Updated: Sep 3, 2021
I need to preface this by saying that there are almost always "exceptions to the rule", so just because you don't meet the following criteria it does not mean that you will not be successful, nor does it mean that you have a 0% chance of being selected for our Founder's Program.
In just a few words, we look for founders who are resilient and can execute fast. That's right, I said founders not ideas. Founders are far more important than the idea itself. If you want to know why, read this post. So if the founder is so much more important than the idea, what do you look for in a founder? What we look for in founders
1. The ability to execute: The founders must be able to execute quickly. If you say you're going to launch by Friday, you better launch by Friday. You must be able to get feedback from users and iterate quickly on it. For almost all startups, you should not be spending more than 1-2 weeks per iteration. You also need to be able to learn quickly. In the first few years of a startup, the goal should be to learn as fast as possible and iterate on your learnings as quickly as possible. 2. Resilience: The founders should show some proof that they've either overcome something difficult or accomplished something impressive. It does not have to be tech or startup related. We simply want to know whether you're going to quit when things get tough or if you'll be able to stick with it. The founders of Airbnb notoriously had a binder filled with maxed out credit cards. While this is not necessarily a good thing, it definitely makes a statement about their level of commitment.
3. The ability to communicate: You must be able to explain your startup clearly and concisely. You need to be able to sell. You need to be able to hire. You need to be able to raise capital. All of these things are critical and require communication skills. Many of the most successful startups had to pitch over 100 times to raise their seed round. Kyle Vogt, the founder of Cruise (autonomous vehicle startup), said that raising their first $500k (seed round) was way more difficult than their latest round of $2.75b at a $30b valuation.
What we look for in teams History has shown us that 2-3 cofounders seems to be the sweet spot. There's a couple reasons for this. Having a sole founder is difficult because you have nobody to help you get through the low points, and startups are filled with ups and downs. Also, if you're a sole founder, you have to do everything yourself. It's very challenging to effectively do product development, gather user feedback, hire, and raise money all simultaneously. It's not impossible, just very tough. Having 4 or more cofounders is tough because it slows decisions down and can lead to many founder disputes simply because there are different viewpoints in the room together. There have been many successful startups that did have either a sole founder or 4+ cofounders. Although, I will say it's worth investigating these further to understand the different personalities, the dynamic between the founders, what each persons role was and so on. In the case of the sole founder, it often raises the question of "Why couldn't this person find anyone smart to work on this with them?" If you can't persuade one of your smart friends to be your cofounder, chances are you might struggle to sell to customers and pitch investors. The other thing that historically seems to have been important is that the founders have a history together. This means if you just met your cofounder on reddit last week, there's a lot of risk on the table. The reason is that a startup is like a roller coaster - when things are going great, everyone's happy. However, when things start to go downhill, what's going to keep your team together if you guys barely know each other? In many of the most successful startups, there were multiple near-death experiences (for the company) and almost always you hear the founders say what kept them going was not wanting to let their friends (cofounders) down.
To conclude While this may give you an idea of what we look for, this is not meant to be 100% concrete. This is meant to serve as guidelines and to help you understand what are the common traits & themes among the most successful founders. If you'd like to learn about some common mistakes that first-time founders make and some of the red flags we look out for, read this post. As we learn more from future cohorts, these posts will continue to evolve, as will our selection criteria. Apply to our founder's program here Email firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions about our Founder's Program.