Jul 14 2022

Second Lap Around the Track

I wrote a little bit about the experience of being a multi-time founder in this post where I talked about the value of things like a hand-picked team, hand-picked cap table, experience that drives efficient execution, and starting with a clean slate. The second lap around the track (and third, and fourth) is really different from the first lap.

Based on what we do at Bolster, and my role currently, I spend a lot of time meeting with CEOs of all sizes and stages and sectors of company, as they’re all clients or prospects or people I’m coaching. Lately, I’ve noticed a distinct set of work and behaviors and desires among CEOs who are multi-time founders and operators that is different from those same things in first-time founders. Not every single multi-time founder has every single one of these traits, but they all have a majority of them and form a pretty common pattern. I’ve noticed this with non-profit founders as well as for-profit ones.

  • They have an Easier Time Recruiting team members and investors. That may sound obvious, but there are significant benefits to it. They also tend to have Much Cleaner Cap Tables, because they lived the horrors of a messy cap table when they exited their last company without thinking about that topic ahead of time!
  • They have a Big Vision. Once you’ve had an exit, whether successful or not or somewhere in between, you don’t want to focus on something niche. You want to go all-in on a big problem.
  • They are interested in creating Portfolio Effect. A number of repeat founders want to start multiple business at the same time, are actually doing it, or are creating some kind of studio model that creates multiple businesses. Once you have a big team, a track record with investors, and a field of deep expertise, it’s interesting to think about creating multiple related paths (and hedges) to success.
  • They are driving to be Efficient in Execution and Find Leverage wherever they can. One multi-time founder I talked to a few weeks ago was bragging to me about how few people he has in his finance team. At Bolster, our objective is to build a big business on a small team, looking for opportunities to use our own network of fractional and project-based team members wherever possible.
  • They are Impatient for Progress. While being mindful that good software takes time to build no matter how many engineers you hire, repeat founders tend to have fleshed out their vision a couple layers deep and are always eager to be 6 months ahead of where they are in terms of execution, which leads me to the next point, that…
  • They are equally Impatient for Success (or Failure). More than just wanting to be 6 months ahead of where they are in seeing their vision come to life, they want to get to “an answer” as soon as possible. No one likes wasting time, but when you’re on your second or third company, you value your time differently. As a friend of mine says in a sales context, “The best answer you can get from a prospect is ‘yes’ – the second best answer you can get is a fast ‘no’.” The same logic applies to success in your nth startup. Succeed or Fail – you want to find out fast.
  • They are Calm and Comfortable in Their Own Skin. At this stage in the game, repeat founders are more relaxed. They know their strengths and weaknesses and have no problem bringing in people to shore those things up. They know that if things don’t work out with this one, there’s more to life.
  • They are stronger at Self Management. They are more efficient. They exercise more. They sleep more. They spend more time with family and friends. They work fewer hours.

Anyone else ever notice these traits, or others, in repeat founders?