Characteristics of great entrepreneurs

By January 20, 2014 No Comments

YC partner Sam Altman, who someone recently described to me as ‘more intelligent than Paul Graham, but without the personality quirks’ has published a list of what he describes as characteristics of successful companies. It’s a great list, but for my money it’s more about the entrepreneur than the business – e.g. it doesn’t talk about market size at all.

Either way it’s a great list. Entrepreneurs should use it to identify areas for self improvement and investors should use it in their evaluations. Here’s the raw list. Sam provides an explanation of each point in his post.

  • They are obsessed with the quality of the product/experience
  • They are obsessed with bringing talent into their business
  • They can explain the vision in a few clear words
  • They generate revenues early
  • They are tough and calm
  • They keep expenses low
  • They start by making something a small number of people really love
  • They grow organically (eschewing big partnership deals)
  • They are focused on growth (and know their numbers – week by week, month on month, actuals, growth rates, etc.)
  • They balance a focus on growth with strategic thinking about the future
  • They do things that don’t scale
  • They have a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude
  • They prioritise well
  • They are nice people
  • They don’t get excited about pretending to run a startup
  • They get stuff done
  • They move fast

It’s a long list, and as Sam points out, not every successful entrepreneur will have all of them, and simply having them is no guarantee of success either. However, as I write this I’m thinking that in any given case understanding why one or more of them are absent would be a very worthwhile exercise.