Each month, we invite special guests from different disciplines and backgrounds to give our founders new perspectives which they can apply in their companies on a daily basis.
One of the latest events was hosted by 212’s own, Dr. Maher Hakim. In addition to being an investor, a coach, a mentor, and an ecosystem builder, Maher is also a prestigious university lecturer. Based on his experience working with founders over the years, as well as starting his own companies, Maher identified eight important traits of successful tech entrepreneurs..
In this post I will present the eight traits from Maher’s fascinating presentation, and why, in his view, these are very important to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Let’s start with being a ‘risk-taker.’ You have to take tremendous risk to create a space for differentiation, just take a look at founders of success story companies such as Box, Fitbit, and Khan Academy.
In your startup, over time, you will be faced with thousands of decisions and tradeoffs, all of which involve some level of risks. A startup cannot succeed if it doesn’t take risks continuously. Pursuing a high-growth opportunity and creating a significant impact require a level of risk taking that is very different from traditional entrepreneurship ventures. Without the risk appetite, it will be very difficult to beat the competition, to raise money, to create the proper culture, etc.
Innovator (AKA the Kid)
Kids learn new ideas and concepts with lightning speed, and in an unexplainable way. They observe, question, and absorb without hesitation. Kids wonder about different things, network a lot, and talking to strangers is natural for a child.
However, we tend to lose these behaviors when we get older, and our ability to learn becomes more structured.
From an investor’s perspective, this is one of the most important characteristics.
Scorecard questions we always ask after a startup meeting:
Are these founders (or founder) coachable?
Is the team open to learning new things or do things differently?
The “kid’s DNA” allows founders to learn. To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to keep learning on a consistent basis.
The innovation process is messy, unstructured and creative. But left unchecked, it will create chaos in the organization. On the other hand, structured processes and proper planning will ensure things go smoothly and predictably but will produce little creativity and innovation.
Your biggest challenge is to create the right environment within your startup, where your team members are free to create and innovate, but at the same time, are committed to deliverables, goals, and outcomes.
One great example of an innovative culture is Pixar. Each movie that Pixar makes is akin to a startup. Pixar created a culture and processes where the most memorable moments, characters, interactions, lines, etc., in any of its movies were created during the development of the movie, through collisions of ideas by great minds working collaboratively and creatively. You should think of your startup as a Pixar movie.
To “fundraise” means to be continuously selling yourself and your company.
From your first meeting with early-stage investors, they will be asking themselves: Can this entrepreneur continue to raise the next rounds of funding?
To become a successful tech entrepreneur, you’ll need to learn the fundraising process: when to fundraise, from whom and how much — at every stage of your company.
One reason startups beat large companies is because they are better at deploying capital and talent to go after a certain opportunity.
Think about it. If you are not better at deploying and optimizing your money and talent than a larger company, then you will ultimately lose: they have more money and talent than you do.
Knowing what to say “no” to, focusing on a few targeted goals, getting the most out of your people, and reducing noise and “office politics” within your organization are all ways where you can do better than larger companies.
High growth tech companies are global by nature. To succeed in this business, you need to act global, hire global, think global, and even eat global. In short, you need to be global.
Do you know that Italian cuisine had no tomatoes in it before the discovery of the America? Tomatoes were originated from America, so until the fifteenth century, Italians made their food…. Without tomatoes.
If the Italians did not have a global perspective, we would all be eating pizzas and pasta today…. without tomatoes. Actually, we would probably NOT be eating pizzas and pasta.
We are all born with certain talents, but to turn these talents into skills, we need to put in the effort. And to turn your skills into achievements, you will need to put in even more effort. To endure the hard work that is required to succeed, you must enjoy what you are working on. You need “grit” — which is a combination of passion and perseverance. In her excellent book “Grit”, Angela Duckworth defines a simple formula for achievement:
Talent x Effort = Skill
Skill x Effort = Achievement
Empathy is your ability to see the world from others’ points of view. Not just to “see” it but “feel” it and immerse yourself in it.
Without empathy, you cannot build a successful product, you cannot assemble a lead a great team, you cannot align your investors and partners. Empathy does not necessarily mean you have to have the same pain and joy that someone else feels, but you do have to be able to understand it.
I end with empathy because it is the most important trait.
Some of the other traits mentioned above are easier to learn. For example, the fundraising process and tools are easily accessible and can be learned. But If you don’t have the passion for selling yourself (i.e., you don’t have the “grit” for fundraising), your fundraising journey will be difficult.
If you see some of traits above in yourself, you will probably understand why destiny has put you in your position today.
I hope you enjoyed this blog. Please share your thoughts on what traits are most important to the success of your company.