A formidable founder can take a crazy idea to space and the less capable can sink even the greatest inventions. For instance, years ago Tesla would have appeared a moonshot idea with little revenue and zero money. They were burning cash - by the numbers and the audacity of their goal most investors probably wrote Tesla off. But Toyota's President Akio Toyoda took a drive with Elon Musk and knew he was a force. Toyota signed a partnership with Tesla shortly after.
“Think of it as like, is this person who would be fun to have dinner with,” YC partner Kevin Hale says. “Who also just so happens to be able to make a billion dollar company.”
The following is an abridged excerpt from Paul Graham’s essay on what he looks for in good founders:
This has turned out to be the most important quality in startup founders. We thought when we started Y Combinator that the most important quality would be intelligence. That's the myth in the Valley. As long as you're over a certain threshold of intelligence, what matters most is determination.
You do not however 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. The best metaphor I've found for the combination of determination and flexibility you need is a running back. He's determined to get downfield, but at any given moment he may need to go sideways or even backwards to get there.
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. In the startup world, most good ideas seem bad initially. If they were obviously good, someone would already be doing them. So you need the kind of intelligence that produces ideas with just the right level of craziness.
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 type 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.
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. Startups do to the relationship between the founders what a dog does to a sock: if it can be pulled apart, it will be.”
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