15 Steps to Hone an Elite Startup Founder’s Mentality

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Have you ever wondered what it takes to become an elite startup founder? If that’s a goal of yours, then honing your startup founder’s mentality will help you get there. And this post will help you do just that. I incorporate lessons from my 17 years of entrepreneurship and that of others who I’ve learned from to share how you can gain a startup mindset, starting now. Join us on a journey through the intricacies of cultivating this mindset, exploring practical strategies and philosophical principles that underpin the thriving spirit of entrepreneurship.

1) Be Growth-Oriented

Growth is not just a goal but a way of thinking. A growth-oriented mindset is your north star, steering you towards success. It’s about constantly pushing your boundaries, exploring the uncharted, and evolving both personally and professionally. A founder’s mentality should prioritize continuous improvement, both personally and for the business. This involves a commitment to learning, adapting, and evolving with the challenges that come your way. Venture capital blogs are great resources to help you in this regard.

This growth isn’t just confined to revenue or market share but extends to you and your team’s skills, knowledge, and adaptability. Embrace change as an opportunity for growth rather than a hindrance. The path to success is marked by a willingness to explore uncharted territories and seize the potential for development, innovation, and growth. Your competitors will evolve and adapt to your offerings, so you must continue innovating if you are going to stay relevant and become a force in the market.

Your startup’s growth relies on you acquiring and retaining customers. If you are getting 100 customers, but only 50% of them stay, that’s what we call a 50% churn rate. It’s much more expensive to acquire customers than to retain them.

Rely on experimentation and work to create the quickest growth levers, and we’re not just talking about A/B testing. You should be using the lean startup model for iterations and the scientific method for experimentation.

this lean startup methodology helps you learn how to growth hack your startup
Infographic via Kissmetrics Blog
The scientific method: Step 1) Ask a question Step 2) Do background research Step 3) construct a hypothesis Step 4) Procedure working? Yes/No Step 5) If Yes - Analyze data and draw conclusions. If No - Troubleshoot procedure. Carefully check all steps and set-up. then go back to testing (step 4) Step 6) Do results align with hypothesis, do they align partially, or not at all with the hypothesis. If no or partial alignment, then the experimental data becomes background research for new/future project. Ask new question, form new hypothesis, then experiment again. Step 7) Communicate results.
The Scientific Method

2) Make Decisions Based on Data

Data, whether qualitative, quantitative, or both, serves as the compass guiding your strategic decisions. Picture facing a critical choice, whether it’s about product development, marketing strategies, or resource allocation.

Successful founders leverage data-driven insights to inform their decision-making. Whether analyzing market trends, user behavior, or financial metrics, a founder’s commitment to basing decisions on concrete data ensures a more reliable and calculated path forward.

Relying on gut instinct alone is purely a gamble and is anything but strategic. Even a newly validated startup idea will be based on data from customer interviews and surveys, among other things.

However, the only way to make data-based decisions is if you have a strategy in place. Take, for instance, this marketing growth wheel infographic that highlights a cyclical strategy for marketing, sales, and growth.

As you can see, the infographic shares a strategy with a full-fledged process. And to know how things are working, you will need data.

Smart startups utilize KPIs and other metrics. Meanwhile, they use a north star KPI, like daily active users (DAU) that some companies like Facebook and Instagram prioritize, while others might have north stars like weekly active users (WAU) or month over month (MoM) growth.

By embracing a data-centric approach, a founder not only mitigates risks but also maximizes the potential for positive outcomes. This analytical mindset becomes a cornerstone in steering the business towards sustained growth and adaptability in a constantly evolving market.

3) Focus on Productive Work, Not Busy Work

Imagine a founder juggling myriad tasks, each competing for attention. Falling into the trap of mistaking busyness for productivity is a common challenge. Picture a scenario where a founder, buried under the weight of numerous responsibilities, risks losing sight of what truly drives the business forward. You don’t want to become that person. If you are having trouble focusing, mindfulness exercises and meditation can help you refocus on the present moment.

