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Most research into startup personalities has focused on limited factors such as risk taking – an obvious one. This does not really give much insight apart from into the obvious. It would be more valuable to compare differences between business people, between start-up team members and founders, and intriguingly, to investors also.
We have collected a dataset of 328 individuals in different sectors including founders and team members in startup accelerators, investors, corporate workers, and teachers, using our Human Behavioural Framework. This has given us much deeper insight into startup Founder personalities – this interestingly highlights some striking differences and potential points of conflict with team members and investors. Interested? Read on.
This startup data comes mostly from Founders in accelerators and labs including a small cohort from an internal accelerator at Google. This means these have been vetted and selected as having great potential and have crossed the first big hurdle. However, this does not measure, at this stage, successful startups. Nevertheless, there’s some interesting and intriguing data so far.
Here are where the differences lie:
This does not contradict passion and energy – you can be passionate and energetic but be collected rather than neurotic. This is what Calmness means here. Interestingly, in our data so far, startup Founders are noticeably calmer than corporate workers, startup team members and significantly more so than investors; investors being a full 17% more sensitive and neurotic than founders.
Insight: Stay calm but don’t underestimate sensitivity of your team or investors
Admittedly in our current version of the Human Behavioural Framework this is self-reported so needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. But nevertheless, startup Founders rated their ability to pick up information as better than the average of this cohort and 10% better than corporate workers but a little below the ratings of investors.
We measure Boredom – how quickly you get bored with repetitive work – this is hardly ever assessed but is an important trait to measure. The stand out point here is that investors get bored more quickly than founders by a difference of 17%.
Insight: Investors seem to need the stimuli – don’t drone on about your fantastic idea but get that ‘elevator pitch’ nailed and grab their interest quickly!
Founders like to be in Control and have their say; unsurprisingly, a full 20% more than those working in administration. However, investors like to be in control still more – a note of caution to founders when dealing with investors – they need that feeling of control more than you do!
Insight: Give investors the feeling of being in control (while also showing you are in control!)
Inhibition vs Achievement
This is where it gets interesting. Most startup research focusses on risk. We have focused on Achievement and Inhibition systems. The Behavioural Activation System (BAS), the desire to achieve things, and the Behavioural Inhibition System (BIS), the fear and “braking” system. Classic personality assessments rate these as one scale. We measure these as two independent scales and this gives us more interesting information.
Though we all tend to think of startup Founders as being driven, when we look at our data of startup Founders they have no higher achievement drive than corporate workers on average (note – these were high-performing corporate workers with multinationals). They do have slightly higher Achievement drive than their team members.
What becomes interesting is when we look at the Inhibition system. Here, startup Founders were much lower than every other group measured – with investors following a close second.
When we created a single figure: Achievement minus Inhibition, we saw the most interesting figures. This figure is interesting because these systems can balance each other out. For example, it is possible to have high achievement, desire to drive forward, but also high inhibition, the worry of messing things up.
When measuring this ‘stretch’ figure, as we termed it, startup Founders were rated significantly higher than all other groups i.e. they had the biggest difference between Achievement drive and Inhibition. Investors came close to startup founders with only a 6% difference. The biggest difference is maybe the biggest surprise: team members had a massive 23% difference. This suggests that those that come on board after Founders are much more cautious but also have much higher desire for Safety (see below). This is easy to underestimate.
Insight: Team members may be more cautious despite having high Achievement drives. As a Founder you will need to spend time creating security and dealing with their concerns.
Safety we measure separately as the cognitive and biological basis can be considered different – but it is closely related to Inhibition. Founders showed a substantial difference to the team, by a large margin of 17%, but the largest difference was to investors at 23%. Hence investors have a high desire to achieve, similar risk profiles, but also value safety much more – not surprisingly. So, creating a feeling of safety with investors is essential for Founders.
The interesting point relates to startup team members: many Founders may assume that startup team members who come on board later, have a risk and achievement profile similar to themselves as Founders. They don’t – and this will impact their engagement, their security, and hence their ability to perform.
Insight: Help create a feeling of safety for investors
Insight: Don’t expect your team members to have the same risk profile as yourself. If you can provide some safety, they will be more engaged and perform better.
Another interesting measurement is that of appreciation and recognition that we measure under Self-Esteem. This was noticeably higher in startup Founders suggesting that money is not the only driver of these Founders, but recognition. This was, we note, the same level as that of investors.
Insight: Also play to investors’ Self-esteem
Attachment ratings, relating to and bonding with other people, had some notable differences; investors were 9% lower on this rating. Founders did not have very high ratings, teachers, for example, were 10% higher than Founders which is no surprise considering they are in a people-orientated role. But, notably and importantly, investors ranked quite low. Attachment is important as a trait because it is this that also drives trust and loyalty (these are part of the same cognitive networks). It is generally not possible to have low attachment and high loyalty. Therefore, investors are likely, from their personalities, to have less trust and loyalty than Founders.
