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We angel investors have a saying about choosing winners: “Invest in founders, not in startups.”

That’s because the founders are the only ones with the power to execute their unique vision. That makes them responsible for absolutely everything, from money management to product development to branding and more.

Think of a ridiculously indulgent, 3-Michelin-star restaurant, serving up a $30 salad.

The ingredients, even including one higher-priced ingredient like cheese or meat, come to a whopping $3 or $4 per serving. So what the heck makes it worth $30?

The answer, of course, is the chef, who takes ingredients anyone can buy and turns them into something amazing – an unforgettable experience, rather than just a meal.

So it is with good ideas, which are everywhere, and great founders – which are rare – with the ability to transform those ideas into a product that customers are willing and eager to pay for.

Of course, the business model needs to make sense too. No cooking staff can make something delicious from ingredients that just don’t go together.

But I digress. The point is, if the team isn’t right, the business won’t make it.

That’s why it’s critical that you be able to identify a star founder when you see one…

In fact, studies show that 23% of failed startups cite a bad team dynamic as their reason for collapse. It’s like building a house on a sinkhole – eventually, that sucker’s going to cave in.

You might be thinking that having just a single founder is a good way to avoid those problems. But, actually…

1) Only seriously consider startups with more than one cofounder.

The ideal number is two.

Two cofounders can get more done, using less capital, than one can. A single founder will inevitably need to hire out help.

But more importantly, a team of two or more shows me that the original founder isn’t just a crazy person with a big idea who couldn’t convince a single person to team up with him or her.

Having a partner is just part of the picture, though. The founding team also needs to “click” – personally and professionally.

There are certain vibes you can pick up on between founders when you’re doing your pitch meetings in person.

I can spot a bad connection right away – each one tries to upstage the other; their pitch deck doesn’t have a natural flow; or there’s a mismatch in the level of passion or commitment.

Those are easy “no’s” for me. Any fissure between founders on easy mode will turn into a chasm when things get hard – and they always do.

But for those who haven’t seen the hundreds of pitches it takes to spot these cues, or those who want to start investing through angel groups or online crowdfunding, there are some qualities you can look for that tend to apply to exceptional entrepreneurs.

2) Find a founder with a solid track record

It’s always a good sign when the founders of a business have a history of success building companies in the past.

Most startups won’t have much of a track record at the time they’re seeking angel investments…they are new, after all.

But their founders might.

I have way more confidence in an entrepreneur who has already steered a startup to an exit than I have in a first-timer. Launching a successful business is a tricky channel to navigate, but a founder who already knows the route is less likely to run aground (i.e., crash and burn) or sink (run out of cash and disappear).

How founders navigate this process is important, too. It can be hard to tell what goes on behind the scenes, but…

3) Look for founders who plan ahead and follow through

Agility is key when you’re building a business. Customers change, markets change, and therefore, plans must change sometimes. The question is whether the founders are prepared to roll with the punches.

Are they overly committed to a single version of their plan, or are they willing to adapt if part of their vision isn’t working? Are they effective decision-makers, or do they toil in deliberation much longer than they should?

Keep an eye on their process for getting things done. Quick and effective turnaround times for task lists and short-term goals is a good indicator of an efficient and agile system.

Also look for founders who have intellectual property. Going through the legwork to legally protect an idea is a good sign that the founder has thought ahead.

It also indicates that the founders are passionate enough to stand by their business in the long run, and…

4) Passion is probably the most important thing an entrepreneur needs to have.

Think about it – finding investors is the toughest thing a startup founder has had to do so far, but really, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Running the business is going to get a thousand times harder as it grows; there will be books to balance, staff to manage, IT roadblocks, competitors and copycats, good and bad publicity… I could go on.

A founder might go a year – or five – making no salary whatsoever, all while spending 60 to 80 hours a week working on their company.

That’s a grueling workweek, even for those who come out the other side with a generous paycheck.

Founders will take no vacations… will have no real breaks… will live and breathe their business for the first five to ten years, if not for the rest of their lives.

See, when you’re the founder, you are ultimately responsible for every problem, big or small. Think you can shut your phone off for a week-long getaway to Paris?

