We often get asked about the differences between the EF companies that make it and those that don’t. It’s something that I and the rest of the EF team think about a lot. We’ve tried focusing on selecting a certain type of technical background, encouraging particular ideas, changing the way we build teams etc, but on reflection none of these are as important as the mindset of the founders.
It’s not the smartest people, it’s not the best idea, it’s not the strength of the team — in the early days of building a startup (the first 200), it’s all about mindset.
Mindset sounds pretty flippant; it sounds like a new age way of saying we don’t have an answer for this. But this is the best way to summarise what is often talked about as grit, determination and resilience.
I stumbled upon the work done by psychologist Dr Carol Dweck and it struck a chord. It sounded like a neat way of explaining how we think about mindset at EF, and how this impacts the kind of founders we select and the training we do.
The two mindsets
“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes or failures…I divide it into the learners and non learners”- Benjamin Barber
Dweck identifies two mindsets:
“In a fixed mindset people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success — without effort.”
“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
Why does this matter for founders?
Over the last 3 years we have worked with more than 160 individuals who we have selected for their intelligence, technical ability and founder potential. We have seen these individuals go through building their co-founding team, releasing their first product, trying to get customers and raising finance. It’s been an interesting test bed to see how the two mindsets play out and how it affects different founders. Here’s what we have learnt: