent ones such as Slava Rubin at Indiegogo, I’ve been motivated by the same traits again and again. Here are the top four qualities in founders that will continue to matter in 2015, and beyond:
Relevance. The startup needs to be a good idea in a good space. Even if it is executed well, a more important question still looms: Does it matter? I look for founders who want to change the world and focus on an area that many will find meaningful.Passion. Startup founders are passionate by definition. After all, most of them quit a real paying job to chase an idea and a dream. If a founder is not passionate, run away!
Chip on their shoulder. It takes an insane amount of energy to create something from nothing. It breaks all the laws of physics. Why are the founders committed? I need to know what motivates them and why they are so dedicated. People who feel they have something to prove are propelled by a very powerful force.
Maniacal focus. These founders are going to die trying! They are tough, scrappy and even a bit crazy. They will hear “no” 1,000 times for every “yes.” Only the most committed will have the stamina to push through.