You see, successful founders excel in discerning between tasks that contribute meaningfully to the business’s growth and those that merely create an illusion of progress. This ability to prioritize aligns every effort with overarching goals, and it’s a crucial aspect of an elite founder’s mentality. In real-life situations, where the demands on a founder’s time are incessant, the capacity to distinguish between productive work and busy work, and actively being productive, is vital.

By focusing on work that generates genuine value, you utilize resources better and maximize the impact on your business. This approach not only enhances overall efficiency but also fosters a culture where every task contributes meaningfully to your venture’s success. Pursue productive work, not busy work, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving a fully capable founder’s mentality.

4) Treat Everything as a Learning Experience

Every interaction, setback, or triumph in the entrepreneurial journey is a valuable lesson waiting to be absorbed. View each experience as an opportunity to refine your skills and knowledge. By adopting a mindset that sees challenges as chances for growth, you cultivate resilience and adaptability.

Whether facing success or failure, the wisdom gained becomes an essential building block for the foundation of your founder’s mentality. It builds confidence, it’s better for your mental health, and keeps you more even keeled. Moreover, setting this philosophy within your company culture will be advantageous for your startup.

If a growth experiment doesn’t go how you thought, go back to the process, hypothesize and change your experiment. If your customers or users are interested in something different than you thought, talk to them, survey them, and learn from them. You can discover insights that may bring new value and life into your product or service.

5) Treat Obstacles as Challenges to Overcome

The entrepreneurial or startup journey is rarely a smooth ride, often laden with obstacles that may seem insurmountable at first glance. There’s a lot of pressure resting on the shoulders of us founders, and it can be difficult at times to deal with that. But do your best to be kind to yourself and not be too hard on yourself.  Instead of viewing these challenges as roadblocks, successful founders approach them as opportunities to showcase resilience and problem-solving prowess.

Consider a scenario where a startup faces a sudden dip in revenue due to market fluctuations. A founder with a resilient mindset would treat this obstacle not as a setback but as a challenge to overcome. This might involve restructuring the business model, exploring new revenue streams, or enhancing the existing product or service.

By reframing obstacles as challenges, a founder can foster a proactive rather than reactive approach to problem-solving. This shift in mindset not only strengthens the entrepreneurial spirit but also cultivates a workplace culture that thrives on innovation in the face of adversity.

6) Embrace Empathy

The ability to empathize becomes a cornerstone of effective leadership. By placing oneself in the shoes of others, be it team members, customers, or stakeholders, a founder gains insight into diverse perspectives. This heightened understanding serves as a catalyst for fostering strong relationships and facilitating open communication.

In the workplace, an empathetic founder creates an environment where team members feel heard and valued. This, in turn, nurtures a culture of collaboration, innovation, and mutual support. Beyond internal dynamics, empathy extends to customers and clients, allowing for the development of products or services that genuinely address their needs.

Embracing empathy is not merely a virtue but a strategic choice. It lays the groundwork for a more inclusive and harmonious work culture while enhancing the founder’s ability to navigate the intricacies of a dynamic market.

Additionally, cultivating emotional intelligence will enable you to hone a startup mindset. Empathy is one of the five components of emotional intelligence. If you incorporate the other four, you’ll be in great shape to lead your company.

7) Discard Ego

Startups demand a founder to master the art of letting go of their ego. A self-aware leader understands that the journey to success is not a solo performance but a collective symphony of diverse talents and perspectives.

This deliberate choice unlocks the potential for a workplace where every voice is heard and valued. A founder, unencumbered by an inflated ego, creates an atmosphere conducive to innovation, where team members feel empowered to contribute freely.

Constructive criticism becomes a tool for growth rather than a threat, fostering an environment of continuous learning. This translates beyond performance to your product where you have to listen to your customers’ feedback and address their needs rather than what you desire.

Discarding ego is not a sign of weakness but a strategic strength. It cultivates a culture where collaboration thrives, fueling the collective success of the venture.

And it also helps you grow as a person. Win-win!

However, having self-confidence is also vital to your achieving success in your journey.

You must believe in yourself. Believe in your ability to do what you need to do when you need to do it. Believe in your ability to learn, grow, and adapt. There’s something to be said about the person who is both humble and confident.

