How to recognise an EPIC start-up founder – Page 2 of 2 – StartupSmart

This is easy to test: suggest they change a part of their core idea and watch the reaction.


I’ll throw in another “I” to the EPIC acronym here: Intuitive.


Eric Ries, author of The Lean Start-Up, popularised the concept of the ‘pivot’. Pivoting involves changing the direction of a business when a more successful opportunity emerges from the dying ashes of an idea. Successful pivoting requires combining a broad view of the market and a flexible attitude with good intuition. Look for instances in a start-up founder’s history where they used their intuition to make a decision in an unstable and uncertain environment.


As Alan Kay says, “A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” A narrow, fixed perspective will drive the business right into the ground. I’d choose a start-up founder with a broad, flexible and intuitive perspective over someone with a high IQ any day of the week.




I define intelligence as the ability to learn quickly. In this sense, new businesses need intelligent people. This trait is not just about the leader of the business. It needs to be evident in the core team as much as in the founder. The core team must be smart enough to learn new things fast for two reasons.


Firstly, the start-up world requires changing and adapting rapidly, faster than anyone else in the market. New applications and processes will have to be created and followed quickly, without the usual time and space for a long learning curve. Start-up teams need people with short learning curves.


Secondly, the breadth of activities required to grow a start-up and the small budget usually available to do that, ensures that no single person will ever have the mastery across all activities. Therefore, the best start-up team is made up of smart people who can learn, reapply, synthesize and are super-fast at extrapolating, interpolating and every other sort of polating in between!


There are many complexities involved in a business start-up. It’s imperative that start-up founders surround themselves with smart, savvy, business-minded professionals. To confirm how fast someone is able to learn, look for evidence of self-taught skills as well as the traditional signs of intellect.




Communication is a key skill simply because it’s the first and final frontier of the success of a product or service. Think about it. What is between an entrepreneur’s idea and success? Customers, investors and a team. All three of these stakeholder groups will only respond to the idea if the idea itself is communicated effectively. A successful entrepreneur will be able to share the story behind a concept quickly, clearly and persuasively.


You can spot an amateur entrepreneur by their inability to impart understanding about their idea to their audience. It means that they cannot sort through the complexities of their solution to convey the benefits for those with the problem; that’s a huge issue in this world of fast and quick communication. It also means they won’t be able to inspire a team around a focused goal and will be perceived as unsure and confused.


Look for entrepreneurs who are able to communicate their ideas succinctly and in a way that leaves you inspired. This skill will translate to success at all stages of the start-up.


What traits do you look for in an entrepreneur when you consider investing?


Garry Visontay is a general partner at the Sydney Seed Fund, an investment fund focusing on early stage tech investment. An entrepreneur, angel investor and mentor within the Sydney start-up ecosystem, Garry is also the chairman of three online marketplace businesses – DesignCrowd, RecruitLoop, and Oneflare.

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