FQ: Musings on Founder Mentality

Naval’s tweet on Founder Mentality got me to deep dive & reflect.


Having run a company for 10 years, I have seen this as the most crucial element on why some companies

  • continue to thrive against all the odds
  • continue to excel due to team members with super founder mentality and
  • how companies struggle to retain team members with super founder mentality.

Saar Gur has a fantastic post on Techcrunch on this, what he calls FQ: The Founder Quotient is an assessment of founder strength and founder/company fit. Similar to an EQ or IQ test, but for founder strength (hence FQ).

Here are his key points to assess founder strength:

  1. Original product thought: Most founders copy
  2. Psychological factors: What drives this person?
  3. Authenticity: Does this company align with the founder’s beliefs and values?
  4. Unique market insight: Do they have a unique insight
  5. Intelligence: IQ, EQ, self-awareness, ability to hold convictions loosely, etc
  6. Values: Are they honest?
  7. Judgment: Product judgment, people and hiring judgment, etc.
  8. Experience: Are they uniquely capable of executing?
  9. Ability to recruit:

Another interesting book to read: The Founder’s Mentality: How to Overcome the Predictable Crises of Growth: Book by Chris Zook and James Allen

Book excerpts: That’s why a founder’s mentality isn’t just a nice to have, but a must-have. A founder’s mentality consists of three elements:
1. The insurgent mission.
2. The front-line obsession.
3. The owner’s mindset.

While it is undervalued, the incentive to have one is strong. New research by Bain shows that companies able to maintain a founder’s mentality as they grow large and complex—companies like AB Inbev, LBrands, IKEA, Haier, Google, or Nike—achieve three times the economic returns of companies that let these attributes erode. And more than 80% of top performing companies adhere to the traits of a founder’s mentality.

Founder Mentality is Not Just Founder(s)
Before you assume founder mentality is all about the founder alone, it is not! If you can recruit, build and grow team members with founder mentality, your endeavor makes a powerful impact.

However, retaining team members with founder mentality is equally challenging. You succeed, you can build an impactful company. You fail to retain founder mentality team members; it is a daunting task to growth.

Founder mentality is what makes a company thrive much beyond the founder’s departure and one /some of those ‘founder mentality’ team members taking the company to greater heights.

3 names that come to my mind:

Andy Grove did that for Intel.
Jack Welch did that for GE.
S Ramadorai did that for TCS.


I found a fantastic Q&A on AmCham Netherland site: https://amcham.nl/sites/default/files/tfm_press.pdf

How does a founder’s mentality motivate and retain talent in the era of Millennials and the gig economy?

Companies with the founder’s mentality at a high level like Google, Facebook, Nike, can appeal to the millennial generation for three reasons relative to other companies.
– These companies have a clear and special purpose for existing whose cause liberates energy –they are not just another job in another company. An example would be Google’s mission to organize all of the world’s information. They are simply more inspiring.
– These companies tend to have fewer layers and a shorter distance between senior management and the front line employees. Thus younger employees feel more connected to leadership and to the company, and they are typically given a bigger voice and more responsibility like with
Haier in China which is built around thousands of small teams with the CEO’s stated goal to reduce the distance from him to the front line employees.
– These companies tend to be more meritocratic, like AB Inbev. They give new employees more hope of promotion and getting ahead in their careers.

The result of these three things is a company that is more inspiring, offers better and fairer career prospects, and where young people are listened to early in their career and can have an impact.

How do you adopt a founder’s mentality if your company no longer is run by its founder?
The founder’s mentality is not about individual founders per se, but about the attitudes and behaviors that are common across the most sustainably successful companies with the most loyal and energized employees. While these practices (a clear mission, long-term perspective, or total intellectual curiosity about frontline details) are most strongly expressed by the greatest founder-run companies, they are traits that can be learned and fostered when the founder is no longer there as we still see at Apple
after Steve Jobs, or as we saw renewed at Home Depot even after the founders.
The truth is that most founders fail. For instance, the United States has averaged 500,000 new incorporations every year, of these, only about 10,000 reach venture capital quality and get formal funding. Of these 10,000 only 1,000 ever succeed to grow to $100 MM in revenues, and only 30 grow to $500 million. The Founder’s Mentality is an examination of how the top founders built companies that did survive and achieve sustained success in the first place and the lessons that hold for how all companies should think about how they are built on the inside to succeed on the outside.