8) Embracing Discomfort

The entrepreneurial journey is rife with situations that can be discomforting, often requiring founders to navigate uncertainty and unfamiliar terrain. Picture a scenario where a market shift or technological disruption unsettles the established order. This discomfort is more than just a transient challenge; it’s a recurring theme in the life of a founder.

For instance, a startup may face financial uncertainties, forcing tough decisions like layoffs or restructuring. Embracing discomfort, in this context, is about confronting these difficult realities head-on. Instead of shying away from the discomfort, successful founders use it as a catalyst for strategic thinking, exploring innovative solutions to stay afloat or even thrive during turbulent times.

Another example is pitching. At first, pitching may feel uncomfortable and difficult. However, the more you practice by yourself, with your teammates, and in actual situations such as pitch nights, the better and more comfortable you’ll become. The more you embrace discomfort, the more you hone a founder’s mentality and grow.

Embracing discomfort is not a theoretical concept but a practical necessity. It involves tackling real-life issues, such as financial instability or operational challenges, with a mindset that sees adversity as an avenue for growth and adaptation.

9) Don’t Try to Be Perfect

perfection is stagnationThe pursuit of perfection can be a hindrance rather than a catalyst for success. Instead of striving for flawless outcomes, recognize that imperfection is an inherent part of progress.

Picture a founder meticulously crafting a product, refining it endlessly in pursuit of perfection. The danger lies in the potential delay in bringing the product to market. Think of how much feedback and money you are losing without it being available to users. Successful founders understand the balance between delivering a quality product and avoiding the trap of perfectionism.

Real-life scenarios often present constraints, such as tight deadlines or limited resources. Instead of fixating on achieving an unattainable ideal, a pragmatic founder focuses on delivering value to customers promptly. This approach not only accelerates the pace of innovation but also ensures a timely response to market demands.

The lesson here is to embrace imperfection as a stepping stone toward progress, allowing a founder’s mentality to thrive in an environment where agility and adaptability take precedence over an elusive pursuit of flawlessness.

10) Be Nimble and Flexible

Rigidity can be a formidable adversary. Successful founders recognize the value of being nimble and flexible, adapting to the unpredictable twists and turns of the business journey. Imagine a startup operating in an industry where technological advancements occur rapidly.

A nimble founder is quick to adjust strategies, incorporating new technologies to stay relevant. As this occurs, you should take note of this pivot in strategy within your business plan along with your reasoning behind it.

Similarly, flexibility in responding to market feedback ensures that a business remains dynamic and responsive. This adaptability is not a sign of indecision but a strategic maneuver to navigate the dynamic currents of the business environment. And they are both crucial traits of a good founder’s mentality.

Real-life situations often demand a shift in plans, whether it’s adjusting marketing strategies based on emerging trends or pivoting product features in response to customer feedback. By embracing nimbleness and flexibility, a founder ensures the sustainability of the venture in a world where change is the only constant.

11) It’s About the Journey, Not the Destination

While you should be focused on goals, it’s crucial to recognize that the journey holds as much significance as the destination. Picture a founder tirelessly working towards a goal, whether it’s launching a product or reaching a revenue milestone. Don’t become so fixated on the endpoint that the richness of the entrepreneurial experience is overlooked. Otherwise, you will wind up dreading the work rather than enjoying it.

Appreciate the iterative nature of the journey. Each pivot, setback, and triumph contributes to the growth and development of both the business and the individual. In real-life scenarios, celebrating small victories, learning from failures, and enjoying the daily grind are integral aspects of cultivating a founder’s mentality.

It’s for this reason that building in public has become a thing, because you’re sharing your journey, gaining users, and feedback – all at the same time.

This perspective not only fosters a sense of fulfillment but also ensures that the journey remains sustainable and rewarding. Enjoying the process, with all its ups and downs, allows a founder to derive meaning and purpose from every step taken towards the ultimate goal.

12) Serve Your Co-Workers, Users, and Customers

In cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit, recognizing the importance of service is key. A workplace of collaboration and mutual support are integral to success. However, it’s vital to avoid creating an environment where individual pursuits overshadow the collective efforts of your team.

Prioritizing service to co-workers involves acknowledging and valuing each team member’s contributions. Everyday challenges highlight the importance of mentorship, constructive feedback, and shared victories in building a culture where everyone is invested in the collective success of the venture.

