It’s all about the people

I spend a lot of time convincing (or trying to convince) entrepreneurs & founders that they are more important to their business than their idea or product. Starting out, it seems most people want to believe all they need to do is have a great idea or build a pretty product and they’ll be successful. Ultimately, what matters most are the people behind the opportunity. I believe that if you put the right people, in a big enough market, with enough runway, they’ll figure out how to make a successful company. Unfortunately, those are a lot of big ifs.

So if it’s all about people, what do we look for at Four Athens? I hear a lot of people speaking about wanting to find the “right” people or “smart” people, but it’s rarely defined. So here is our attempt. I believe that a successful startup founder (and maybe a successful person, in general) possesses the following three attributes.

They are:
Perpetually Curious.
Intellectually Humble.

As simple as these are, it is truly a rare person that seems to fit all three. I’ll dive into them more below.

Perpetually Curious. This is not an excuse to be unfocused or constantly jumping from idea to idea.  Instead, it is a trait that’s hard to measure, but easy to witness.  Are you constantly learning, pushing boundaries, asking questions, unafraid to be perceived as stupid?  Thrown into starting a business, you are going to be constantly inundated with situations that are new, uncomfortable, or requiring a steep learning curve.  You may never become an expert in most tasks associated with starting a company, but if you’re not curious enough to learn them at a rudimentary level, it’s going to be a tough road.   While segmentation of duties is great, in the very early stages, a founder should know how to work all pieces of his or her business.

Intellectually Humble.  Starting a company requires a certain amount of hubris and arrogance – believing that you can create a better solution to a problem is, on its face, an arrogant starting point.  You’re implying that you’re better.  Unfortunately, this arrogance can seep into areas of your company that you know little or nothing about.   Just because you’re the founder or CEO doesn’t mean you have the best solution to every problem.  An intellectually humble founder is willing to study, understand, and search for the best solution rather than simply going with their own ideas simple because they are the CEO.  They are not afraid to admit ignorance or search out an expert.  They listen more than they speak.

Experienced.  We don’t seek out, or even believe it’s necessary, to have decades of experience in the field you’re trying to disrupt. Instead, experience is an ability to have had previous successes and failures AND, more importantly, walked away with learnings from them. It is not enough to fail. Failure, in itself, is negative. Failure that leads to learning is what matters.  And if you are perpetually curious and intellectually humble, you will celebrate your failures, understand what led to the them, and work to improve at the end. The opposite of this is someone that either (a) fails, but continues to try the same thing over and over again or (b) fails and stops pursuing their idea.

The three of these concepts are interwoven and all three are necessary, in my mind, for entrepreneurial success.  While many other traits are also required, I believe these are the underlying pillars that led to the other skill sets necessary to be successful in a startup environment.


Photo Credit: Josh Marsh, Hackyard Athens

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