Insights14 October 20217 min

What are the secrets to being a good founder? 4 tips to sharpen your leadership skills:

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Being a great startup founder is about more than business savvy or good fundraising skills. It takes the right values and the right vision to make your company a success. Today we’re sharing the four secrets of good founders. Not only will they make you a good entrepreneur, they help you be a stand-up person too:

#1 Know yourself & what you’re (not) good at

Self-awareness is the foundation of all wisdom, right? There are plenty of examples of founders of extinct companies who were convinced they knew everything. A dangerous trap: as a founder you can’t be good at everything. What’s more, a good founder possesses a healthy dose of self-awareness. He or she knows what they aren’t good at, and they know to delegate those things to members of their staff or to consult others in their founding team.

Health tech has no less than four founders from a variety of cultural backgrounds, who bring in different and interesting perspectives. “It’s super important to know your own strengths and weaknesses,” says founder Ella Ameye. “I have a lot of ideas and know how to make other people enthusiastic, but administration for example is not really my thing.”

Even though the company has a four-person founding team, still consults the network of other Start it @KBC founders. Many of our founders do the same. People who have already been down the road you’re on can warn you of potential pitfalls, and that advice is priceless.

“I’ve been doing business for four years now, and in the meantime I've been around the block a few times in the construction sector,” says Daisy Bohyn of DIY startupStaenis. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s the importance of a good network. It’s great to be able to regularly consult experts on certain topics. As an entrepreneur you need a sounding board. It’s also extremely inspiring to have conversations with other entrepreneurs. This helps me reflect regularly on the direction of Staenis.”

#2 Don’t forget it’s all about people

If you’ve understood that as a founder you don’t know everything, you probably also get that every business, no matter how technological, is all about people. “You really need to have a well-balanced team, because as a startup you have to get a lot done with just a few people,” Pieterjan Verhaegen ofBolt says from experience. “I find that human fit to be the hardest aspect of taking on new hires. You really want to attract people who go for it with their heart and soul, especially in a startup that focuses on the pain points of the energy transition.”

The corona crisis has certainly made a lot of companies realise that people make or break a company. But what does that mean for founders? How should they take this into account? To start with, running a people-focused business demands communication and transparency. The clichéd saying “honesty is the best policy” is spot on. That doesn’t just mean communication with your team, but also with all of your stakeholders.

Jonas Deprez of data analytics startupDaltix, which has been taken over by Colruyt, recently admitted that he was afraid the corona crisis would throw a wrench in the works. “But building a people-oriented business means being transparent,” Jonas said. “I shared my concerns and Colruyt Group let us know from the outset that a few people involved in the decision-making process had to help run the stores, but that they still wanted to go through with our plans.”

There are of course a lot of ways to show that you’re a people-focused founder aside from the corona crisis. Being approachable, for example: a good founder is accessible to his employees, customers and investors. There’s also a niceness factor involved. Being nice is often confused for weakness. But nothing could be further from the truth: being approachable and showing your company’s human side will only get you further. With employees, with customers, and also with investors. Did you think it was a coincidence that every venture capitalist says they mainly invest in people?

#3 Have a clear vision: micro & macro

Just about every successful company has figured out that a company has to stand for something, to have a vision. A good founder looks out for that, and knows that he or she has to put in effort at the micro-level to make a difference on the macro-level. “My advice to other startups is pretty cliché, but it’s something that can’t be stressed enough,” emphasises Sebastian ‘Seb’ Le Touze, CEO of gaming startupeXiin. “See your business as a marathon, a long run. If you only have a short-term vision, you’ll be the first to give up.”

Other startups in our network can confirm this, but also know that involves a huge challenge: finding a balance between their own vision and what customers want or say.Buffl, which designed an online feedback platform, has certainly experienced this. “By keeping our finger on the pulse, we succeed in constantly improving our platform,” says founder Seppe Stroo. “To such an extent that we recently used our software to gauge the needs of our own audience. Buffle has to be the result of co-creation: after all, it’s still the market that decides which products will make it.”

#4 Dare to adapt to a changing society

One thing we can always count on is change, and the corona crisis has proved that to us once again. We never know what twists in the plot are waiting to take us by surprise. A good founder is ready to pivot on short notice. They won’t be thrown off by chaos, instead programming flexibility and agility into their company’s DNA.

If there’s one sure thing, it’s that market demands are constantly changing. Your clients have ever-evolving needs and desires. It’s not just a matter of looking at their customer journey, but at their life journey. How do you as a company respond to societal challenges? What are you contributing to society as a whole? Social responsibility isn’t just a bit of window dressing for your public image. A good startup thinks in terms of sustainability and their long-term impact on the world. With customers, employees and investors more socially and environmentally conscious than ever, this can give you a solid competitive advantage. But it’s about more than that. It makes you one of the good guys.

Are you someone who ticks all the boxes, or do you know someone who does? Don’t wait another minute to (let him or her) apply for the new pitch wave at Start it @KBC!