Sam Altman interviews Jessica Livingston, co-founder of YCombinator and author of Founder’s at Work. Stories of Startup’s early days.
The interview is great, and you should watch or read it in full if you are involved in startups, building your own product or service. Traits of the most successful founders are determination, understanding your users and building a product with a great user experience, being flexible minded, and being great leaders.
How about looking for these traits in your future hires?
Jessica: The most successful founders I have noticed are totally focused on two things, building their product and making something people want, which of course, is our motto, and talking to their users. And they do not let themselves get distracted by anything else. And that seems so obvious, but what’s not obvious is how easily distracted founders can be by lots of other things going on, and the most successful startups are like hyper-focused on their product.
Sam: Are there other traits in the founders that go on to really change the future, besides determination that separates the very best founders from the mediocre founders? Have you noticed any other traits that kind of founders should aspire to that really wanna have a big impact?
Jessica: Yes. If I had to say the most important traits of the most successful founders, I’ve already mentioned determination. That is by far the most important.
Sam: More than intelligence?
Jessica: More than intelligence, more than previous success, you know, in school. I mean, remember when we started Y Combinator, our hypothesis was, “We’ll just fund all the best hackers from MIT and Harvard, and they’ll turn out to be great sort of founders.” That is not true. That is absolutely not true. A lot of them are good. (…) Determination is the most important thing. Again, sort of understanding your users and building a product with a great user experience is second most important. Not being distracted, not getting lured down these paths that aren’t gonna be important for building your product. Being flexible minded I’ve always felt this very important, because you have this idea and you test it out, and it doesn’t always work the first time. And so you have to be able to say, “Okay, I thought I was gonna do this, but let’s try this. Even though I have like a lot of energy invested in this, let’s try this direction.” You really have to be open-minded. And then, ultimately, you have to be a good leader. You have to be convincing and a good leader because you are gonna be convincing employees to join you, you are gonna be convincing investors to invest in you. When you do get to the point where you are doing deals with bigger companies, you have to convince them. Like, your whole world is convincing people. And so you have to be able to communicate your idea and convince people why they should care about you more than any of the other hundreds of startups out there.
(emphasis is mine)