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14 Traits of Highly Successful Startup Founders

Bangladeshis are generally entrepreneurial in nature. The economic growth, social development and other meaningful progress that you see in our society today is a direct result of the enterprising nature of the people of this country.

That being said, entrepreneurship as a career, particularly among the educated class, is a relatively new phenomenon in Bangladesh. Although people are generally enterprising, most middle-class parents are at best reluctant to allow their kids to pursue business as a career.

It is a surprise how this mentality has become a dominant nature of a society which mostly relied on the enterprising nature of its people to move forward.

Even these days entrepreneurship is not something that most parents would encourage their kids to pursue. Similarly, most of our educational institutions don’t offer much room for developing entrepreneurial pursuits in students. There are some sporadic initiatives of late, but they are mostly insignificant. As a result, starting and building companies is not easy in Bangladesh.

To make the situation more precarious, supports available for aspiring entrepreneurs are meager at best. Education regarding how to go about building a startup remains a challenge.

Being an entrepreneur or a startup founder is not an easy task. There are tonnes of factors that affect your success as a founder. Some of them you can control and others you can’t.

Among the things that you can control, your habits and skills are some of the factors. It has been found the time and again that successful entrepreneurs share some consistent characteristics and habits. Developing these habits and skills could improve your chance as a founder.

To help founders, we have taken the time to research some of these traits and skills. Below are some of the most common ones that are likely to improve your odds as a founder. I hope you find the story useful.

1. Independent thinker

Most great founders are independent thinkers who are comfortable thinking from first principles. Starting a business is a very unusual thing to do in our society. If you are someone who is easily influenced by what other people would think, it is likely that you would not pursue entrepreneurship. So naturally, entrepreneurship demands that you think for yourself. Peter Thiel, now one of the most controversial and influential figures in Silicon Valley and one of the founders of Paypal and venture capitalist, suggests that most extraordinarily successful founders think from the first principle. They don’t take a ready-made solution and customize it for them. Instead, they build solutions from the ground up using their understanding of the world and the context.
Independent thinking is a hugely undervalued and scarce thing in Bangladesh. Young people are seldom encouraged to think for themselves. As a result, most people don’t develop this skill. But if you want to succeed and do well, you should practice independent thinking.

How: Independent thinkers are generally analytical people. They tend to go deeper into things and understand the inherent logic behind the workings of things around them. Whatever happens around them it seldom bothers an independent thinker. Naturally, when you understand the underlying logic of something, you are likely to get into it relatively easily.

Like many other skills, independent thinking is about practice. You have to invest in developing your ability to think independently. Most of our lives, we operate in a default mode. We are driven and influenced by what’s happening outside and what we see and hear. We seldom take time to examine things. But an independent thinker looks into things with a clinical mind and examine things before forming an opinion. Since we operate in a default mode, it is often not that easy to switch to an independent thinking mode on day one. You have to slowly unplug yourself from the default mode and gradually move towards more self-directed thinking. Initially, it would be tough but if you keep trying, like any other skill, you will surprise yourself. Reading books, observing the world around with an astute eye should help in your endeavors.

2. Hustle

The world belongs to those who hustle. That’s a pretty old saying. In the start world, hustling is one of the most popular words. This is among the commonest things among the most successful founders - they hustle. What is hustling - it is about getting shit done. Stop wasting your fu**ing time and get to work. That’s hustling. Most great men in history are hustlers. Hustling means, you don’t complain or allow yourself an excuse, you do what is needed to be done, come hell or high water. This is the mentality that would make your indomitable as a founder.

How: Hustlers are people who live with a sense of urgency. They get things done. It is basically working your butt off.

One thing: you may start off with making a list of things that you have been putting off and start with getting them done.

Second, make friends with people who don’t fritter over things and spend their time wisely in doing meaningful things.

3. Dedication and commitment

Building a company is hard. Some say it is like eating glasses. There are constant ups and downs. One moment you are super joyous and the next you’re down in the valley of darkness. These constant ups and downs are hard to manage unless you are sincerely committed to the idea you are pursuing. Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, identified commitment to be one of the defining characters of a great founder. Dedication and commitment are counter-intuitive in the sense that you would be committed to something you are dedicated to and vice versa.

How: One effective tip would be finding something that is an important cause to yourself. Choosing an area where you genuinely want to make a difference. The second tip would be: be ambitious. Solve difficult and most challenges problems. The advantage of ambition and big problems is that people pay more attention and it is easier to dedicate a life to something meaningful and hard at the same time.

