What we look for in founders

Our co-founder shares how we identify the world's best future founders.
Author: Alice Bentinck
Posted: 9 November, 2021

What does a great founder look like?

We’ve looked at thousands of applications and selected a very small set of exceptionally talented and ambitious individuals to join our cohorts. They have gone on to build companies that are now collectively worth over $5B.

Aside from the value created by our portfolio, the most valuable thing we have gained from many years of talent investing is knowledge. More specifically, the knowledge that allows us to identify great founders pre-idea and pre-company – purely on individual merit.

We have pored over our data. We have looked at the trajectories of our most successful founders to identify common abilities, behaviours, and choices they have made during their lives.

We paid particular attention to early indicators of brilliance in these individuals; things they had chosen to do or achieved early in their lives, which in turn demonstrated their potential to succeed as entrepreneurs. This isn’t about looking at their badges of merit, it’s about understanding how their past actions can give us a strong indicator of how they might perform in the future.

We have refined these learnings into a set of selection criteria, which we started using to assess candidates in early 2020. We now know that these criteria predict an individual’s outcome both on EF and beyond.

Predicting success

We want to make entrepreneurship accessible to the most talented and ambitious individuals even before they have a company.

Our criteria do not serve to assess candidates’ badges or the amount of experience they have. They look for evidence of abilities and behaviours that we have identified as predictive of success among EF cohort members.

Why? Because we believe that many individuals with the potential to do great things are underestimated or overlooked by the institutions that could enable their success; we wanted to build a tool to give us the ability to identify exceptional people before they have necessarily had the opportunity to prove it.

We have found that our selection criteria are predictive of company building outcomes. Now, we are ready to share them with potential applicants to give greater clarity on what we are assessing against. It seems unfair to expect candidates to strike on goal without knowing where the posts are.

Reducing Bias

Our criteria have been designed to ensure our selectors at EF are using a common set of guidelines for who joins the programme. The research shows that selection practices without clear criteria are far more likely to lead to subjective and biased outcomes.

By structuring our application form and interview process, we are continuing our efforts to remove unconscious bias from our selection process. The EF team have been trained on our criteria and their selection decisions are evaluated by a central committee.

Honing your Growth Mindset

Finally, we don’t believe that ability or behaviour are fixed.

We have spent the last 6 months working with a leading psychologist to help us better understand how founders are able to improve against our criteria, and we have found that they can. So, if you read through our selection criteria and feel discouraged, or apply to EF and are rejected, remember that you own your outcomes; with enough drive to achieve you can make choices and put yourself in situations that will enable you to develop your potential as a founder.

Read our selection criteria, and discover what makes a world-class founder.