Skip links

10 Top Non-Technical Traits of a Great Cofounder

Starting a startup is like jumping off a cliff and assembling a plane on the way down. It takes guts, determination, and a whole lot of skill. But what separates the startups that soar from the ones that plummet? A big part of it comes down to the founders themselves.

While technical chops are crucial, the non-technical traits of cofounders are just as important in determining a startup’s success. After all, launching a business is as much about navigating the human elements as the technological ones.

In this blog post, we’ll explore ten key non-technical traits that can make or break a startup’s founding team. Consider these insights from someone who’s been around the startup block more than a few times.

1. Resilience

The startup journey is filled with obstacles, rejections, and failures. A great cofounder needs to be able to bounce back from setbacks with determination and optimism.

Resilience is the ability to adapt to difficult situations and overcome adversity. It’s about having the mental toughness to dust yourself off after a fall and keep pushing forward.

Here’s a rich snippet highlighting the importance of resilience:

Resilient individuals can:

  • Cope with high levels of ongoing disruptive change
  • Bounce back from disappointments and failures
  • See setbacks as temporary and surmountable
  • Maintain motivation and focus despite challenges

Without resilience, the inevitable bumps in the startup road can easily derail an entrepreneurial journey.

2. Communication Skills

Clear and effective communication is the lifeblood of any successful startup. Cofounders must be able to articulate their vision, collaborate with team members, pitch to investors, and negotiate with partners.

Stellar communication skills involve:

  • Active listening
  • Clarity of expression
  • Empathy and emotional intelligence
  • Openness to feedback
  • Ability to simplify complex ideas

Teams that communicate effectively admit mistakes, take ownership of issues, and focus on resolving problems rather than blaming each other. They listen actively to other perspectives and share information freely.

Without open and honest communication, a founding team can easily descend into misunderstandings, conflicts, and lack of alignment.

3. Emotional Intelligence

Running a startup is an emotional rollercoaster. Cofounders with high emotional intelligence can better navigate the ups and downs while building strong relationships within the team.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) involves:

  • Self-awareness of one’s emotions and tendencies
  • Empathy and ability to read others’ emotions
  • Self-regulation to control impulses and behavior
  • Motivation and drive to achieve goals

According to research, high EQ correlates with:

  • Better decision-making and problem-solving
  • Improved teamwork and collaboration
  • Higher levels of trust and respect
  • Greater resilience and adaptability

In short, emotional intelligence helps cofounders lead with wisdom and compassion.

4. Vision and Passion

The best startup ideas are born from a compelling vision and genuine passion. As a co-founder, you need to be able to clearly articulate where you want to go and why you’re so driven to get there.

Vision provides focus and direction. Passion fuels the fire within and inspires others to join the journey.

Here’s an example of how a vision statement might look:

“Our vision is to revolutionize the education system through immersive, gamified learning experiences that unlock every child’s full potential.”

Without a clear, inspiring vision backed by authentic passion, it’s easy for a startup to lose momentum and flounder.

5. Adaptability

The only constant in the startup world is change. Successful co-founders need to be adaptable – ready and willing to pivot strategies, roles, and processes as circumstances evolve.

Adaptability allows founders to:

  • Respond quickly to new opportunities or threats
  • Experiment and iterate without getting bogged down
  • Learn from mistakes and adjust course
  • Embrace ambiguity and thrive amidst uncertainty

In an era of constant change, those who prove most successful will be the ones who can think critically about today’s environment while staying focused on tomorrow’s possibilities.

Rigid founders stuck in their ways are ill-equipped to steer a startup through the twists and turns of the entrepreneurial journey.

6. Perseverance

Let’s be real – the startup grind is tough. There will be times when you want to throw in the towel. True perseverance means having the grit to push through the struggles towards your long-term vision.

Here are some hallmarks of perseverant cofounders:

  • Tenacity to work hard over extended periods
  • Ability to delay gratification
  • Resilience in the face of failure
  • Willingness to sacrifice and make tough choices

The road is long and winding. On average, it takes 2-3 years before a successful startup begins to positively impact revenue. Only 25% of startups are successful after 4-5 years.

Perseverance allows cofounders to go the distance and turn their startup dreams into reality.

