What’s the Most Important Trait for Startup Founders?

April 27, 2015

2:00 pm

Do you have the most important trait that startup founders need?

In moments of doubt, you might start asking yourself if you’re qualified to be startup founder at all. As outliers hit it big and your startup is still struggling, it’s easy to wonder: am I the problem?

There’s no consensus on the most important trait that will make startup founders successful. Check out some of these popular opinions below:


Grit is defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” In other words, you’re motivated and you don’t give up.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth calls grit the key to success. Grit predicts which cadets will make it through West Point, which teachers will help their students the most, which kids will win the spelling bee, and which salespeople will make the most money for their companies.

“Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out – not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years,” Duckworth says. It’s stamina – treating life like a marathon, not a sprint.


According to Paul Graham, the #1 quality that Y Combinator looks for in startup founders is determination. He and his team figured this out over time, initially believing that the most important quality was intelligence.

You’re going to hit a lot of obstacles. You can’t be the sort of person who gets demoralized easily,” Graham writes.

Compared to grit, determination seems to put a bit more focus on the perseverance and a bit less on the passion part.


Tracy DiNunzio, founder and CEO of Tradesy, was born with a birth defect and a diagnosis that she would never walk. She went on to tour Mexico doing salsa dancing thanks to an innovative partner. The lesson? We can survive more than we think, as long as we’re willing to try a different way.

“It’s grueling and difficult for every single entrepreneur, no matter what their circumstances. The ones who win are the ones who’re adaptable,” she said at a UC Santa Barbara Distinguished Lecture Series event.

In the face of rejection or failure, instead of giving up, the best entrepreneurs find another way.

Intense competitiveness

Why were Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey, and Box’s Aaron Levie so successful? This article puts it down to intense competitiveness, the belief that losing is not an option.

“Just like in big-league sports, a lot of people don’t make it,” director Jeff Cornwall of Belmont University’s Center for Entrepreneurship told Inc. And it’s not for lack of talent – “They don’t have that absolute drive and competitive edge.”

As one entrepreneur commented: “You need to push yourself until you win. This is why I work daily. I love it, and I will outlast everybody else.”

Which trait do you think is most important for successful startup founders? Tell us in the comments what you think.

Image credit: Flickr / Sip Khoon Tan / CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped)


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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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