Extending this service-centric approach to users and customers is equally critical. Actively seeking to understand and meet their needs transforms a customer base into a thriving community. This dedication to service builds trust, loyalty, and a positive brand reputation. Who doesn’t want that??

A founder’s mentality thrives when service is a guiding principle. It transforms the workplace into a dynamic, collaborative ecosystem where success is a collective achievement.

13) Work Cross-Functionally

Imagine a company where various departments operate like islands, isolated from one another and not coordinating with each other. When unique skill sets and perspectives fail to converge, this results in missed opportunities for synergy, ideas, and coordination.

Forward-thinking founders prioritize the breaking down of silos, promoting cross-functional collaboration to unleash the full potential of their teams. In practical terms, this involves fostering robust communication and collaboration across diverse functions—from marketing and sales to product development and customer service.

When teams collaborate seamlessly, they bring collective strength to problem-solving, innovation, and tackling challenges. A founder dedicated to cross-functional work ensures the entire organization operates as a cohesive unit, creating an environment where expertise is shared, and goals are pursued collectively. Working cross-functionally is a big step towards the ideal startup founder’s mindset.

14) Minimize Spending

The number one reason why startups fail is now running out of cash. However, financial prudence is supposed to be a cornerstone of sustainable entrepreneurship. Venture capital is not as freely provided as it was in days past. Startups are required to show more traction and sustainability in their business model and financial outlook if they want funding.

Astute founders prioritize minimizing spending, recognizing that every financial decision shapes the future trajectory of the business. Every frivolous subscription adds up, so only get what you need. This involves scrutinizing expenses, seeking cost-effective solutions, and making strategic investments that align with overarching goals.

A founder committed to minimizing spending not only ensures the financial health of the business but also establishes a foundation for adaptability in the face of unforeseen circumstances.

Furthermore, a prudent approach to spending is not just a financial strategy; it’s a strategic choice that safeguards the longevity and flexibility of your startup.

15) Scale Slowly and Not Prematurely

On the same note of minimizing spending, the pursuit of rapid growth often overshadows the importance of establishing a robust foundation. Such a foundation includes getting people up to speed, getting your co-workers in a cadence in working with each other, ensuring each new coworker works seamlessly in your operation.

Conversely, imagine a founder driven to skyrocket their business without adequately considering the structural support required.

As a result, scaling happens too hastily, often compromising your venture’s stability and resilience. And it leads to startup failure, as premature scaling is one of the top 20 reasons why startups fail. Hiring is incredibly costly and personnel are the top expense in practically all startups.

What’s more, inexperienced founders who scale for the first time will have unexpected obstacles in management and coordination that they haven’t done before. There’s a learning curve that must be followed.

Smart founders opt for a measured approach, choosing to scale slowly and thoughtfully. This involves meticulous planning, assessing market dynamics, hiring processes, and ensuring that the internal infrastructure supports the envisioned growth as smoothly as possible.

Founders scaling judiciously understand that sustainable growth necessitates a strong foundation. This approach not only minimizes the risks associated with premature scaling but also ensures that each phase of expansion aligns with the overall vision, fostering a resilient and enduring entrepreneurial venture.

16) Bonus: Exercise

Exercise provides both physical and mental benefits and is truly one of the best medicines known to humankind. It is one of the best things you can do for yourself in general, and even more so when you have to sit at a desk all day.

Exercise keeps you more locked in to your work and your growth. It reduces stress levels, pain levels, and maintains your energy and endurance. If you neglect yourself in this respect, it will catch up to you and it may not be good. Especially when you are experiencing struggles, exercise will be vital to you maintaining a good and resilient mindset.


As we conclude this exploration of 15 crucial steps to hone a founder’s mentality, it’s evident that this mindset transcends conventional business wisdom. It is a dynamic force, an unwavering commitment to growth, adaptability, and innovation.

From embracing discomfort to prioritizing service, each step contributes to the resilience and vision essential for entrepreneurial triumph. The founder’s mentality isn’t just a toolkit; it’s a philosophy that propels ventures beyond challenges, fostering a culture of continuous learning and forward momentum.

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