I sat in on a VC fund’s portfolio day recently and got to hear many of their CEOs present. I don’t know these companies super well, so my impressions were based on spending an afternoon with them. Still, when I reflected on the presentations I had seen, there were two traits that separated the founders / companies that were doing really well vs. all the rest: aggression and domain knowledge. The founders who were killing it had both, the rest had only one or neither of these attributes.
Lets look at domain knowledge first. This is not about having studied or otherwise artificially gotten to “know” the industry. This is about coming from that industry, having lived it, knowing the players and knowing the pain firsthand. There is no substitute for this. You can’t fake it. You either come from the space or you don’t.
Aggression is a trickier one and is open to more interpretation. I don’t recommend that founders pump themselves full of caffeine and run around yelling at people. That doesn’t work. At least not in the long run. Aggression in this case, means moving quickly, continually setting the bar high and never being satisfied with where the business and product are. The CEOs who were delivering the goods were talking about what they needed to do to move faster. Even ones who were beating their own projections. I loved it!
This is by no means an exhaustive list of successful founder traits. If you want to read more about that, I recommend you read “Who” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. But these two traits separate the winners from the rest for me anyway.