Work Less Philosophy

Work less:
A philosophy
An efficiency mindset
An optimized process

During a conversation with my team to set up a new operating manual, I shared one of my observation: I see this company is always working more, always busy even to have a weekly team meet or reflect on the past.
What causes us to work so much?

And that influenced my team to open up and say: Can we work less?
I think we should work less, and we should review what causes us to work more, solve those at the root level to work less.

To encourage work less philosophy and process, here are few interesting reads:
1. Tim Ferriss and The 4-Hour Workweek
2. How to run a calm workplace

The authors argue that it is perfectly possible to run a business with consistently growing profits (as they do) without requiring employees to work madly long hours. Tired workers will not be productive since “creativity, progress and impact do not yield to brute force”. Sleep-deprived managers are likely to be counterproductively impatient.

Basecamp employees have a 40-hour week, except in the summer when the company runs a four-day, 32-hour week.
3. Why billionaire Richard Branson believes everyone could benefit from a shorter workweek
“By working more efficiently, there is no reason why people can’t work less hours and be equally – if not more – effective.”

Work less: I don’t think one rule fits all, all roles, or all situations or all companies. However, I believe work less philosophy helps you to devise efficient mindset and optimized process, and in return, your team will have more time for their family and hence better work-life balance too.

closeup photo of person s fist bump
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Industry problem-solving experience vs. Just programming language experience

During early 2000, when I was writing code for a product from Bangalore, my company was struggling to hire. The HR team was getting feedback that one of the factors was the company was not using the latest programming languages or software stacks for development.
During those days, one sentence I heard from that company CEO sharing: Technology is to solve problems, Customer pays for solutions and not for what programming language you apply to solve, as long as you are not using 1980s programming language and/or inefficient programming language.

Fast forward to 2005s to 2012 when I was coding in London as part of my job (full time/part time), I almost didn’t see this fascination with using latest and greatest language in problem-solving. Java was equally used, like PHP, or Ruby or Python but business was making the decision based on their need vs. using the latest languages. I am not generalizing this as India vs. others. But, the truth is most Indian software programmers are fascinated using latest languages as a skill to get a high paid somewhere else (abroad/in another company), therefore that behavior is ok for IT services, but that behavior is unfavorable for product companies!

I believe once you code using one language for 1 to 2 years, you can almost code in any other programming languages for application development. Core system/kernel level product development needs years of expertise in one language though (& multiskilled in more than one).
However, coding to solve an industry problem deeper enables you to apply much deeper logic and problem-solving mindset vs. just switching to a new language because that is sexy!

The world needs deep industry problem solvers, and, Product companies take years to solve a problem at scale and go deep using languages, and some produce the extension to those languages. Basecamp doing for Ruby, Facebook for PHP and many are such examples.

Industry problem-solving at scale is first, sexy language is second.
Build an excellent solution for the customer is first, using sexy language for the solution is second.

Be Problem-solving experienced engineers any day.

assemble challenge combine creativity
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Big market or small market?

Fellow entrepreneur Hitesh put a tweet querying:

That got me to write this post.

Though not every problem will always be big, but if you have to choose a problem, want a bigger problem in a bigger market. There is a catch to this: The problem could be bigger, but the market is yet to become bigger. This is a classic paradox. This means the market is still not ready for the bigger problem to be solved. If the big market exists with a bigger problem, there must be a market inefficiency due to which the problem is still there.

