The myth of 'Founder DNA'; build a business around your personality and unlock your Founder-Product fit

Pt 1/8 in a series for early-stage founders; exploring what kind of business you should be building.

Hold up! Didn’t I email you last week?

I did indeed.

The update you might have missed…

From now on you’ll be receiving these emails weekly: a longer form in-depth piece followed by juicy bits and pieces from across the founder/creator space — think collabs, Q&As, and fun resources and links from myself and others online.

Then in last week’s post we kicked off a series designed specifically for you if you’ve recently started a business or are about to.

We’ll be covering these eight themes:

  1. Use your strengths to determine which business build 

  2. Practically find the time and money to build your business

  3. Clarify your why and mission as you build

  4. Choose a business model, make funding decisions and find money

  5. Find your audience, niche, and positioning

  6. Make sales, brand yourself and get visible

  7. Make decisions, lead, influence and get on with it ;)

  8. Scale and evolve along with market needs

So join in alongside a community of founders at The Ask as we get clear and confident on what we are building and how we’re making it happen on our own terms!

Your personality is the clue to business success — as I explained here.

The content in this week’s newsletter is designed to show you an alternative to the one size fits all entrepreneur tropes: come as you are.

Just please make sure you figure out who you are.

How? By asking yourself “What do I want to be doing?” and matching that to the needs of the world first and not the other way around. This is not selfish - in fact - its quite the opposite. When the work we do aligns with who we are we will ultimately find more fulfillment which in turn has a net positive effect on the world.

Figuring out who you are allows you to match yourself to open job opportunities in a career context. But in the world of entrepreneurship this goes so much deeper. You get to design an entire business and you and your role in it.

What is super interesting to me about this theme is how it disputes the myth that there is some kind of mythical ‘founder DNA’ whereby you have to be a certain way to run a company. The media likes to portray an image of the successful founder: young, Stanford grad drop-out, techie, hoody-wearing, and reckless. This is the myth Ethan Mollick’s book The Unicorn’s Shadow disputes this with solid evidence to back up just how wrong it truly is.

Irene Rinaldi

Whilst there are certain traits and archetypes we see in founders more than others; don’t believe the hype. There is no one size fits all. We know this to be true when we consider the people in our lives running companies — no two are alike.

So your goal is to lean into who you are at your core and double down on it further.

A round-up of some of the best resources on this topic from the interwebs.

How to identify your personal strengths — A mothership article and collection of research that helps you identify what your strengths actually are, who you are, and how you can use this. NB it has been designed for employees but again, all the same concept!

Professor of Entrepreneurship Ethan Mollick has written The Unicorn’s Shadow to debunk some common myths about entrepreneurship and who you need to be to do well.

The Big Five Personality test — More accurate and established amongst practitioners than Myers Briggs has turned out to be.

Combine your top 2-3 skills and build a career moat around that, in the advice of Scott Dilbert.

What doesn’t feel like work to you? — Y Combinator’s Paul Graham on how “the stranger your tastes seem to other people, the stronger evidence they probably are of what you should do” and how you can find signals to doing work you love.

12 traits that make up the most successful entrepreneurs — VC Mark Suster has written a 12 part series on a series on what makes an entrepreneur. They are a combination of hard and soft skills and he shares examples of companies and he did (and didn’t) invest in and the patterns their founders exhibited

Why Product Market Fit is Overrated — Taylor Pearson explains how starting with the goal of product/market fit is counter-productive because it leaves out one important element of your success: you, the founder so make sure that you like what you do and are good at it on a daily basis.

The Out of Hours podcast is like a database of case studies for this topic since side projects tend to be based on people's passions and those that are successful are grounded in who they are. Host Georgia and I ran an event together last year and she’s also a delight.

Q&A with Hannah Shtein — how to use your strengths and passions to design your dream business

This week I spoke with the lovely Hannah Shtein — business coach for service providers who has seen huge growth in her account since getting clear on her niche and offering and playing to her own strengths.

We chatted shop about how founders can use self-knowledge to build a business that lights them up and Hannah has also earned her stripes as a recruiter in a past life so knows a thing or two about understanding people and it was no surprise to find we share the same feelings on this topic. More proof that ex-recruiters make excellent coaches!

How did you decide on this career path?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was younger so opted for what felt like the ‘safe’ route with Law School. I soon realised it wasn’t aligned to me and decided not to pursue it as a career. Instead I looked into work in the entertainment industry as I was so drawn to the high-energy people component. The learning here was that my interests lay more in the people side than in the TV/film side so I decided to pursue human resources based roles, and landed on tech recruiting which was the combination of high energy and people facing I’d looked for.

But when covid hit, my job in tech recruitment was at risk and I realised it was a now or never moment to take the leap and work for myself (something I’d always wanted to do). Coaching was what made sense as I loved understanding people and first helped them to land jobs but later realised my true passion lay in helping them to create something of their own. It’s been constant pivots to find this and I’m so pumped to have found my thing.

We’ve been through an eerily similar process here! What advice do you have for people on this journey for themselves?

I tell people going through self-exploration to stop trying to map their immediate interests to a career but follow their curiosity. Try not to be too focused on the outcome but notice those moments of ‘pull’ where our curiosity is piqued. Often these pulls we might ignore but they are the exact clues to keep digging further into.

Has this process informed the way you run your business?

I help service-based business owners like coaches figure out their messaging. I’ve always loved writing, and have past internships in communications and marketing so this is an area I’ll focus on more. I have found myself drawn to working with people on the client attraction piece which where powerful messaging comes in.

Any parting words of wisdom for The Ask community?

Everyone has something which comes easily to them that can also be turned into an offer that other people might want to buy. You need to begin with the mindset that your expertise is wanted then your becomes finding the people out there who want what you have and knowing how to package it correctly.

My top books recommendations: On marketing anything by Seth Godin, (This is Marketing is great) and on the personal empowerment side Untamed by Glennon Doyle to cultivate being brave and trusting yourself.

i) Find Your Founder-Product Fit …

Create your FOUNDER-MODEL CANVAS

You’ve heard of Business Model Canvas’s, well this exercise should precede that. I’ve designed this for you to answer key questions about yourself that help you choose the right business for you once and for all.

Download Your Founder Model Canvas

ii) Accelerate your journey to startup success

Ready to get the confidence and clarity in your business so you can get going, and create an offer/fundraise/hire/generate revenue? You’ll be in good company as many of The Ask clients have reached these milestones this year.

Start by Booking your free 45 minute consultation where we’ll explore whether founder-coaching with is right for you. You’ll leave clearer on your situation and have some actions immediately.

As always thank you for reading and let me know if you’ve liked this new format. Or if you have some constructive criticism, go on and let me know too ;)

Ellen Donnelly, Founder + Chief Coach, The Ask.