Founding and managing a startup during its critical first few years will almost as a rule, involve challenges different from those involved in running a business that’s been around a few years.
Top Management Degrees, an MBA program review site, sent us this infographic, on the characteristics of a startup entrepreneur. See if you agree with it:
Points We Found Interesting
- The infographic broadly characterizes leaders into two types- A) Transactional – those who work great within a system, like most employees , and B) Transformational – those who create their own systems, like most entrepreneurs. It makes a good point that Transformational leaders- type they imply are the majority of entrepreneurs- have a lot of personal things invested in systems they create.
- Nearly all early-stage founder succession events involve outside successors. This is not to be confused with later-stage succession, after the founder or CEO no longer calls most of the shots, even as they remain in the company. As numerous studies show, there is a very real difference between the types of people best suited to start a business, versus the types best suited to expand one.
Why We’re not Totally Convinced
However useful the infographic may be, it seems to discount the fact that many of us can be one or the other, depending on the situation. It isn’t cut and dried. There are several other frameworks that attempt to delineate differences in leadership styles and personalities.
While there might be personality types suited for certain things, we are also all adaptable in varying degrees. The kind of knowledge you have beforehand and the kinds of pressures you face also matters, for better or worse.
It’s worth noting that we hear of the outliers- the founders who managed to successfully build their startups and stay in control for extended periods of time- likely because they make for a more interesting story than what normally happens.
What Should a Startup Founder Be Able to Do?
To explain the type of mindset startup founders share, it’s useful to know what they’re expected to be capable of. In the Top Management Degrees infograph, they mentioned that founders should be able to do the following. While it’s all in the infographic, we feel it’s helpful to include them in a simpler list below:
- Write Code
- Build a server
- Design a splash page
- Assemble an email blast
- Develop and track a funnel
- Make decisions off cohort tracking
- Become a Google analytics expert
- Write a blog post
- Deliver a keynote
- Build Links
- Conduct customer interviews
- Segment a market
- Understand a term sheet
- Recruit and Train
- Train an intern
- Hire A Players
- Replace B Players
- Cold call C level executives
- Write a novel
- Raise Money
- Build an advisory board
- Tell an investor they’ve lost all their money
- Command a board room
- Analyze a balance sheet
- Make a budget
- Ignore a budget
- Balance the books
- Stay up 36 hours straight
- Find a mentor
- Stay creative
- Act alone
Now, as far as lists go, this is a great list. They’re all very useful things for any founder to know. But I’d argue that people who can do all these things are freaks- they simply aren’t normal. If only people who could do these things were allowed to be founders, hardly anyone would be an entrepreneur.
However, these things would be great for a founding team including both co-founders and employees. It’s interesting that in the section of the infographic where they had quotes on startup success from some very famous founders- more than half of their examples were actually from co-founders.
You Don’t NEED To Do Things Alone
The biggest problem I personally have with this list, the infographic it’s in, and hundreds of other entrepreneurship articles out there is the assumption that entreps and founders have to go things alone. Independence is a great thing, yes. But it’s hardly your only option.
The late Steve Jobs for example, was more of a marketer than a programmer – though he was also very good at that. He needed the other Steve, Steve Wozniak, for the more technically demanding parts of the business involving programming and functional hardware design. Steve Wozniak also needed Steve Jobs for the more human-oriented side (which is likely why he’s more famous) and for the visual and user-friendly side of Apple’s product design.
Without the both of them, Apple would never have gotten off the ground the way it did. In Steve Jobs’s biography by Walter Isaacson, I don’t ever recall an instance where it mentioned either of the founders doing bookkeeping or writing that many novels. By the way, if we’re missing anything, please feel free to correct us.
What We Could All Learn
We can learn a lot from the cited studies and the experiences of other startup entrepreneurs. But in the end, a unique concept, knowing how to get people – from partners and employees and investors -who can make it happen, and the drive to see it through are the things that will get you most of the way there.
Regardless of where you stand on the infographic it does give us some food for thought:
Do you have it in you to finish what you’ve started?
Do you need a partner to see it through?
Do you excel within a system, or would you rather create a new one?
Could you do both?
Sources and Additional Reading
5 Things Founders Dont Talk About – The New York Times
Startup Psychology Why Awareness Is Awesome – On Startups
Startup Lifecycle – The New York Times
how-larry-page-came-to-run-google-2012-12?op=1 – Business Insider
How Entrepreneurs Should Handle Succession – Harvard Business Review Blog
Founder-CEO Succession and the Paradox of Entrepreneurial Success; Noam Wasserman; doi: 10.1287/orsc.184.108.40.20695, Organization Science March/April 2003 vol. 14 no. 2 149-172
Pre-Entry Knowledge, Learning, and the Survival of New Firms, John C. Dencker, Marc Gruber and Sonali K. Shah, Published online before print November 25, 2008, doi: 10.1287/orsc.1080.0387; Organization Science May/June 2009 vol. 20 no. 3 516-537
Founding the Future: Path Dependence in the Evolution of Top Management Teams from Founding to IPO; Christine M. Beckman and M. Diane Burton, doi: 10.1287/orsc.1070.0311; Organization Science January/February 2008 vol. 19 no. 1 3-24
Strategic Renewal of Organizations; Rajshree Agarwal and Constance E. Helfat; Published online before print March 6, 2009; doi: 10.1287/orsc.1090.0423 Organization Science March/April 2009 vol. 20 no. 2 281-293
Arthur Piccio is one of PrintRunner Blog’s resident Admins. He is also the head writer for The Art of Small Business. His work has been featured on New York Times’ You’re The Boss Small Business Blog, Bizsugar, SmallBiz Trends, and other small business and printing-oriented online publications.