Three key qualities that make a successful founder

By Alexandre Mars, above, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author of Mission Possible: How to Build a Business for Our Times

Over the past 20 years, I have met a lot of founders. While every entrepreneur wants to believe they have what it takes to make a valuable company, the reality is that creating, launching and growing a prosperous business is far from being an easy task. So, what makes a founder and business successful in the long-term?  Based on my experience as a founder and through countless conversations with fellow entrepreneurs, there are the three most principal qualities and characteristics that have proven to be undeniable for success.

  1. Make choices  

To be completely honest, this is one of my personal shortcomings. I tend to wait until the last second to make up my mind, pinning my hopes on some element that will naturally tip the scale one way or the other. Yet, the ability to make choices swiftly and decisively, to ensure they are connected, contextual and continuous and accept the potential consequences of is essential.  In fact, the time for reflection and self-questioning is a luxury that entrepreneurs do not always have. As for myself, knowing this remains an issue, I have accepted it, and as a way of constant improvement, I try to compensate with my other strengths.  

  1. Take a step back and broaden your horizons

This second quality, which goes hand-in-hand with the first, is the ability to zoom out and step back from day-to-day business affairs. This is when entrepreneurs need to be visionary. To me, vision comes with intuition. Some consider strong intuition a kind of magical sixth sense. I believe it is, above all else, the ability to be in a constant state of alertness, wide awake, listening and trying to pick up on any partial or anecdotal elements – in other words, be alert to the constant weak signals we can glean from our environment. Weak signals, as defined by the American economist Igor Ansoff, are an early warning sign of a low intensity that indicates an important trend or event.

Weak signals can be a useful tool; they can become your very own Jedi lightsaber. Identifying and recognizing them is like having a window into the future, to see what’s coming moments before anyone else does. This means spotting trends as they are just barely emerging – such as small changes in the ocean’s current that will eventually turn into surfable waves. The entrepreneur with ‘intuition’ becomes like a sponge, equipped with 360-degree vision.

  1. Lead several boats at once

Being able to be present on several different fronts at the same time is a key skill. Don’t get me wrong,  this doesn’t mean excelling in all areas. Instead, having enough knowledge to be able to sell your idea (to customers as well as team members), understand the financial models and the technical side of the business, and to grasp the market as a whole. In short: you have to be able to take your place in the captain’s chair while trusting that the people around you know what’s best in their respective fields. That’s true leadership.

If you want to take over the world, you’re going to need one hell of an arsenal. You will need to rally troops and supplies from the very first days of your company. Rest assured; you will make mistakes. But it’s not the end of the world. After all, anything is better than being crippled by indecision.

Alexandre Mars is a serial entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author of Mission Possible: How to Build a Business for Our Times, published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing (Hachette) on 10 November 2022 and available in paperback, priced at £16.99.