Over the last couple years, I have been mentoring some of the best and brightest, young and not-so-young entrepreneurs I have ever had the privilege of working with. The majority of these future high flyers are a part of the Kansas City Startup Village and the surrounding startup communities in greater Kansas City. A few of them have come from afar, L.A. to New York, Chicago, Boston, St. Louis and Atlanta to Miami. They range from early startups still working on their MVP (minimum viable product) to companies that have been around for 3 to 4 years and are now looking to scale. The founders could not be more different or diverse.
But I have found that as diverse as they are, they exhibit these six characteristics in commonality. Here are the great six:
The “Great 6” Characteristics of Enterpreneurial Founders
Here are the great 6 characteristics:
To be at her best Alice needed to experience Wonderland. Wonderland is a place that has no barriers or limitations. A place where anything and everything is possible. Great founders tend to have strong imaginings coupled with an inherent intellectual curiosity, which causes them to be capable of remarkable achievements. As one great imaginer put it,
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Albert Einstein
Passion is the elixir of life. The founders that I choose to mentor have passion coming out of the wazoo. It’s not that they are highly goal oriented or even insane workaholics (although hard work and long hours drinking red bull is routine and culturally expected). It’s more like passion is their steam engine, their locomotive that fuels their goal setting and extraordinary work ethic. They are highly driven to say the least. Successful founders have passion in abundance and it is infectious to be around.
To see with a patch over one eye. This bubbling passion of great founders seems to concentrate into a strong linear focus on getting the job done. My founders are not going to let anything or anyone stand in their way of disrupting their marketplace. These guys are out to change the world and they have an uncanny ability to focus on what really matters and what will advance their cause. As such, they have developed a blatant disregard for the fluff that is absolutely not worth pursuing.
Anal to the “nth” degree. I am continually amazed at my founder’s utter determination to create a great product. The spirit of Steve Jobs lives on in these founders. Jobs was noteworthy in his pursuit of excellence and producing a high quality product even in regards to the internal boards and schematics that the customer would never see.
These young entrepreneurs are the same. Pursuing an ideal of a perfect product, they push the boundaries of technology and knowledge to reach their goal. That attitude precludes incompetence, which become an anathema to these folks. Their competence is not a badge of pride worn on their applet, as much as it is a means and a tool to reach their goal of delivering the most incredible and game changing products to the marketplace. Not pushing the boundaries of one’s competencies is a sure way to get kicked off the team and out of startup land. Great founders have strong competencies, recognize the competencies that are required but are currently lacking for successful execution, and have an uncanny ability to persuade crazy talented individuals to join their rag tag team of merry men (and women)…most of the time without pay. Go figure.
Enjoy the ride. Extreme emotions and thought patterns run rampant with many of my founders. To them, they live in a special, surreal environment. They and their team are an elite band of brothers who have been forged together through the facing of adversity and trial. Hardship and denial are commonplace. Enduring long periods without sleep or food (often because they just don’t have the money to buy any), they relentless pursue their vision of a better world. But in spite of that intensity, or perhaps because of it, founders play hard and enjoy the ride. This adventure that they are on is not just work to them. It is their life. It is what they were born to do, and by God, they love it! Great founders feed off the collaboration and contributions of their team and work hard to maintain an open and inclusive culture. It is totally apparent…these guys love this stuff and they have copious amounts of fun doing it.
Til death do us part. With my founders, the slavery of individualism is replaced with the freedom of collaboration and the fruits of aggregate team success. In the event one team member is disjointed and out of sorts, there is a ripple affect across the entire team. One’s problem becomes everyone’s problem. If one is attacked, they all rally to the defense, because in their view, what is true for one is common to all. This culture of loyalty is reminiscent of what is found in certain sections of the U.S. military. The marine motto, “The few, the proud, the marines” is just as adept with the teams of founders that I have had the privilege of coaching as it is with those battled hardened comrades in arms.
Qualities of Humanity, Not Just Entrepreneurs
To be clear, my founders do not posses these amazing characteristics in fullness, but they do posses them in measure. More importantly, these qualities are foundational to how they live their lives. As a result, their “melding” of these qualities enable them to form a distinctive worldview. That is a part of their attraction; they form a league of extraordinary individuals that strive to live extraordinary lives. It is also why many of these extraordinary founders are misunderstood and unfairly criticized.
But I say, and so do my founders, that these qualities of character and attitude are the very fabric of life itself. To deny the pursuit of them is to deny the reason for our existence. It is these qualities, along with others, that make us as a species unique on this planet. Our ability to dream, to love, to pursue the unknown, to dare to chance, to risk it all and win (or lose), is what births the potential for greatness in each of us. If we do not dream, if we do not love, if we do not pursue, if we do not develop our talents, if we do not have fun, if we do not share brotherhood or sisterhood, we do not fully experience life.
I am proud that within startup communities across this great land, hundreds of thousands of people are living passionate and focused lives, living their dreams and expanding their ability to achieve what has never been achieved before. Even if they fail in execution they succeed in the realm of “that which is not yet, but shall be.”
Entrepreneurs have incredible power to restore a sense of balance and right living to us all. They can inspire others to reach for something seemingly beyond grasp. They give imagination a place in the adult world, for imagination births innovation. They teach us virtues of focus and dedication. They remind us that people flourish in communities forged out of honesty, integrity, loyalty, fun, and mutual commitment to a common purpose.
What is happening in the microcosm of American startup culture is profound. And it is desperately needed in communities around the globe. Communities where imagination seems futile because no better future exists. Where passion is snuffed out by hunger and desperation. Where focus is lacking because there is no opportunity to exercise it. Where competency is underdeveloped because education is poor. Where fun is undermined by sorrow, loss, and sickness. Where loyalty is destroyed by oppression and injustice.
That’s why Agora exists. To bring these 6 characteristics into communities across the globe, and through innovation and imagination and entrepreneurship, to make the world a better place…one business at a time.
* Image credit: © 2014 Ray Barreth