Aura Aviation Fund 1 which acquired a structured majority interest in one Boeing 737-800 aircraft, has completed the successful divestment of the...
Finding the Founder
There is no one secret to being a great founder. There are, however, many traits and behaviours that help shape one.
There is no one secret to being a great founder.
There are, however, many traits and behaviours that help shape one. From our collective experience and observations here at Aura Ventures, the attributes that stand out are tenacity, passion, empathy, self-awareness and of course deep industry and model knowledge. Whilst often closely correlated, it is worth noting that these traits are, in our opinion, representative of a strong founder – not necessarily a successful start-up.
It is difficult to get a precise read on these attributes in the relatively brief courting period between investors and founders from 1st pitch to initial funding. We have found great success in delving beyond specific “business” discussions and getting to know founders on a personal level during meetings prior to initial funding, as we find it imperative in honing the accuracy of this read.
Obsessed & Tenacious
First and foremost, founders must truly love what they are doing. No matter how strong the idea a founder may have, it almost certainly won’t materialize into a successful business if the founder isn’t obsessed with what they are building. A great founder will have passion beyond the problem they are aiming to solve and into the entire customer journey they have created, looking to continuously improve all aspects.
Building upon the obsession in developing an idea into a business, without tenacity, a founder’s passion (or any other attribute for that matter) will be largely irrelevant given the countless curveballs, challenges and setbacks that are regularly encountered throughout the journey.
Passion and tenacity aren’t necessarily business specific and are more akin to personality traits, often observable in aspects of a person’s life that are not business specific. A key example of this was highlighted in our experience with Superestate founder, Grant Brits. Prior to founding Superestate, Grant represented Australia in swimming and secured a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics for his efforts. As briefly mentioned in ‘The Mentor with Mark Bouris’ podcast earlier in the year, Grant brought the passion and tenacity required to compete at the highest level of sport, to solving a real problem for thousands of Aussies and helping facilitate residential property investment for those missing out.
People are core to the success of any business. This starts at the top and while it’s vital in businesses of all shapes and sizes, it is amplified in early stage start-ups. We have found in our experiences that founders who are empathetic drive greater buy-in and commitment from their employees that permeates through the business’ culture. In his article, ‘Notes on Leadership’, Ben Horowitz says, “The first thing that any successful CEO must do is get really great people to work for her. Smart people do not want to work for people who do not have their interests in mind and in heart.” It is the resulting sense of ownership for employees where they become true champions for the business, both internally and externally, that can help early stage businesses to thrive, and we have witnessed this.
Encouraging this behaviour in your employees also fosters innovation and allows them to develop solutions with real product/market fit, as highlighted by the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella. “Empathy makes you a better innovator. If I look at the most successful products we [at Microsoft] have created, it comes with that ability to meet the unmet, unarticulated needs of customers.”
Following on from the necessity of empathy, the ability to manage oneself and subsequently one’s business begins with self-awareness. A founder’s ability to understand what has moulded their thought process is a crucial piece in delivering consistent behavioral integrity. We have found at Aura Ventures that founders who are self-aware often instill confidence and communicate more effectively with their team, customers, partners and investors.
Founders with a continued focus on building self-awareness are those that will seek honest feedback (both internal and external) and action change. This is an important trait throughout the start-up journey from ideation and establishing product/market fit through to more specific strategy, product and leadership decisions.
Our experiences with Shippit founders, Will & Rob, couldn’t highlight enough both the impact and importance of having self-aware and empathetic founders. Though certainly not the only factors contributing to their success, from a small team in Surry Hills, Rob & Will have been able to build an amazing team of over 150 people by constantly developing their self-awareness and empathy to create an environment of acceptance where everyone can thrive.
Industry & Model Experts
Finally, (and we think this one goes without saying), founders must be true experts in both the industry in which they operate and the model by which they do. Successful founders need to have done their research on industry depth and trends, the competitive landscape, on what their customers need/want and how they have positioned themselves to capture the portion of the market they are going after.
Although there is a myriad of other attributes that may contribute to the appeal and success of any given founder, these are the key character traits that we consistently see in successful founders, and therefore what we continue to look for at Aura Ventures. If you’re a founder and seeking a capital partner, we would love to hear from you.
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