The Personality Trait Shared by Successful Startup Founders
And how to spot it in the people you meet
Every week I receive 10 to 15 pitch decks in my inbox. Being a seed investor, I often need to decide whether or not to bet on a founder based on very little information and, sometimes, nonexistent past performance.
I recently jotted down all the things I usually look for in a founder and their idea during this process. I listed things like the founder’s knowledge of the market, their business model, their product, their competition… until I realized that none of these factors matter as much as one specific trait. Even if this trait doesn’t guarantee the business’s success, it does guarantee the success of the founder as a person. And that makes the founder a good investment.
When I met my mentor
I was in the third year of my startup life, age 27, and still full of entrepreneurial energies. My startup was profitable, global, but — at the same time — tiny. We were just four guys in a shabby, IKEA-furnished office on the outskirts of Pisa, Italy. Nobody really noticed or cared about us.
While other flashier (and now defunct) Italian startups were all over the news, we were unknown to the general public. But we were attracting the attention of notable persons in our sector, including VVIPs.
One of these VVIP investors, from the other side of the world, walked into our office on a rainy day in November 2012. He was there to discuss the terms of a potential investment in my company.
This man, who only a few months later would become a mentor I will always look up to, was at that moment the counterparty of the most important negotiations of my life. I felt like David—inexperienced, young, and weak—against a Goliath’s giant business knowledge and money that could easily get the best of me and my company. You could tell I was pretty nervous.
A few minutes into the meeting, having come off as a total noob, what I first believed was a negotiation morphed into the best business lesson of my life.
The teachable founder grows much faster in every area of the business because there’s nothing that…