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From Dream to Reality

What Makes Founders and Their Teams Successful

  • 2023年01月9日

We recently engaged dozens of early-stage founders and entrepreneurs in partnership with a leading global technology accelerator. We’ve reflected on these conversations and our work with 200+ founders globally across industries in the pursuit of better understanding Founders as leaders and share a few highlights: 
No, founders are not homogeneous. They aren’t all alike in style, motivations, competencies or identity. Though, they do have some things in common that are inspiring to observe and intriguing to understand. 
First, all founders are dreamers: they dream for what could be; they see something that doesn’t exist today or something that needs to be fixed or remedied. Secondly, they act on their dreams: they find internal drive and conviction to pursue their vision. They don’t just have a dream or idea  they go after it.  
They solve problems, size markets, build teams, envision products, validate products, seek market fit, raise capital, iterate and, hopefully, scale. Inevitably, in the process, they will enter the struggle. This is the chasm phase between dream and achievement greatly articulated by Ben Horowitz in his book "The Hard Thing About Hard Things." 
During the struggle, some realize that they like the work, and in doing so they qualify as Warriors. Others, unfortunately, realize the work doesn’t suit them – that they are better dreaming, ideating, creating than fighting and protecting. They are not the warrior type.
It is the Dreamer/Warrior who most often takes their ideas to the next phase and stage – keeping alive the vision, protecting it and fighting for it. It is important for founders to self-reflect and adjust in the journey to replenish energy and maximize chances of success by load balancing through other team members. 
At Egon Zehnder, we speak about the 4 main archetypes of Winning from Within, as portrayed in Erica Fox’s book. Most people, Fox observes, spike in one or two of these:

  • Dreamers – derive energy from innovation, creating new things, exercising intuition and searching for something that does not yet exist. Dreamers tend to draw fulfillment from the creative process. 
  • Warriors – derive energy from executing, from protecting their ideas from attacks and focusing on results. They draw fulfillment from winning. They draw the sword … and the shield.
  • Thinkers – derive energy from problem-solving, analyzing and balancing risks. Thinkers draw fulfillment from being right. 
  • Lovers – derive energy from teaming with others, from collaborating. Lovers draw fulfillment from being liked.

A certain level of dreaming and conviction is needed to ignite the engine and go for it. Many Dreamer/Lovers and Dreamer/Thinkers realize halfway through the journey that they are neither adept at nor fulfilled by struggle. Struggle causes Warriors to shine and stand out; they maneuver through the trenches, survive, and thrive. Does this mean that only Dreamer/Warriors move ahead? Absolutely not, teams can be assembled to load balance attributes and create a winning team; a Dreamer product founder may be well paired with a Warrior or Lover COO-type, for example. 
But what do we mean by dreams? Are these dreams to save the planet, rescue humankind, not be evil or connect all the people in the world? Absolutely not, and it’s rarely the original thesis. Typically, founders identify a problem that’s not yet solved, a white space, a blue ocean, an unmet customer need, an arbitrage in a market. It can be a utility, not an honor. They are inspired by “it” and endeavor to address it and solve for it. The dream may start with wanting to progress, make headlines, become independent and make one’s own destiny. (Many founders’ dreams are rooted in humble roots and the immigration experience.) 
As founders develop a vision an important purpose often reveals itself as part of the narrative usually needed to attract people, to attract investment and to find internal meaning to justify the cost of the struggle. This process is an important part of the evolution and indicates an acceleration point: it’s when the business plan and proposition find meaning – and therefore are more attractive for followership – and investment. Without purpose, the founder has limited potential. They may be exercising their Dreamer / Warrior / Thinker … but, not the Lover, who creates internal/external congruence, inspires supporters of success, and is often referred to as having a great culture and the elixir to a successful scalable startup.

Macro trends call for flexibility and the ability of a team to modulate. In an expansion, the high liquidity phase a Dreamer/Lover and Dreamer/Thinker may be able to drive further along without stretching much of his/her internal Warrior. In the headwinds of our current macro environment, the Warrior within the team will seize the moment and thrive. They will protect the vision and drive momentum to the future with decisiveness and courage. Successful founder teams must dig into and surface the makeup of their teams, learn to calibrate, and evolve from being merely a project to a sustainable, scalable company. 

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