March 14, 2019

Founder personality traits and what it has to do with being a woman

I believe that a startup founder needs to have a good balance combination of two personality traits. On the one hand, they need to be incredibly determined. Because let’s be honest, you have got to be confident that your idea will disrupt an industry and perhaps a tiny bit crazy to keep going when everyone else is saying “that’s not gonna work”. 

On the other hand, you need to be flexible about the idea itself. Because it basically never happens that someone has an idea and successfully launches it without ever changing a thing. In fact, most companies end up with a completely different product compared to the one they started out with. 

The most interesting thing here is, that these two personality traits are quite contrary. Determination means being able to handle countless “nos” and rejections. You need to be able to deal with frustration, stick with your idea and believe in it. Even though plenty of people will tell you know how ridiculous it is and name fifteen reasons why it’s not gonna work. 

Where as flexibility means, that you don’t actually stick to your guns no matter what happens. You have to be open for change, ready to take on feedback and base your product around your customer’s needs. If you don’t have a balanced combination of these two personality traits – your idea is actually very likely to fail. 

Both characteristics are incredibly important for a successful founder. Yet the majority of people have too much or too little of either one. I created an awesome graphic to visualize what I want to emphasise: 

A rather smaller percentage of people are too determined and not flexible enough. We all have that friend who follows their passion of playing the guitar for years but somehow fails to notice that he/she is just not that talented although the awkward slow caps after a concert might have given him/her a hint – right? 

However, in my experience, most people tend to be too flexible. After they have heard the third discouraging opinion about their idea they stop pursuing it. Quite often it’s not just other people voicing these opinions but their very own in their heads. 

Especially women are told from the youngest age to be nice and not stand out from the crowd. This determines how we perceive ourselves and also how confident and determined we can pursue our dreams and career goals. The thing is, in schools, girls actually often perform better than boys – they get better grades and then graduate popular with teachers and well-mannered. But once they leave the education system, they are faced with a world where completely different factors determine success. Fierceness and boldness are suddenly a good thing. This truly is detrimental to women and our economy. Because, in my opinion, the lack of confidence is the most influential factor that is stopping women from becoming successful female entrepreneurs and excelling in their careers. Confidence is what transforms competence into reality. Being competent alone is simply not going to get you anywhere. 

And even though women and men have the same level of competence, women are lagging behind when it comes to confidence. You can be as competent as you want about your idea but if you talk about it with a quivering voice, your audience will hesitate to trust in what you are communicating. I dare to argue, that a lack of competence does not prevent you from succeeding as much as a lack of competence. Sadly we are living and working in a world, where being a cocky show-off, with little depth your arguments, can bring you far, but the opposite is not true. 

Of course, it has to be said that women are often rated as less competent by both genders without them knowing anything about their skills. Confidence is also important when it comes to bringing the actual skills across. If you lack confidence, you play down your competence and people will not trust in your abilities or the potential of your idea. It also results in less assertiveness in important negotiations such as asking for a pay rise and much more. 

Of course I am aware, that the 12% share of female startup founders are of course also due to women pursuing less STEM education, motherhood (and society which makes it hard to combine these two demanding activities), a historically low number of role models and more. But these are often discussed topics and I wanted to shine a light on the much less discussed topics of confidence gap and competence bias. I would love to hear your suggestions in tackling these challenges! 

Author: Lena Hödl, Accelerator Manager at  female founders
The original of this article can be found on: Medium