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I started describing the skills that make up the quality of a founder, driven by the belief that success is nothing less than being exceptional.
I have also tried to break down the word "exceptional" into a few key characteristics, as we are put in a position to judge these almost daily. I have to admit that the overall impression that founders give us is rarely "exceptional" to begin with, and it takes further careful questioning to come to one conclusion or another. Again, I must admit that we do not try to prove the "exceptional" quality of the founders across the board, but are often content to discover one of their fundamental characteristics.
Yes, this is subjective and incomplete. Yes, it is likely that we miss many opportunities, but what we do is more like risk management, trying to weed out those that do not inspire us in any way. No idea, no matter how new and seemingly useful, will move forward unless it comes from the minds of founders who inspire us in one way or another. We are a team that rarely makes random decisions, no matter how strong our own opinions are. And that keeps us within the boundaries of our own discipline, if we talk about it at all.
The next important characteristic that defines the "quality" of a founder is discipline. Discipline manifests itself in many ways and, unfortunately, is rarely part of the founders' basic arsenal. One gets the impression that the more spontaneous an entrepreneur is, the more attractive he or she is to investors, the more imaginative and unique his or her answers are, no matter how fluent or not so fluent his or her speech. I admit that it took me 10 years at the highest corporate level to master this discipline in all its forms, and even now I have not fully mastered it yet.
However, once we discover a founder who has a smooth demeanor, who tackles all the steps of a given process - be it operational, investment or financing related - we greatly appreciate their potential and approach the other aspects with optimism. A disciplined founder is well in control of his emotions and responds patiently to every question that comes his way, putting each answer in its place. Discipline thus organizes discussions, regardless of the interlocutor, and provides the order that turns discussions into comprehensive evaluations.
One might say that discipline can be neglected in the startup world, as founders must always be vigilant, ready to pivot, ready to accept their mistakes and move quickly in a new strategic direction. I don't believe in this view. I believe that you have to be disciplined until you get to pivoting, and even then you can not ignore important tasks as if they do not exist.
Radu Georgescu used to say that the evaluation of a round is not a photo, but rather a film. The film can last from 3 months to a year, and during this time the founder must show discipline and keep the promises he makes to the funders and to his own colleagues.
Since strategic and operational discipline are the key traits that guarantee team cohesion, the ability to keep all teammates in orbit, it is common for the founding team to look different from one company review to the next. Most of the time, this is not good news. Of course, many might say that the opinions here are not valid because things are different in their case. While I agree that exceptionally good startups can be founded on a whim, I am equally convinced that not a single long-term success comes without discipline at the founder or founding team level. It is equally true that when you overdo it with discipline and put it on a pedestal of honour, more often than not other values suffer. So we are dealing with qualities that founders need to master at an optimal level, whatever that may be.
Coming back to how a founder manifests quality through discipline, I recall situations where reason must prevail in strategic discussions. No participant should monopolise the discussion and impose their views. Everyone has the right to be heard, to be silent when they must be silent, to compromise from time to time, and to develop collective views that allow everyone to move forward.
Collective discipline is at least as important as individual discipline, and therein lies the way out of founders who cannot develop their individual qualities: They must pass on the responsibility for what they are not and cannot become to the team.
So I conclude with this: a team can be built at the beginning or along the way. It is always better if the founders are diverse and if the team shares all the values we are talking about here among its members. It is easier and much more useful.
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