10 Things Founders of Global
Top 30 High-Growth Start-ups Have in Common
I had a glorious opportunity to spend 4 days with the 2018 global cohort of 30 most-promising tech-focused entrepreneurs, selected by EY from across the globe, under their Accelerating Entrepreneurs program. EY hosted them at Amsterdam 4 weeks ago.
The accompanying EY press statement quoted “This year’s class of entrepreneurs are not only pushing the boundaries of innovation but they are also the next generation of global business leaders.”
While each entrepreneur’s journey is truly worth its own IP, the Global top 30 showed many similarities in their behaviour, approaches, and experiences. This note strings together those common threads into buckets that may find relevance with an aspiring, or rising entrepreneur, somewhere. So, here goes.
The Global Top 30 are…
- Awesome short story-tellers.Having answered the fabled ‘So … what do you do?’ question hundreds of times over, has helped them get clarity on their own purpose and story. They seemed to have mastered the 5-Sec pitch (don’t need the passé 60-sec one). Most answer in simple 8-10 words. Some use analogies, even a personal short story. Some say ‘What our customers get is …”, while some even answer by asking the client back a ‘leading’ question.
All stories are sort of 5-sec short. Similar to the 5-sec attention span ads on YouTube attribute to viewers now.
- Risk-avoiders, more than risk-takers.Beyond the risk of entrepreneurship itself, they are acutely focused on ensuring they don’t run out of cash, don’t dilute ownership too soon, don’t let go their IP inadvertently, and are always over-managing customer expectations.
- Incredible social butterflies.They are masters at networking and social intelligence. They will talk to anyone, on any topic. And are able to assess fairly early in a conversation if they should invest more time in that new acquaintance. Plus, they have an incredible ability to stand, and stand, and stand, engaged in conversations at conferences, and social events.
Everyone should build their networks BEFORE they need it.
- Wear start-up scars proudly like tattoos.Each of the 30 carried their deepest scars with utmost pride. Repeated client rejection, prolonged sales cycles leading to cash flow pressures, VC apathy and rejections, product mis-steps at early stages, each is a body-cut of unique meaning that they reveal very proudly.
Fall seven times, stand up eight…
- Buddhas, at peace with failure.They have each walked the start-up jungle all alone for some years. This seemed to have brought them closer to discovering the mantra that ‘failure is a stepping stone to achieving’. Unlike the corporate world which is yet addicted only to success, these 30 entrepreneurs see each new obstacle for the gorgeous view it might have on the other side.
Seemed to possess an informed preparedness for ‘What’s the worst that can happen if I failed.’
- Not all pivoted, neither did all stay their course. A lot of ink has been spent on whether pivoting works better or staying the course does. Amongst the 30, those in the bleeding-edge VR/AR spaces felt they were evangelists, and needed to stay the course. While others that were introducing new business models, seemed more open to pivoting.
Collectively, it was clear that BOTH roads can work.
- Able to say ‘No’.Be it to free POCs. Hell, Yes! Or, acknowledge confidently what their product does not do. Many entrepreneurs learn this the hard way when in the early stage they over-commit their capabilities, for fear of either looking ‘lesser’ to the client, or the fear of losing the deal.
The 30 showed a mind that has tamed the temptation of saying Yes to every client ask, and maintain acute FOCUS.
- Totally consumed, yet totally free.Each of the 30 are putting in 16-20 hour days, 7 days a week. No one could ever be more consumed. Yet, it didn’t seem like they ever feel tired or caged, unlike they may have during their past corporate lives. They now seemed to have reached that ‘I do what I love, and love what I do’ nirvana stage.
Accountable only to themselves, and hence FREE.
- All made, not born entrepreneurs.I could even say, ‘they are in the process of being made’. All thru sheer grit and determination. It is clear there isn’t such a thing called a ‘born entrepreneur’.
Anyone can be entrepreneur.
- Budding philosophers.For these leaders, philosophy seemed to have erupted from a heady mix of rejections during their early stage days, topped with the challenges of a new future they are trying to get their clients (read slow decision-making Corporates) to see and buy into.
So, philosophically speaking (and pun intended) ‘Corporates believe in the theory that anything less than everything is nothing’!
Above all, it seemed to me that the direction of travel is more important for the 30 than a pre-ordained destination per se.
As Steve Jobs famously said “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.”
On behalf of the cohort, I’d like to thank Team EY!
More About the 2018 EY AE Program