How We Choose Startup Founders

This guest post was written by Sara Thomas, Principal at Maven Ventures. Follow Sara on Twitter @saraannet. Earlier this month, we held our second annual Maven Ventures Holiday Party, and it was great to welcome the holiday season with our Maven community — the Maven team, founders, limited partners, mentors, and many other friends and supporters. It was so great to bring everyone together for a fun night. My Maven teammates and I are thankful to work with such a quality group. When we debriefed after the event, we couldn’t help but notice that one of the reasons everyone had a great time was that the room was full of good people. That’s by design. It’s part of our Maven culture and values to work with good people. We shared a post earlier this year about what we look for in a team; here are the specific characteristics we look for in a founder:
  • Passionate: willing to spend 10+ years of their life working on this problem
  • Technical: has the technical abilities to build and scale the product
  • Coachable: open to new perspectives and advice
  • Driven and Persistent: is competitive and has a burning desire to win
  • Fundraiser: has the ability to convey the business opportunity to investors and get them excited to support it
  • Recruiter: can inspire other A-players to join the team
  • Communicator: can articulate the company’s vision and is a compelling storyteller
  • Likable: we’ll be excited to spend a significant amount of time with this person over the next several years
  • Humble: has the humility to lead a team and weather ups and downs
  • Transparent: shares the good and the bad news openly and tells the “real story”
  • Expert: has background knowledge that puts him/her in a better position in his/her domain to succeed
These characteristics can be hard to evaluate, and it’s not a hard-and-fast scorecard. Each individual founder and team is different and we value diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, experiences, and personalities. Especially at the very early stage, where Maven invests, venture truly is a people business. The exact operational details of the companies we invest in are bound to change. Having a clear idea of what characteristics help a founder navigate the ups and downs has been one key driver of success in our investment strategy.

3 thoughts on “How We Choose Startup Founders

  1. Can the methods used at Maven to find great founders be used by founders to find great employees?

  2. Great question, Jurell. Some of the personal qualities we look for in a founder could also apply for selecting employees, though the skills likely vary. For example, being a strong recruiter or fundraiser are skills essential for founders, but may not be as necessary for all employees. To help hire the right team, we encourage startup founders to document a list of values early-on to identify candidates with a strong culture fit.

  3. Thank you for getting back to me. That makes perfect sense. I’ve taken my company Home Scene Pro ( through the Iowa Startup Accelerator -Cohort 2015, made a few pivots and lots of iterations. Home Scene Pro allows project creators to assemble teams of 1-10 Micro-Interns of any craft, major or trade to help them complete their projects faster and more efficiently. We have a freemium TAAS model (teams as a service). Our goal is to empower project creators to get teams with the right skills to complete projects.

    I want to find candidates that want to change the world by helping others and making help more accessible, is that too vague for a culture company’s culture?

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