The Contradictory Traits of Successful Founders

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: In a survey of venture capitalists on what makes successful cofounders, respondents mostly pointed to complementary traits -- not necessarily technical ones -- as key to founders' success. The best founders, the study finds, are those who are smart and interested in surrounding themselves with people who will challenge their most fundamental assumptions.

There is disagreement about the traits that make founders excel. Technical ability, vision, charisma, grit, and experience are all prized by experts. Different venture capital funds have different priorities. Some support a strong founding team, others seek product differentiation, and others still evaluate the market size and opportunity.

In this study, venture capitalists evaluated their founders through 28 behavioral questions related to their success. The results show that there is no single universal founder archetype that works. The authors argue that's a good thing because the world needs more founders who are self-aware and able to attract complementary talent.

The responses conclude that technical ability does not impact success: 53% of technical founders are doing well, compared to 56% for non-technical founders, according to survey respondents. 

In contrast, having a complementary cofounder is highly correlated with success: 68% of cofounders with complementary skills are doing well, compared to 38% of cofounders without complementary skills.

The survey also suggests that age does not matter to founders' success: 50-60% of founders surveyed across the ages of 25 to 40+ were doing well. 

The data shows that being an effective operator day-to-day is highly correlated with success: 91% of founders that were rated for being great day-to-day had companies that are doing well. The same is true for founders that quickly learn (97% doing well) and those that are results-driven (90% doing well).

These results suggest that the best founders are those who are great at managing daily work and are able to learn and adapt quickly.

Read the full study HERE

Feature Charticle

The Traits that Venture Capitalists Say Make a Successful Cofounder

Kauffman Fellows


  • 68% of venture capitalists rated founders that had a complementary cofounder as "doing well."

  • 62% of venture capitalists rated founders that had a technical cofounder as "doing well."

  • Having s complementary cofounder as well as one that is great at managing daily work and is able to adapt quickly is correlated with success. 

  • The best founders know their strengths and weaknesses and recruit a complementary team.

Read the full study HERE