Paul Graham: 5 Characteristics of Winning Entrepreneurs

Source: Forbes (Nov 2010)

Determination

This has turned out to be the most important quality in startup founders. When we started Y Combinator, we thought the most important quality would be intelligence. That’s the myth in the Valley. And certainly you don’t want founders to be stupid. But as long as you’re over a certain threshold of intelligence, what matters most is determination. You’re going to hit a lot of obstacles. You can’t be the sort of person who gets demoralized easily.

Flexibility

You do not want the sort of determination implied by phrases like “don’t give up on your dreams.” The world of startups is so unpredictable that you need to be able to modify your dreams on the fly.

Imagination

Intelligence does matter a lot, of course. It seems like the type that matters most is imagination. It’s not so important to be able to solve predefined problems quickly as to be able to come up with surprising new ideas.

Naughtiness

Though the most successful founders are usually good people, they tend to have a piratical gleam in their eye. They’re not goody-two-shoes good. Morally they care about getting the big questions right but not about observing proprieties. That’s why I’d use the word “naughty” rather than evil. They delight in breaking rules–but not rules that matter.

Friendship

Empirically it seems to be hard to start a startup with just one founder. Most of the big successes have two or three. And the relationship between the founders has to be strong. They must genuinely like one another, and work well together.

 

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