Insight: Founders you will have to work harder to gain trust with investors.
Self-identity is another trait we measure that few others do. This measures how good you feel with yourself. Interestingly startup Founders were higher than all other groups except their team members who they were equal with. This is logical because strength and confidence in yourself would lead to becoming a Founder in the first place.
Another one of particular interest is the concept of Self-Control i.e. controlling one’s impulses. This was high in Founders but, intriguingly, a full 21% higher than in investors. Investors seem to be more impulsive – something to note and be wary of as a Founder dealing with investors.
Insight: Be careful of impulsiveness in investors and keep their attention
We measure a number of higher order values such as working for the Greater Good or, Knowledge and Learning. We found both of these were rated highest in startup Founders. Investors rated a full 15% lower, and this hence points to their being less interested in learning and doing good for the world. Team members rated similarly to Founders.
Insight: Founders, don’t spend much time on your greater good and charitable intentions (unless you are in the impact space) when communicating to investors.
Yes, you’ve got it! Extraversion measures, on average, higher in Founders than both team members and Investors. Let’s face it, if you are going to start a business you need to be out there and be comfortable and energised by being out there! However, despite Founders being noticeably more extroverted than both team members and Investors, they still lag behind the average corporate worker in this trait.
Insight: Founders you may need to push yourself to be out there and extraverted even more, particularly if you personally rate lower here!
Logic vs Intuition
The logic and intuition ratings are also fascinating to look at. Generally, these are considered a sliding scale but here again we measure these separately as they are processed differently in the brain. A first insight in general is that high performers tend to have high intuition and high cognition. With the startup assessment that we use, we can only collect limited data as it is the shortest version of the Human Behavioural Framework. Nevertheless, contrasting logic with intuition is still very interesting.
What we found is interesting and maybe dramatic. Startup Founders, on average, use their cognition slightly more than their intuition (I would have expected the other way around). There is a 9% gap between Founders and their Teams who use, on average, more intuitionor gut feeling. But the biggest difference was to the Investors who use more intuition than logic (they still have high cognition ratings). Suggesting the investor has to feel the decision is right.
Insight: Be careful when talking just about facts to investors – but don’t go low on figures either! They want to see figures and facts but will go with their gut feeling in the end.
Early to bed and early to rise!
And the final piece of information which may have meaning, or not, is around sleep patterns which me measure briefly with general health. There are two broad types, the Lark, who gets up earlier and is energised in the morning, and the Owls, who get up later, go to bed later, and are more energised in the evenings. Founders tend to be more on the Lark side than their team members. This fortunately matches investors almost exactly!
Insight: Early morning investor breakfasts recommended!
Top 5 Differences to Team
1. Difference in Achievement and Inhibition, 23%
2. Safety, 17%
3. Inhibition, 16%
4. Extraversion, 13%
5. Calmness, 10%
Team members who come on after Founders seem to need more safety, are less risk taking, slightly more fearful, more introverted, and more nervous and sensitive, than Founders.
Rights traits at the right time:
What we stress, and one of the intentions behind our product HBF for startups, is also to consciously attract and develop the right people at the right time. High achievers with low risk might be great at the start but as a business develops this may become a liability. Hence, we should become aware of personality traits and these should match the phase of growth and context of each startup. We have developed a framework for measuring traits at different growth phases, please ask us if you want to learn more.
Top 5 Differences to Investor
1. Safety, 23%
2. Self-Control, 21%
3. Calmness, 17%
4. Boredom, 17%
5. Learning / Greater Good (values), 16%
In summary investors, according to this limited data, need more safety, are more impulsive, quicker to get bored and more neurotic and care less about worldly values. Surprised? Or maybe not?
Want to take the HBF for startups. This is best done with your team or co-founder.
What is the Human Behavioural Framework
This is a novel new way to measure personality, drives, values and also map to team friction and cohesion.
We measure, in short assessments, more personality traits, group them differently, can measure personality over time and match to specific functions and roles in different contexts.
This is informed by evolutionary neuroscience and an analysis of dozens of other assessments and over 280 personality traits.
We also map to different phases of startups and predict best traits for each phase.
Learn more here: www.leading-brains.com
Public Health Warning!
These figures have many caveats.
Firstly it is a relatively small dataset and hence validity and figures could change as we collect more data – but interesting speculation, nevertheless.
Secondly most of these startups are in accelerators and incubators which is clearly a first quality control mechanism but at the same time these haven’t necessarily “succeeded” so it only measures startup personality but not “successful” personalities. This is simply what we can see at this moment in time and we are not sure we can predict, at this stage, success factors (however, we can match and measure team cohesion and risk factors).
Thirdly it is not representative data – but the dataset is varied with multiple nationalities, ages and sectors.