Just an example: Corruption is a bigger problem, and there is a bigger market everywhere to solve corruption by bringing transparency, and the market inefficiency is due to physical cash which can’t be efficiently tracked and needs policy /frameworks by govt and/or institutions before you can remove inefficiencies.

Big market or small market: What do you do?

Should you enter such an inefficient market? (big market, big problem/small problem)


Should you instead pick a small market with a bigger problem?

The product-market fit needs a more in-depth analysis to establish size (how small market, market growth %, deeper pain/how deep, how widespread the problem) and choose a market which could be small now but might become more significant, or, select an inefficient market which could explode with billions of $ opportunities.

There is no right answer as such, it is just how you see things and which ones you want to pursue.


Beyond Medium, Shifting back to my own domain

Having an own active blog vs. Medium.com, I am now shifting back to use my own blog as prime blog. With the changing scenarios of Medium or any hosted solutions, which depends upon funding to survive, it is better to own a domain and a blog that is hosted and we pay it to use. They make money, in this case, WordPress makes money and I get the freedom to own my own content.

More regular blogs here.

I will miss you Satheesh. RIP

Feeling down after hearing sad demise of my friend Satheesh.

I dedicate this post to my friend Satheesh. I will miss him a lot.


You were one of the first few entrepreneurs I had met during 1999-2000 in Bangalore. I saw how you had a ‘startup’ in a house with a small team. You had an impact on me that startups are hard things but its worth trying.

Bubbling with energy & passion, you could be first few Indian entrepreneurs who thought mobile and SMS could change face of India. This is in 2001 when India was starting mobile. You did well but when I look back, you were way ahead of the time and courageous.

When I was struggling on how to transform myself from remotely living in London and having my Startup & team in India, you were the only one who shared practical inputs to do it seamlessly. I can go on writing how much your insights has helped over the years.

When I announced that I am shifting from Pune to Bangalore during 2013, you were the first to call to query which part of Bangalore I will live and even suggested why not Hebbal.

Thank you for all your support.

I will miss you Satheesh. RIP.


There are questions that are so generic, I wonder ‘who could firmly say yes or no for such questions!’ Questions like ‘Can you do it, do you have the ability to become what you want to, has anybody in your family member been there-done that type, can you compete’, and many such generic questions.

No, I am not saying people should be stopped asking such questions but I mean to say ‘what is the point of asking such questions, whose answer is may be’. Unless, one wants to hear the answer as yes or no, what is the point of asking questions, whose purpose is not to let you try but hear ‘yes or no’, before one has even tried!’ None in the creativity process has ever happened by somebody knowing yes its possible or no it is not possible, but only with an inquisitive mind of ‘may be, let’s try’.

During first few days of starting up, many of my friends/ex-colleagues, family members thought ‘I should know the answer firmly a yes/no about whether this endeavor would succeed’. Let me tell you ‘I told I don’t know but if you insist for the answer to be yes or no only, then its yes’.

After some sort of growth, I happen to meet people who are supposed to be analyst, industry experts, number crunch experts and such. I thought at least they wont ask the same question ‘will this work?’ Oh my gosh, even these experts can’t tell but still insist a firm answer of yes/no. My answer to them was same, ‘I told I don’t know but if you insist for the answer to be yes or no only, then its yes’.

I don’t mean to say people asking such questions are stupid! They are what is natural part of curiousness, devil’s advocate, and assessment process to ensure they know where I am coming from. That is perfectly right and I respect that they at least queried.

But what I found slightly common among such questionnaire is to assume that if the best doesn’t know /don’t do what you are suggesting/doing, then the answer to ‘whether this will succeed, it has to be no’. That was an ultimate low to my ‘rebel’ mind! How on earth the best in the field knows what they don’t know yet! Yes, I agree there are more data & analysis for them to guide them to a finest future but with the logic, everything we see in world today should have belonged to some of the finest organizations of last decade/century? If that didn’t happen, then how on earth only what leaders do today will succeed & hence to be followed?


I refuse, I try my best, and I rest my case.