What qualities make for the perfect quarterback? Leadership, arm strength, field sense, toughness. The perfect striker? Quickness, intensity, creativity. But what about the perfect startup, the type that catapults from napkin sketch to international sensation?
A great part of my job is discovering that special secret startup sauce — the elusive traits that separate the great startups from the rest. So I asked the teams from our Microsoft Venture Accelerators around the world — from Tel Aviv to London, from Bangalore to Beijing — to tell me what they think makes the perfect global startup. Here’s what they had to say:
Tel Aviv: Never say never
Chutzpah: In the Startup Nation, it’s that never-stay-down, never-say-never, never-take-no-for-an-answer attitude that sets startups apart.
Willingness to fail: Failure often breeds more success than success does. That’s because when entrepreneurs fail, they analyze the process ad nauseam to do things differently the next time. Believe it or not, that’s why many venture capitalists prefer to invest in failed entrepreneurs than successful ones. Israel’s startup success is as much a result of its startup failures as anything else.
London: Talk the talk
Cultural sensitivity: London is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. For an entrepreneur, this means a built-in understanding of how to navigate different norms, customs, sensitivities, and markets. From user interface to customer service to pitching investors, this understanding can be the difference between a successful startup and those that offends their way to the bottom.
The gift of gab: When you have a killer idea, talk it up with as many people as possible, because you never know where that big break is going to come from.
Bangalore: Go the distance
Discipline: As our Silicon Plateau leadership says, “My discipline will beat your intellect any day.” Some entrepreneurs boast an ability to “strike a balance” between work and life. Practically speaking, that does not exist in a startup. If you have that balance, you are not serious enough about your company.
Consistency: Great startups are able to keep up their level of intensity and productivity not just for bursts of hours, weeks, or even months, but for years on end. They show up day after day, week after week with persistent rigor and imagination.
Beijing: Know thy customer
Customer focus: Because of their massive domestic market, even early stage Chinese startups tend to cater heavily to customer needs. Pay careful attention to your customers and their pains, and the product will take care of itself.
Business innovation: Chinese entrepreneurs operate in a unique business environment that requires a dynamic business model. That’s because Chinese consumers have distinctive buying behaviors, requiring constant innovation on the business side. How do you sell virtual items in a social app? How do you drive monetization based on big data analysis? All the recent Chinese startups that went public on Nasdaq shared innovative business models.
Moscow: Stay the course
Focus: The hardest part isn’t focusing, it’s staying focused — for weeks, months, and often, years.
Keep cool: All startups need to cope with different challenges at various stages of their journey — the long hours and brain-breaking work with little or no compensation, the volatile markets and fickle investors, the unending crop of competitors. You need thick skin to stick around in this business and nerves of steel to succeed.
Paris: Listen up
Accentuate the negative: Many startups are so focused on staying positive that they shut their eyes to criticism. Often understanding your failures and shortcomings helps you take the largest steps forward. Be a listener, seek criticism, self-reflect, integrate, improve.
Design to kill: Any wonder that our French accelerator places top priority on product design? Anyone who doubts this should ask themselves what set a little startup named Apple apart.
Berlin: Love is all you need
Love what you’re doing: As our Berlin leadership says “First we are creative, disruptive, social, free. Later we can monetize.” Don’t be motivated solely by the money, but rather, by the joy of what you do and the freedom that comes from being creative for a living. In other words, if you’re only in it for the cash, you’re not really in it.
Diversify: Berlin startups are famous for attracting smart talent from all over the world. Nothing beats a variety of cultures, languages, approaches, and ideas for stirring the innovative pot. Where there is diversity, there is tension. Where there is tension, there is creativity, and creativity is the belly of innovation.
So there you have it, from London to Beijing and beyond, arm yourself with even a few of these winning qualities, and it will take you a long way toward the finish line, no matter where you’re jumping out of the blocks.
Zack Weisfeld is senior director of Microsoft Ventures.