We know that communicating your founder ability isn’t an easy task. To help you, we’ve outlined exactly what we look for in applications, so you can decide what you want to focus on in your application.

Challenges convention

Drive to achieve


Smart, with clarity of thought

Technical Knowledge, and Applicability or Commerciality

Our criteria shouldn’t be read as a checklist, and they’re not designed to select people out. It’s extremely rare for someone to score highly on every criteria.

We want people with a variety of backgrounds. We’re looking for outliers, who have done unusual things. Typically, our founders are particularly strong on a couple of criteria, but not all.

What do we mean by ‘smart’?

We’ve refined our definition of what smart means, to get to the heart of what you need to become a founder.

This doesn’t necessarily mean academically smart, but refers to your ability to process and solve complex problems.

On a daily basis, founders need to solve both macro and micro problems with speed and with intellectual curiosity.

How do you demonstrate it?

  • Show us how you think – how have you thought critically about the industries, markets, technologies and companies that you have interacted with.
  • Tell us about big and hard problems that you’ve solved.
  • Show us that you can overcome obstacles in creative ways.

It’s possible to demonstrate that you are smart through impressive academic work, e.g. having studied at a top institution, winning prizes, publishing papers, graduating at the top of your class, working with impressive professors.

But it’s equally possible to demonstrate smartness having never gone to university. You might have dropped out of school to build something yourself, or teach yourself to code, or compete in hackathons, maths olympiads, chess competitions.

Mohammad Danesh (co-founder, Transcelestial, SG1) got his PhD from NUS, and had an offer to work for one of Cambridge’s top research labs. He turned it down to join EF.

Why Danesh turned down a PhD to join EF

Manish Maryada (CEO, Fello) became a childhood celebrity after winning a well-known television quiz show, and more recently appeared on ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ He has also won well-known gaming leagues, and is an avid chessplayer. Manish continued to deploy the strategies he had learned through these experiences in his work, for example, when gamifying his previous workplace’s trading engine into the largest crypto trading competition in India. This knowledge of gaming, finance and competitions then became the foundation of his company, Fello, which he built at EF.

Rocío Acuña Hidalgo (CTO, Nostos Genomics) originally trained to be a medical doctor where she was in the top 3% of her year. Following that she was awarded scholarships for her Masters and PhD, which was completed at Radboud University Medical Centre, before joining the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics.

What do we mean by ‘clarity of thought’?

Alongside being able to develop complex ideas, founders need to be able to communicate them in a simple and structured way – to investors, collaborators, customers, and potential employees or co-founders.

This isn’t about charisma, and it’s not something you’re born with. It’s a skill that you can cultivate over time.

How do you demonstrate it? 

  • Give well-structured answers in your application form and interviews.
  • Be clear about what you can do, and why someone should work with you.
  • Speak about your understanding of an industry, and demonstrate the ability to think about and articulate problems, and the opportunities for value creation that may exist.

Technologists, or future CTOs, should be able to explain deeply technical concepts from their work in ways that non-experts can understand.

Commercial, market-minded people, or future CEOs, should be able to take complex problems and break them down into well structured components that they can communicate to the listener.

To communicate clearly in an application form or interview, we recommend you:

  • Practice speaking out loud about you, your experience, and your ideas, including how you might introduce yourself to a potential co-founder.
  • Use the Pyramid Principle to bring clarity to your thoughts.
  • Think about what is motivating you to found a company to develop your clarity of mission.
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Technical Knowledge, and Applicability or Commerciality