Think again! What if your staff clashes or quits? What if legal troubles arise? What if there’s a PR scandal that requires your attention?

It’s not just your name on the line – it’s a lot of your money, a lot of other folks’ money, your lifelong reputation as an entrepreneur, and your company’s future.

I see a lot of founders who don’t quite know what they’re getting into. They have a great idea, but they think of it as more of a side hustle.

Generally, those founders don’t have what it takes. It doesn’t matter how good the idea – blood, sweat, and tears build businesses.

In the beginning, the only difference between an idea and a business is the founders. So ask yourself this before you fall in love with just the idea: “Can I count on these people, in this business, in this market, to turn my investment into more money?”

Do your homework, vet every member of every project, and don’t settle for anything less than the qualities I’ve laid out here.

Until next time,

Neil Patel


24 responses to “4 Traits of a Star Founder”

  1. I believe in your company and this weekend I will sign up. I have been researching this type of investing and I found this company https://aximbiotech.com/. Do you have companies similar to this one? will you have anything in this market?

  2. I am getting more & more disappointed with this service. (times I have E-Mailed for a question to be answered over the last (10) days, but no reply has come.

    • Robert don’t feel bad no one succeeds without running into walls somewhere. With that” I have attempted to email as well however it lead me to support. I assume that I was able to respond to Neil’s video statement but that was not the case but Support does have a number as well as an email response. But I found that Republic has more answers from questions regarding information and investors, income as well, company founders, it tells you when companies have reach their funding goals etc etc etc. For example I invested into Digital Dream Labs and the founder contacted me by email and we had a dialogue. Hang in there budy.

  3. Thank you neil — you are doing a great service that is long time needed in society today…Thank you for helping the little guy be a part of a big idea.
    Dreams- passion -visions- people helping people prosper.

  4. Where are the two recommendations of start ups you say you like from your info commercial. What is the portal or means to easily invest a smart amount of money in these start ups. I like to see the big picture how this works not just information.

  5. Neil! As usual. You’re spot on! I’m formulating a business idea that has you to thank for the muse.

    I’ve been recruiting for almost 30 years. Don’t these startups need to shine that penny for a successful merger, buyout or an IPO? I what to help these companies get the right mix of team chemistry and talent.


  6. OK Slowly I do understand where you are coming from especially since it is a very new concept.I am 83 yrs old and worked all my yrs living here 3 jobs every day and had no time to learn anything more when . I was exhausted { also with a leaking heart valve from birth and asthma }So I would like to know something about investing and since you talked about small investments { to which I belong and also don’t dream Millions and millions because i do not have a lot of money since everybody is trying to rip off a woman and especially an older one because we the easiest target so now I like to find out what I have to do to get started . ….but to get started mean to put first plenty of money in to finance your starting Business and sit and wait for your signal or what ????? I need to understand the whole process . How do I learn this ???? what do I have to do . Please tell me . Thanks Renate Veal

  7. my ideal is for as meany of our members that want to invest $100 into a crowd funding type of account for Neil to then use to invest into a start up that he likes for all of us, this way it takes the risk out of picking the start up for the members, if you like this ideal please support me by email ,so i can send it to Neil, my contact is ronkite51@yahoo.com

  8. At 60 and have made alot of bad decision, and I have been ripped off trusting people I gave the benefit of the doubt at this point in my life I need a better understanding of the things I commit to. I want to commit to this but need more understanding and don’t have alot of money.

  9. What kind of proof of purchase and or guarantee of inclusion in the results of the (possible) IPO do we get with the (possibly) donation of our money? This would be needed so it can be included in the assets in case of demise.

  10. Neil,
    I’m assuming the offers that come through startup investor & Start Engine have already been scrutinized by your team as having qualified (4 trait) star founders.

  11. At least 2 founders with track record: to me, with all respect, these 2 are really “young male” approach. We women carry a pregnancy and deliver alone…. What you are talking about is like surrogacy.
    Angel investor helps/adds/brings value to the new entrepreneur…You started very young, that’s why you are very scared of single founder…which is totally understandable.

  12. I’m still looking to where to start into investing in a company. May anybody direct me there?

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