What are the Traits of the Best Startup Founders

Marvin Liao
2 min readJan 20, 2021

There is a continual debate among early stage investors on what is more important: Team/Founders or Market. In my view, both are important. But putting aside the market which i think is really hard to get right and not always that obvious. So then a big part of the equation leads to the founder. Figuring heuristics around how to select the top ones is important for all early stage investors. Also controversial because every investor looks for different things. And I might add, every investor has different experiences and skills to boot.

Michael Siebel of Y Combinator says it’s:

1) Ability to Execute

2) Formidability

3) Great Communications

4) Strong Internal Motivation

Source: What Makes The Top 10% Of Founders Different? — Michael Seibel

I think those are excellent. Of course, I have a slightly different take. After 6 years of running a top tier accelerator and fund, where i was looking at thousands of startups a year. Literally thousands. From this experience and 414 investments later, I see that my top 10% of founders tend to have certain traits.

1) Learning machines:

Important to take in data and lessons from all their contacts with customers, users, team, partners and investors. A top founder is able to weigh and incorporate all of this into their plan & business.

2) Thoughtfulness & Deliberate:

About the BIG strategic decisions that literally are life and death for your biz.

A good founder understands “Risk & Reward” and where to spend their time & resources. They also learn how to think through all the data points coming at them.

3) Crazy and insane work ethic:

It takes a lot of energy and effort to get a company to critical mass. Especially true in the pre-seed and seed stage. The only way they can get there is just plain hard work, assuming you are aiming in the general and right direction. Sometimes you just have to overcome your own ignorance with hard work.

4) Decisive & Take Tough Decisions Quickly:

Startups are always short of time and money, so the ability to cut projects, features or people that are not working out is critical.

For all new investors, you have to figure out your own heuristics. As you invest in more and more startups you will be able to fine-tune your radar. Over time, this radar will become a more effective filter for you as you invest.

Listen to this Newsletter: https://listencat.com/the-hard-fork-by-marvin-liao-podcast/



Marvin Liao

Ever curious: Tsundoku, Reader, Aspiring Shokunin, World traveller, Investor & Tech/Media exec interested in almost everything! www.marvinliao.com