It’s the million dollar question – what makes a startup founder successful? Startup gurus pontificate on it, VCs have their takes, and been-there-done-it entrepreneurs put in their two cents as well. But we decided to do some hard number crunching to figure out what makes startup founders tick.
To start with, we selected the most successful startup founders India has – founders whose companies have touched a valuation of $1 billion or more. There are 14 such unicorn founders: Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal from Flipkart, Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal from Snapdeal, Vijay Shekhar Sharma from Paytm, Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah from Zomato, Pranay Chulet from Quikr, Naveen Tewari from InMobi, Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati from Ola, and Sandeep Aggarwal, Sanjay Sethi, and Radhika Aggarwal from ShopClues.
We tried the analyse for the backgrounds of these people. It’s very hard to quantify traits such as grit and intelligence, so we looked at hard facts – education, career trajectories, and other information in the public domain.
Some findings jumped out.
- It’s hard being a woman entrepreneur: There’s just one woman – Radhika Aggarwal of ShopClues- in the list out of 14 entrepreneurs, making up just 7% of the set. Those who bemoan that women are represented poorly in tech are probably right.
- There’s a huge skew towards engineering: Twelve of the 14 unicorn founders have engineering degrees, though the branch doesn’t seem to matter all that much. All unicorn startups are essentially tech concerns, but only 6 of the 14 unicorn founders specialized in Computer Science.
- IITs dominate: Predictably, there are lots of IIT alumni among the list of unicorn founders – 71% of the list went to IIT.
- IIM degrees don’t seem to matter at all: This is the real shocker – just one person of the 14 went to an IIM – Pranay Chulet from Quikr. So much for the IIT-IIM tag. As far as unicorn founders go, all that seems to matter is the IIT tag.
- MBAs don’t matter all that much: Just 5 of the 14 founders had an MBA.
- Age is really just a number: The age at which these entreprenurs doesn’t seem to matter – there’s a fair divide among the <=26, 26-30, and 30+ age groups.
- Unity is strength: There were just 2 solo founders in the list – Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Pranay Chulet. Entrepreneurship is lonely; your odds of success improve if you have cofounders.
- Get your feet wet first: Most tellingly, a whole 91% of unicorn founders didn’t jump straighaway into entreprenurship. They held regular corporate jobs. A few years of watching how big companies work can really help when you start off on your own.
So what does this mean for budding entrepreneurs? Given you’re reading this and presumanly have already been born, you can’t really help with point 1. If you’re still a student, engineering will reap the highest rewards. Computer Science helps, but is not vital. If you’ve finished your engineering and are wondering if getting an MBA will help you realize your entrepreneurial goals, it probably won’t. It’s expensive and perhaps great for management roles at established companies, but data shows that it’s not really going to help all that much with a startup. Get a cofounder, and most importantly you don’t need to jump headlong into entrepreneurship right after college – most successful founders worked for a bit before they really hit it big.