Qualities Of A Great Founder

Founders are the seed of a startup. For a startup to grow big it needs high-quality founders. I have researched a lot on this topic and have created a visual tool called ‘Founder Canvas’ to demystify this topic.

I have also personally worked with and reported to Mr. Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of Paytm (India’s highest-valued startup in 2020). I have observed most of the qualities described in Founder Canvas in him. I have also met a large number of successful entrepreneurs and have found these to be the common traits in many of them. These traits also form the basis of a successful partnership between co-founders.

Thus you can use Founder Canvas to learn how you can improve as a startup founder and who can be a good co-founder with you.

We can judge a founder through 3 lenses. The 3 lenses are :

  • Head
  • Heart
  • Hand

Head denotes the intelligence, mindset and goals of the founder.

Heart denotes the integrity, empathy and values of the founder.

Hand denotes the experience, money and network.



Intelligence is extremely important in order to be successful. Generally, when we think of intelligence we think of IQ. In my experience IQ is not the true measure of intelligence from all angles. In the 1980s, ‘Theory of Multiple Intelligences’ was introduced by Harvard University professor, Howard Gardner. The theory of multiple intelligences tells us that human beings have multiple types of intelligence and that there are at least 8 types of intelligences :

  1. Logical Intelligence
  2. Linguistic Intelligence
  3. Interpersonal Intelligence
  4. Intrapersonal Intelligence
  5. Naturalistic Intelligence
  6. Musical Intelligence
  7. Kinesthetic Intelligence
  8. Spatial Intelligence

I read about this theory in May 2017 in the book ‘Frames of Mind’. I started working with Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of Paytm in late 2017. It was an interesting discovery that Vijay has all 8 types of intelligence. I even cross-checked this with his family and COO of Paytm. Vijay has been one of the most successful entrepreneurs in India in the 21st century and this gives a glimpse of what qualities any entrepreneur should possess in order to be successful.

I personally feel that 5 intelligences out of the 8 are very crucial for any entrepreneur. Ability to think logically, command over the language, great interpersonal skills, knowing the reason for working hard are all obviously very crucial.

An interesting intelligence as per this theory is naturalistic intelligence. It was introduced by Howard Gardner in the 1990s, many years after the introduction of this theory. It refers to the ability to see patterns in the natural world. I believe that this ability to see patterns in the natural world also helps in seeing patterns of technical change years ahead of everyone. In Vijay’s case, he foresaw the power of digital payments in India well before most others.


Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck introduced 2 terms: Growth mindset and Fixed mindset. According to her, the growth mindset refers to the thinking in which an individual believes that abilities can grow with hard work. Individuals with a fixed mindset do not believe in this. They believe that abilities cannot change. They run away from difficult things. 

People with a growth mindset believe in learning from mistakes. People with a fixed mindset try to find fault in others. People with a growth mindset embrace challenges while people with a fixed mindset run away from challenges. People with a growth mindset persist in face of setbacks while the ones with a fixed mindset bow down to setbacks.

A good entrepreneur needs to have a growth mindset in order to succeed. If an entrepreneur runs away from challenges obviously he or she cannot create a successful business. An entrepreneur has to be able to digest market feedback and also has to be a good learner. An entrepreneur needs to be persistent in spite of constant setbacks. Here again, I have seen Vijay Shekhar Sharma of Paytm persisting and in fact, thriving even in spite of setbacks due to his growth mindset.


An entrepreneur needs to be relatively clear about his or her life goals. A wavering person cannot become a successful entrepreneur. Also if you are looking for a co-founder then your goals and the goals of the other person should match else there would be differences later on which may impact a startup’s work.



According to Warren Buffet, he will not hire anyone without integrity. All successful people work only with people they trust. Thus a successful entrepreneur needs to have integrity as otherwise investors and customers will not work with him or her. Also, a co-founder needs to have integrity as if that person does not have integrity then you will have a very bad time with that person.


A great product can only be built by a startup if the entrepreneur has great empathy for the user. I have personally seen Vijay Shekhar Sharma empathize with the end user and try to solve the problems of the user. He always tries to think from the shoes of the user and analyses whether the user can understand a feature or not. This is the reason why Paytm has more than 400 million registered users in India in such a short time.


Values refer to the morals and constraints we impose on ourselves due to our thought of right and wrong in life. 2 people can have different values and still be successful. The only issue is that you need to be in sync in values with your co-founder. If 1 co-founder wants to grow through corrupt practices and the other does not then obviously there will in fighting in the startup at some stage. This is a major reason why startup founders should know each other for a long time before starting a startup together.


I refer to the practical strengths of the founders as ‘hand’. The practical strengths are necessary for a startup to create a good product and grow.


Experience in the domain in which the startup is focusing is a great advantage for the startup. A good founder should aim for domain expertise. In case you as a founder do not know the problem domain then sometimes it may make sense to even recruit a co-founder who has expertise in the specific domain.


A founder who has money to invest in a startup is obviously a great asset to the startup. If you do not have money as a founder, try to get a co-founder who is willing to invest. Having capital from the founders is way better than having it from investors. Founders are more involved in business and thus are more committed to it than investors.


A founder who has connections in the industry will obviously find it easy to build the product and grow. If you do not have a network in the industry, try to recruit a co-founder who has the required network in the industry.

Thus we see that a startup founder needs to have multiple traits in order to be successful. Not all people have all the traits. This is where the need for the co-founders arises. The co-founders should be selected based on these above discussed traits. Combined the co-founders should be able to bring in all the necessary traits for a startup to be successful.

Author: Saurabh Jain (Follow him on Twitter : @skjsaurabh)

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