What is founder DNA, and how do know if you have it?

Working with more than 8,000 founders across six continents hand-picked from more than 300,000 applications, we know what sets great founders apart from the pack. From their profile type and professional experiences through to their personality traits, here are the traits that form the DNA of standout entrepreneurs.

antler

Antler

The investor backing the world's most driven founders, from day zero to greatness. Enabling thousands of founders every year to launch and scale companies that move the world forward.

Antler is the investor backing the world’s most driven founders, from day zero to greatness.

We believe that people innovating is the key to building a better future and that exceptional founders can come from anywhere with any background.

That's why our investment approach levels the playing field for innovative people, whoever and wherever you are.

Every year, we receive approximately 120,000 applications globally to join our in-person residencies around the world. We run a multi-stage interview process with each candidate before making them an offer to join a residency. Once accepted, we spend approximately 200 hours with each founding team before we invest.

This sheer volume of due diligence gives us a unique perspective on what makes great founders. From their profile type and professional experiences through to their personality traits and whether they have Founder DNA—a concept we explore later in this article.

Founder types

We believe a complementary founding team has three core profiles: Domain, Commercial, and Technical. Or a team that can find and validate a crucial problem, build a business from zero to one to solve that problem, then ensure that it is commercially viable and scalable. Let’s break that down.

Commercial 

Commercial founder profiles usually demonstrate leadership qualities, past experiences in bringing new products to market, and have held responsibility for ensuring successful commercial outcomes for the business. 

In some cases, these people have led the growth of an early-stage company from startup to scale-up or they have launched a new geographic region for a business. Others may have built a strong and adaptable commercial toolkit from time as a management consultant or in investment banking. Either way, these people are exceptional problem-solvers with very strong analytical skills, capable of breaking down complex issues and bringing structure.

Some examples of these founders include Manuel Schönfeld, founder of PowerX and Carl Prins, co-founder of Pathzero

Technical 

Technical founder profiles usually demonstrate experience in leading technical teams, proven hands-on experience building and scaling products, and an entrepreneurial mindset.

In some cases, these people are seasoned Senior or Lead Engineers with previous experience working at a startup or scaleup, or they have perhaps been the founder and CTO of their own business. Others may consider themselves “tinkerers” or “builders” and have launched multiple products on the App Store that have achieved an organic user base. Technical founders are also often hardware engineers in areas such as 3D printing and robotics, or product leaders able to stand a product up using low code tools.

Some examples of these founders include Ksenia Svechnikova, founder of Tactiq, and David Wickström, co-founder of Skyqraft.

Domain 

Domain founder profiles usually demonstrate deep expertise and experience in a particular field, whether that be in research, industry or type of company. 

In some cases, these people are PhD holders and researchers looking to apply their knowledge in a commercial capacity or move beyond the university space. Others may own the IP of a product or technology and want to commercialize it. Either way, these people are the “go-tos” of their field or work and the experts and leaders in that space.

Examples of domain founders include Skye Theodorou, founder of Upcover, and Emilia Theye, co-founder of clare&me.

We also believe that several “functional” profiles also make great early-stage founders. These people can also come from data backgrounds, marketing, UI/UX and sales.

Founder DNA

In addition to these backgrounds, we believe great founders possess deeply engrained qualities and behaviors that fuel their success.

For example, we have found that great founders have an insatiable inner drive to succeed no matter what. These people set ambitious goals and work relentlessly to reach them—crucial as great companies aren’t built overnight or without significant challenges. At the same time, great founders need to be able to think creatively and strategically then act quickly, building fast and bringing strategic people on their journey as they scale—including investors, employees, and consumers. (Listen to our founder and CEO Magnus Grimeland talk about this innate hustle on the Capital Allocators podcast.)

These qualities add up to what we call Founder DNA: not just one trait but an inherent set of values and behaviors that we believe is the secret sauce of a successful founder. While hard to define precisely, we look for a combination of:

Relentless cadence of execution

The ability to turn ideas into tangible business building blocks at pace on a week-by-week basis over a sustained period. This could also be demonstrated by a person’s ability to achieve milestones earlier than they should have. Examples of these are having started university earlier than typical or reached a level of professional capability considerably ahead of their peers.

Creative problem-solving in crunch times

While academic acumen is one way to identify intelligence, it doesn’t always correlate with problem-solving—the core activity of an early-stage founder. We believe those who demonstrate creative problem-solving under pressure are usually going to be more successful founders.

Grit

The early founder journey involves regular setbacks. It is essential for anyone embarking on this journey to possess a combination of resilience, determination, and passion. We call this grit: the ability to maintain focus, drive, and motivation, even when faced with significant roadblocks, failures, and uncertainty. Entrepreneurial success can't happen without it, as it allows founders to stay laser-focused on their vision and push through difficult times.

Strong communication skills

Founders need to communicate their vision, mission, and value proposition effectively to a wide range of audiences: potential investors, partners, early employees, customers, and media. Excellent communication skills enable great founders to be the compelling "face" of the company, conveying its unique selling points, why it is set to win, and why others should join the journey. Strong communicators also ensure everyone within the company is totally aligned, working towards the same objectives to make the vision a reality.

The most driven founders are joining Antler—the world's day zero investor—to solve important problems. Apply to one of our residencies in 27 cities around the world.

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