4. Ego

Ego is an active and dynamic part of our personalities, playing an immense role in creating emotion in our lives. To do something that means to you more than anything else in life, first of all, you have to delete the part of ego from your life. This is more so for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are people with extremely thick skin. You have to be comfortable with asking for help and getting rejected. Repeatedly. This requires a certain kind of ego dissolution.

How: One of the best qualities of an entrepreneur or founder is not being an egoistic person. Though ego is not going to go away at once, instead you have to practice to remove the ego from yourselves. To improve that feeling you can read the book “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday or you can also see the ego analysis by Sigmund Freud.

5. Bias towards action

A bias for action is one of the most necessary traits for a successful entrepreneur. Research found that an ability to make decisions quickly and to act upon them is one of the key determining factors differentiating successful people and companies from the unsuccessful.

There is a term in growth marketing literature called high tempo testing, which is basically trying the thing with speed and intensity. This is true for broader company building as well. You have to be action-oriented and always take preference in starting up instead of suffering from indecision.

6. Grit

Grit, says Angela Duckworth, is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Entrepreneurship is a marathon, says Fahim Mashroor, Founder of BDjobs and Ajkerdeal. In order to survive a marathon, you need stamina and willingness to persevere.

7. Ask for help

Be open. Ask for help. These are the signs of successful founders. Seeking help is one of the best qualities that good founders have. Here is Praava Health Founder Sylvana Q Sinha on asking for help: “nobody can build a company all by yourself. Ultimately, building a company is a very lonely journey, and in some ways as a founder, ultimately you are alone and it can be hard to communicate with others about what you go through as a founder. But you can’t do it alone. It takes a village to build anything. You have to use every resource available to you, whether it’s emotional support, or strategic or technical advice or an introduction or otherwise. Don’t shy away from reaching out to people. I’m relentless in following up with people who offer introductions or help.”

08. Read

This is something that lacks in Dhaka’s startup ecosystem. Many founders read a lot but a significant percentage don’t. Best of founders are best readers. They spend many many hours in deep studies, understanding important trends and industries. In fact, reading for unwinding yourself and pure joy is an excellent habit. Develop a habit of reading. Reading not only help you to develop your cognitive capabilities, but it also helps you to expand your understanding of your world.

09. Work ethic

By definition, work ethic is a lot of things. By some definition, it is the sum of factors that are possessed by someone such as professionalism, high productivity of work, dedication, teamwork, and cooperation, maintaining consistency, discipline, integrity, sense of responsibility and most importantly have an internal motivation to succeed. Whatever happens, they are always diligent about their work.

In simple, it is a sense of responsibility for one’s own job and then putting whatever is required to get it done. This is in short supply in Dhaka. As a founder, having a solid work ethic is a must. However, you can’t develop a work ethic overnight. It is a long term commitment. When you relentlessly push yourself towards a positive work ethic, you would eventually be able to develop a work ethic that will serve you for life.

10. Imagination

Most good founders are imaginative in nature. Without a sense of imagination, you can’t sail into uncharted territory. Being imaginative does not mean daydreaming, rather it means using the power of imagination to come up with solutions for your problems.

12. Resourceful

Being a resourceful person means having the ability to find quick and devising ways to overcome difficulties. Entrepreneurship is not a spoon-feeding task, it will take you a long way and for that, you have to give your everything for that. Paul Graham says being resourceful is the most important quality of a founder. Being resourceful means you don’t take no for an answer. You don’t get stopped by a mere sense of impossibilities. It is about having the energy and willing to find a solution or get a thing done which is seemingly impossible.

13. Good

Good person. Be a good, nice person. There is a false notion in the market that genius founders are assholes. It is not true. If you are not good to people, they will not be to you. So be good. There is a pretty famous article by Paul Graham titled Mean people fail. So don't be one. Because in life what goes around comes around.

14. Flexibility

Flexible means you are willing and open to accept a better approach to doing things than your own. Flexibility means coachable. Flexibility means the courage and willingness to give up on a product or an idea that is not working and then pursuing something else with an equal amount of passion and intensity. For founders, it is of paramount importance to be flexible. There is no good in sticking with something that is not working.

Ruhul Kader has contributed to this article.

Photo courtesy: Photo by Alekzan Powell on Unsplash

Ayrin Saleha Ria is an undergrad student currently studying Applied Sociology at ASA University Bangladesh. She takes a deep interest in human society and behavioral science and loves reading. She works at FS as a Community Management Fellow and writes about interesting companies.

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