Who is a Better Founder? A Graduate Fresher or an Experienced Professional

LeadershipThis is a guest column by Shikhar Khanna, Co-Founder, Blinge

A couple of months back, I was chilling with a few friends (Founders and VCs) on a roof top hotel and discussing about some burning topics in the entire Indian startup ecosystem.

Suddenly one of the guys, a seasoned entrepreneur, popped up ranting about the poster-boy of the Indian startup ecosystem, and said “Money blinds the clear thinking of fresh-from college founders. We can get a good sense of this from what one of the companies did when they raised a 100Mn$.”

This got a lot of us enraged and one of the VC’s in the group calmly responded, “Innovation in the real-estate industry would not have come if it were not for the fresh perspective that the technology-focused founders had brought.”

This heated argument changed the course of our conversation, to figuring out who the right founder was – A fresh college graduate or an experienced working professional. I will just cut-short the entire discussion and list down the gist of the discussion.

Post the discussion we figured that the equation for the right Founder for a startup is not a function of the demographic variables like age, sex, profession but is a function of five different behavioral and psychological variables. Listing them in the priority I deemed fit:

  • Feeling the problem

A product like Facebook was so heavily successful despite having many competitors was that it was made by a college dropouts. If Mark Zuckerberg would have been working with Microsoft/Google, he wouldn’t have even considered that college students love to see each others pictures and this fundamental principle can be used to create a social network.

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On the contrary, if Reid Hoffman would not have been a working professional he would never have understood the difficulty in hiring the right people for his company and he could never have created LinkedIn.

So, whoever you are, as long as you can feel the problem you are good enough to start your own company.

Scores: College Students – 1 ; Working Professionals – 1

  • Fresh Perspective

Market Disrupting innovation comes from fresh perspectives. A couple of guys argued, “Page and Brin were still in college when they made the Page-Rank algorithm for search engines. Microsoft, Facebook are also examples of companies which were started by very young inexperienced college dropouts.”

“Companies like Space-X, Paypal, e-Bay have been built by successful working professionals. Because they had a vision of doing thing differently.”, said the rest.

There was clearly no advantage for either of the sides.

Scores: College Students – 2 ; Working Professionals – 2

  • Hustle

Startup founders are sales team, the product team, the design team, the marketing team, the operations team, the technology team etc. All combined into one. They have to work their days and nights through to make their product work, make their consumers buy their products. They have to rigorously keep on experimenting, building failing, learning and evolving in that never ending loop.

The guts to fail, and the hustle to keep performing at the peak relentlessly, is something that fresh college graduates can do better.

Current Score: College Students – 3; Working Professionals – 2

  • Network

Being well connected in the startup world is a great asset. Every now and then startup founders need a network of smart people to build your team, a network of industry experts for bouncing off ideas, a network of investors who can help you drive through your early days.

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Being a fresh college graduate, it is a hard task breaking into the well established networks, which is relatively easy while you have been working for some well established firms.

Current Score: College Students – 3; Working Professionals – 3

  • Leadership

The most important skill that you need in a startup is your ability to lead your team to the destined goal that you have envisioned. While you are working you can learn to be a better manager, but cannot learn to be a great leader. Leaders are born, they have an inherent skill of leadership.

Current Score: College Students – 4; Working Professionals – 4

The final conclusion left us amazed, there was never a conclusion for this. We were back to square one. There is no right or wrong to who is the right startup founder. As long as they satisfy the 5 principal characteristics.

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