What Insanely Great Founders Have In Common

… and how they’ve used what they know to build hugely successful companies.

I’ve been building companies since 2001 — 6 in total, $200M+ combined sales. I’ve also been mentoring founders since 2011.

I’ve seen some of these founders build incredibly large companies ($100M+ valuations) from scratch and some completely bomb out.

Today I wanted to write a short post about what the best founders have in common — and they’re probably not what you’d expect. Hopefully you can take something from this post to help you build your company faster.

#1 They Readily Acknowledge They Don’t (And Can’t) Know Everything

The best founders I know have a great understanding of 4 things:

  • What they are good at
  • What they like
  • What they’re not good at
  • What they don’t like

They triple down on learning how to be better at what they’re already good at and like and work hard to delegate everything else, primarily by hiring domain experts to run those teams (CMO, VP Sales, VP Engineering, etc).

Note that they do NOT focus on improving their weaknesses. They understand there is leverage in hiring talented people over and above them taking the time to learn a new skill or area of expertise.

#2 They Focus On Routine 90% And Goals 10%

Goals are important — especially BHAGs (Big, Hairy Audacious Goals) or 10x goals, but routine is much more important. There’s no point setting a large goal if you won’t put in the work to make it a reality.

The best founders I know have 80% of their calendar already allocated even before the day begins. And this time is allocated BY them, not forced upon them by other people.

What do I mean by that? Well, they use recurring events and multi-day blocking to carve out time in their calendar to focus on the tasks, meetings,thinking time and planning to make DAILY progress on the things that areimportant to them.

They don’t wake up and say “what should I do today?”. They’ve been smart enough to pre-plan most of their allocated working time to make a dent on what’s important to them as a pre-determined outcome.

Remember —you’re either working on your own plan, or you’re part of someone else’s. The best founders work to make their own goals a reality first and foremost, not those of others.

#3 They Track And Utilize Their Energy Cycles

I’ve written about energy cycles before. Great founders know the time of day when they’re the most productive and also when they need to step away from their desk and take a break.

Despite what you might think (and what the media might portray via founders like Steve Jobs and Marc Benioff), focusing on work at the cost of everything else will eventually run you in to the ground.

Great founders understand the “ingredients” required to stay focused over a 5–10 year period and align their work life, personal life, relationships, physical and mental health to give them the sustained fuel they need to make solid progress every day.

They structure their calendar in a way that maximizes their energy instead of depleting it — and when their energy is low, they’ve become so attuned to their body, that they take deliberate actions to renew those energy stores.

This can be as simple as eating the right foods, drinking enough water and exercising for 30–60 minutes each day, but it also means knowing when to take a day (or a week) off — to recharge your batteries and give some time or attention to the parts of your life you know you’ve been neglecting.

The most common advice I give to founders is to take time off each month.For example, leave the office on the first Friday of the month at 12pm. Initially they find it hard, but after a while they say it’s the single best change they’ve made to their schedule in years.

#4 They Surround Themselves With People Who Have “Seen The Movie”

One of the huge commonalities I see in great founders is that they build a “dream team” around them.

They find mentors, coaches, advisors and other founders who can help them get to where they’re going faster and with fewer mistakes.

These people have been on a similar path and have done what I call “see the movie”, which means they have a good idea of what’s coming and can advise you of what to do next.

Think about it this way — if you want to build a $100M company in the retail space, how much easier would it be if you surrounded yourself with founders who had built similar companies to the one you aspire to build?

Speaking from personal experience (and having done this at all of my companies), it can dramatically shortcut the time it takes to build the company you want to build — sometimes from 7–10 years down to 3–5 years.

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About Mitchell Harper

Mitch is a 7x company founder, advisor and investor. He is best known as the co-founder of BigCommerce. His companies have generated over $200,000,000 in total revenue and he is currently building an online education company and a SaaS company.

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