7. Risk Tolerance

Entrepreneurship is inherently risky. There are no guarantees of success. Cofounders have to be able to stomach that uncertainty and take calculated risks when needed.

Risk tolerance allows founders to:

  • Make bold moves and big bets when the potential payoff is high
  • Deal with the ambiguity and unpredictability of startup life
  • Recover from failures and keep pushing forward
  • Trust their gut instincts and unique vision

Of course, reckless risk-taking is ill-advised. As this data shows, measured risk is crucial:

90% of startups fail within the first year – Startups with extremely high-risk profiles account for 75% of failures

The best cofounders find the sweet spot – taking smart, informed risks while mitigating unnecessary gambles.

8. Humility

It takes a big ego to take the startup leap. But paradoxically, the most successful founders tend to be deeply humble.

Humble cofounders:

  • Are open to feedback and differing perspectives
  • Readily admit what they don’t know
  • Give credit and share the spotlight
  • Focus on learning, growing, and self-improvement

A little humility goes a long way.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis

Arrogant founders who think they have all the answers tend to ignore blind spots until it’s too late.

9. Integrity

When the going gets tough, integrity becomes a true differentiator. Prospective investors, employees, and partners all prioritize working with founders who have strong moral principles.

  • 94% of executives said they would sacrifice some profit for the long-term interests of their company.
  • Companies with high integrity ratings outperform those with low ratings by 9.5% over two years.
  • Around 85% of Fortune 500 companies have codes of ethics/integrity in place.

Founders with integrity:

  • Are honest and do the right thing, even when it’s difficult
  • Demonstrate reliability, accountability, and ethical behavior
  • Uphold their commitments and keep their word
  • Build trust through transparency

Without integrity, it becomes nearly impossible to attract top talent, funding, partners, and loyal customers. A founder’s word and reputation are their bond in the entrepreneurial world. Even a whiff of dishonest or unethical behavior can completely undermine a startup.

10. Complementary Skills

While it’s tempting for founders to bring on clones of themselves, the most effective teams leverage complementary strengths. Each cofounder should bring something unique to the table.

Examples of complementary founder roles:

  • The visionary & the executor
  • The techie & the businessperson
  • The introvert & the extrovert
  • The creative & the analytical

This balance allows startups to cover all their bases.

The most successful companies are built by founders with complementary skill sets who value and respect each other’s differences while staying unified by their shared mission.

A well-rounded founding team with diverse capabilities and perspectives is far better positioned to tackle the multitude of challenges startups face.


The 10 key non-technical traits of great startup cofounders are:

  1. Resilience to persevere through setbacks
  2. Strong communication skills
  3. High emotional intelligence
  4. Clear vision and authentic passion
  5. Adaptability to pivot and change course
  6. Unwavering perseverance and grit
  7. Risk tolerance while being calculated
  8. Humility and openness to learning
  9. Integrity and ethical principles
  10. Complementary skills that cover all bases

While technical abilities are vital, these human elements are what truly separate phenomenal founding teams from mediocre ones. Prioritize these traits when vetting potential cofounders.


Q: What’s more important early on – passion or skills?

A: In the earliest stages, passion trumps skills. You can always hire for skills later, but that burning vision and infectious enthusiasm is what attracts talent and propels a startup forward initially. Skills alone won’t sustain a grueling startup journey.

Q: How can founders develop more humility?

A: Regularly seek out honest feedback, especially from trusted advisors. Be quick to acknowledge mistakes. Surround yourself with diverse perspectives. And focus on continuous learning – the more you gain knowledge, the more you realize how much you still have to learn.

Q: Is risk tolerance a fixed trait or can it evolve?

A: Risk tolerance can definitely evolve over time through experience and education. Many first-time founders are overly risk-averse initially. But as they gain startup experience and knowledge, they become more comfortable taking calculated risks when warranted.

Q: What if cofounders have clashing personalities?

A: Some personality differences can actually be advantageous if the skills and roles are complementary. That said, irreconcilable personality conflicts spell trouble. The keys are finding ways to leverage each other’s strengths while actively working on improving communication, empathy, and conflict resolution skills.

The most successful startups have founders who meld the right technical firepower with these invaluable human elements. Keep these 10 traits top of mind when assembling your dream founding team.

Leave a comment