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FS Weekly No. 37: Useful founder traits

Humans are perennially fascinated by secrets. We want to learn the secret of living a good life. Becoming a millionaire, healthy, and wealthy. Building successful companies. Becoming a super founder. The list goes on. Whether we would apply the secrets after knowing them is an entirely different matter. But we definitely want to learn the secrets. 

In the startup world, people have always wanted to learn what separates successful founders from the ones who are not that lucky. It has resulted in a torrent of lists of useful founder traits. The most famous of these lists come from the YC founder Paul Graham. In an essay titled what we look for in founders, Graham writes his thoughts about what makes a founder indomitable. 

Over the years, we have also asked a fair number of investors about their take on useful founder traits. For instance, in a recent essay, we featured IDLC Deputy Managing Director Syed Javed Noor’s take on the essential founder traits he looks for. “Enthusiasm and energy level,” says Mr. Noor, “these are the first two things we look for. The third is coachability: whether they can take feedback and work on it. The rest is the network: understanding of the problem they are trying to solve, and so on. If the first three things are missing, whatever the valuation or however great the idea is, we do not invest.”

In a 2016 interview with FS, Shama-e-Zaheer, Chairman of Mir Group of Companies, said: “the first thing I look for is hunger. And the second is morality. I think hunger tempered by a sense of ethics is what differentiates an entrepreneur from somebody who is just out there ready to take any means necessary to make a quick buck. So, basically, I look for or I prefer working with somebody who has the hunger to achieve something, to solve a problem, and is ethical about how s/he goes about it, and who's in the game for the long haul.” 

In a 2015 interview, prolific angel investor Sajid Rahman said he looks for: “how good the founder is in sticking to her conviction. When the founders are trying to build a company, they will have to go through many ups and downs, so grit is the most critical skill. It also helps to see that founders have an ambitious goal. Secondly, I look at communication skills. The founder must be able to articulate the problem she is trying to solve in a few sentences. This is important because this will help founders to hire the right people, get the funding and negotiate with other stakeholders. Third, track record. It always helps if the founders have been there and done that.”

As I mentioned earlier, trying to figure out the right founder traits is not new. “What do you look for in founders and startups before making an investment” is a common question VCs face. 

While many of the traits mentioned in these lists are cryptic in nature, almost all of them can be learned and developed. And developing them can be a shortcut to building successful startups. 

On to today’s update.  Today’s edition features 05 stories and several fascinating reading suggestions from around the internet. 


I. IDLC Deputy Managing Director Syed Javed Noor on traits he looks for in founders

Syed Javed Noor, Deputy Managing Director of IDLC Finance Limited, who leads the NBFI’s venture capital initiative IDLC Venture Capital Fund, suggests that he looks for three things in a founding team: enthusiasm, energy level, and coachability. Mr. Noor teases that if a founder has these three traits the rest of it is all about working hard on the right problem. In absence of them, it gets a lot harder to properly judge a startup. 

II. Startup investing, technology policy, VC ecosystem, and more with Sami Ahmed, Managing Director, Startup Bangladesh Limited (Part II)

In this second part of our conversation with Mr. Ahmed (read part I here), we talk about how Startup Bangladesh picks startups to invest in, what he looks for in teams and founders, his decision-making framework, essential founder traits, Startup Bangladesh’s investment strategy, the state of startup and technology policy in Bangladesh, startup and VC ecosystem in Bangladesh, exciting sectors in Bangladesh, how lack of investment in R&D hampers growth, the biggest challenges for Bangladesh’s tech industry, fundraising tips for early-stage founders, how Startup Bangladesh works with its investee companies, the cost of complacency, critical necessity of continuous learning, the importance of delegation, and upsides of being a good person and much more. 

III. Building A Global SaaS Business From Bangladesh: An Interview With Sheikh Shourav, Founder and President, Apploye Inc

In this wide-ranging interview, we sit down with Sheikh Shourav, Founder and President of Apploye, to learn more about his journey to what he is doing, and the inner workings of Apploye, the global SaaS company he is building out of Bangladesh. 

IV. Startups to watch: These startups look to take digital healthcare services mainstream in Bangladesh

Companies like AmarLab, DocTime, SafeWheel, MedEasy, and Square Health are some of the players trying to take advantage of a shifting consumer market in Bangladesh post-pandemic by offering digital healthcare services. 

V. Essential Reading: 5 Life-changing books (01)

The instability of the external world gives us anxiety and worries. The only meaningful and sustainable way to address this challenge is to have internal calm. Your inner world is stable. You can remain grounded amid chaos and changes. Only then can you operate effectively in a world that is changing all the time. To have internal stability, the first step is to develop a deep understanding of the self, our inner workings, our flaws, and our limitations. Books in this list have helped me with understanding myself better and developing a personal operating method that works. I hope they will do the same for you. 


Future Startup Marketing Solutions. Connect with the most influential audience in business and tech in Bangladesh through content marketing and email newsletter promotion. Learn more here or simply reply to this email. 


Other interesting ideas 

Book: The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter. Link

Sequoia’s message to founders: Focus on profitability, growth at all costs no longer rewarded. Link

Forbes 30 Under 30 2020 (seven Bangladeshi founders made in this year’s list). Link

Putting ideas into words (PG). Link


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Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based writer, researcher, and entrepreneur. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and the author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about entrepreneurship, business, strategy, technology, and culture. He can be reached at [email protected]

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