The key traits of founders who can scale startups: a VC perspective

Mari Luukkainen
3 min readAug 28, 2023

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Being a pre-seed VC, especially one who’s just dipped their toes in the venture capital pool, can be thrilling and daunting in equal measure. You’re not just looking for game-changing ideas; you’re hunting for those rare, shiny unicorns, the founders who can take a startup from zero to hero. No one’s cracked the exact code yet, but here’s my two cents on what makes a founder scale-ready.

1. Visionary leader

Ever met someone who can paint a picture of the future so vivid, you can almost reach out and touch it? That’s what you’re looking for in a founder. These folks aren’t just dreaming big; they’ve got the roadmap, the strategy, the whole nine yards. So, when you’re chatting with a potential investee, check if they’ve got their future-game strong.

2. Talent magnet

Finding a superstar is great, but a founder who can gather a whole league of superstars? That’s jackpot territory. Watch out for those who know how to woo talent and keep them sticking around. Remember, a good founder creates a culture where people don’t just clock in and out, they grow, innovate and stick around for the ride.

3. Comeback queens and kings (and thems)

Startups are like rollercoasters, and you need founders who won’t puke at the first loop. The ones who can dust themselves off after a setback and come back swinging? Those are the founders you’re looking for. Resilience isn’t just about bouncing back; it’s about learning, adapting and staying hungry, no matter what.

4. Decision maker

In startup land, there’s no time for umm-ing and ahh-ing. Founders need to make decisions faster than a New York minute. Keep an eye out for founders who don’t just decide quickly but can make the tough calls when the chips are down.

5. Industry guru

Want to beat the competition? You have to know them inside out first. A founder with a deep-dive knowledge of their industry, from trends to customer needs, is a good bet. They’re like the ultimate chess player, always three steps ahead of the game.

6. Money whisperer

Founders might be visionaries, but if they can’t manage their finances, that vision ain’t going anywhere. Look for those who know their way around a balance sheet, can raise funds without breaking a sweat, and plan financially like a boss.

7. Smooth talker

Got a great idea? Cool. Now, can you sell it? Founders who can communicate their vision clearly, negotiate like a pro, and sometimes even play the PR game, are the ones to watch. Communication builds trust, and trust is the glue that holds the whole crazy startup ride together.

In a Nutshell

Finding the right founders is kind of like dating. It’s about spotting the right mix of traits, all wrapped up in one passionate, ready-to-hustle package. Sure, it’s a bit of a gamble, but as you learn to understand these traits, you’ll get better at spotting the true unicorns.

Patience, a keen eye, and a thirst for learning are your best friends here. Because at the end of the day, VC isn’t just about throwing money at ideas. It’s about betting on people who can turn those ideas into reality.

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Mari Luukkainen

Pre-seed VC investor, growth operator, startup growth advisor, and keynote speaker. Pitch me on Call of Duty.