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Top 8 CEO traits of a successful startup founder

Posted by Early Growth

October 27, 2019    |     8-minute read (1560 words)

Statistics suggest that about 10% of startups become successful. For aspiring founders, this number can be unnerving, many of whom may decide to quit or never even begin in the first place despite having incredible potential.

But this isn’t always the case. New startups are launched all the time and some of them make it to the “unicorn” club. While a lot can be said about how and why this happens, there is no denying that founders and CEOs play a crucial role. Besides persistence and grit, they have personality traits and attributes that boost their odds by a huge margin.

CEO traits of a successful startup founder

There isn't a predetermined set of rules for what makes a great founder or CEO, but there are trends in success that point to a few traits and habits of today's successful founders and CEOs. Some of these attributes may not come naturally to every founder or CEO, but if you are aware of them, it will be easier for you to mold your attitude and behaviors to match these cardinal entrepreneurial traits.

1. Vision

At the outset, startup founders and CEOs are attempting to literally change the world by creating something that does not yet exist. That means they’ve got to be time travelers of a sort, possessing an outlook of what the world might look like in the future. To be successful, founders need to be visionary — someone who has the ability to perceive the bigger picture and have a clear understanding of the role their startup will play in the future to provide a truly valuable offering besides navigating the path to growth.

In short, successful founders and CEOs always have a clear sense of purpose and know how to leverage their vision to make informed business decisions and steer the company toward success.

2. Executional excellence

Having a vision is great, but not being able to get the right things done at the right time and in the best possible way, you’re not going to get very far.

A good startup founder possesses the skill to break their vision into attainable mini-milestones. This helps them stay focused, motivated and on track, ultimately empowering them to reach their goals and overall vision.

3. Administrative skills

This one might sound counterintuitive. Don’t CEOs hire people to take care of company administration? Yes and no. Part of this administrative skill is the ability to find and hire the right talent, delegate and let go.

Obviously, CEOs cannot possibly expend all their time managing the administrative tasks of the startup. But ultimately the CEO is the master administrator: organizing, rallying, and ensuring that the tracks are clean and the trains are on time. The startup CEO needs to be able to create the company, build the team, identify resources, solve problems and navigate uncertainties while keeping track of it all.

4. Connector

Startup CEOs need to be able to foster connections with investors, potential partners and the right professional services firms. Having a startup means committing yourself to a life of continuous relationship development and management. Besides, the CEO also needs to act as a link between the company and its investors, and between the company and its product.

5. Passion

Passion defines an entrepreneur; it’s the motivation and determination to make something great happen. In fact, passion is the fuel that keeps a leader going and gives them a powerful edge to stay one step ahead of their competitors. Ultimately, passion drives better performance and superior results.

6. Communication

Passion is paramount, but it won’t get you far if you don’t have the ability to communicate that passion to others regularly. Startup CEOs should love talking about their business, internally and externally, and be skilled at doing so in a clear and compelling fashion. Can you motivate your team, even when you’re facing challenges? That’s the kind of communication skills a startup CEO needs.

7. Avoid being a people-pleaser

While running a company, you can’t make everyone happy. You shouldn’t worry about trying to do so. In fact, it isn’t your job at all.

Startup founders and CEOs need to stay true to their values and vision and make tough decisions that will ultimately benefit the company. This is true even if it’s about firing an employee, breaking a partnership or simply saying “no.” While saying “yes” might seem more tempting, saying “yes” to it all can throw you off-track and make it extremely difficult for you to be an effective leader.

8. Adaptability

Holding an elite pedigree or not, you won’t and can’t know everything about starting your own business from day one. And that is absolutely okay. Startup founders don’t need to know everything; they just need to be willing to learn and adapt with time.

With change being constant and inevitable, founders must be flexible and agile to succeed. Being able to access a range of behaviors that enables founders to shift and experiment as things change is the key to long-term business success.

In short, founders and CEOs who master the art of pivoting and adaptability, especially in these uncertain times, are the ones to create wildly successful ventures.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. Depending on your specific company and industry, it is likely that you may need a CEO with other skills; perhaps a Ph.D. in statistics with excellent technical skills who can survive on three hours of sleep per night. But, regardless of your specific industry requirements, these eight characteristics can help you and your startup grow.

CEO traits that you should avoid

1. Not holding yourself accountable

Admitting your mistakes boosts credibility and trust as a CEO. Your position and influence are dependent strongly on how you treat and make sacrifices for your team, and not merely on your dress or appearance. Remember that leaders are accountable for all they do and they should learn to use errors in judgment as an opportunity to grow rather than blame others.

2. Passive-aggressive communication

Poor leaders are often indirect with how they communicate, which is a negative trait for the work environment. In fact, this kind of behavior can damage relationships at work besides making communication difficult. Exhibiting signs of passive-aggressive behavior and hostility evokes confusion, which hinders workplace productivity and performance.

3. Intimidating work environment

While some might consider fear and intimidation to be positive leadership traits, such leadership only breeds anxiety, cynicism and distrust that can be detrimental to the team and the organization. These consequences make transparency and honesty nearly impossible in the workplace, sapping all essential forms of communication.


The success of a startup hinges on its founder to a certain extent. While a great founder can set it up for success, a toxic leader can engender negative outcomes. You can easily build an entrepreneurial character and succeed in your ventures by fostering the aforementioned eight CEO attributes.

What do you think makes for a successful startup CEO? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or contact Early Growth Financial Services for startup support.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the skills required to be a CEO?

First things first, CEOs must be decisive. A decisive CEO is perceived as a strong and capable leader, certain of their company's growth path, by both internal and external stakeholders. Additionally, they should be approachable by staying open and listening, by embracing compassion and stepping into empathy.

2. What are the roles and responsibilities of a CEO?

CEOs oversee the strategic direction of a firm. They set the long-term vision, mission and metrics of the organization. This may include delegating and directing agendas, promoting profitability, monitoring performance, controlling the organizational structure and direction of the company, and interacting with the board of directors.

3. What is the mindset of an effective CEO?

Having an effective CEO mindset entails being able to plan where and how your firm will grow in the future. Working from the bottom up exposes you to diversions and the risks of becoming mired in activities that will not contribute to the growth of the company.

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