I have seen several pieces of content out on the internet about what makes founders great. On top of most of the lists are vision and relentlessness. For me, these are must less critical. Instead, I would tell most founders I meet have great ideas and tenacity- these qualities within themselves can pull founders away from success.
A founder’s main objective is to build a company around disrupting the status quo through some technology that generally creates leverage. To do this, a founder must go through iterative stages in the early days to find product market fit. This is a learning process. The issue with the founder having too much vision and tenacity at this stage is that they are pushing their own biases toward the solution to the problem.
So what is the answer? It is to be a student of the sector. A great founder has traits of being intellectually curious about the problem at hand and trying to find the solution through iterative processes. To do this pragmatically and thoughtfully, the founder must know everything about the industry, its customers, and the players that have served it. Additionally, they should know everyone that has tried to fix this problem and failed.
I spoke to a founder who was productizing an RPA (robotic processing automation) product for the logistics industry. Generally, this process is custom until a company can productize and sell it to a market. The best example of a company that has done this on a horizontal level is UIPath.
I asked the founder how UIPath has been able to productize its RPA process with its customers at scale, and he said, “I have no idea.” So how am I supposed to take you seriously when there is literally a blueprint out in the market to help you get to where you need to be, and you have not tapped into it?
An excellent example of someone who is a student in the sector is a founder that has researched companies that have tried to do what they have done and failed or been successful. They track down executives and interview them on what they did that worked and what didn’t. Then they test and iterate their product with the market.
There is a saying out there. Success leaves clues. Do not be ignorant and think your way is the best way without being a sector student.