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10 Things Disruptive Founders do Better Than Anyone Else


Imagination, persistence and integrity are vital, but the best founders I know possess a unique DNA. Here are some habits of successful entrepreneurs. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Updated: 22 August 2022
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Title: 10 Things Disruptive Founders do Better Than Anyone Else

10 Things Disruptive Founders do Better Than
Anyone Else
  • In case you hadnt noticed, 7.6 billion people,
    and counting are going to need more disruptive
    businesses and there is no shortage of problems
    for founders to find, address and produce.
  • What does it take?
  • Imagination, persistence and integrity are vital,
    but the best founders I know possess a unique
    DNA. Looking back to my first meeting with each
    of them, they were clearly different. Ive tried
    to unpack the 10 defining elements. The je ne
    sais quoi of disruptive founders should not stay
    a mystery.

  • Perhaps this article should serve as a
    self-awareness checklist for a first-time
    founder. It may motivate you to get past what is
    blocking you or encourage you to join a team. If
    your passion is there and you werent born to be
    a Founder, you may find you can nail it one day.
  • Im often asked by people, what do think about
    this company, should I invest?Now thats a
    sucker bet, as if Im wrong, and say go for it
    and it crashes Im bound to be called an idiot.
    If it dominates and I say, perhaps not this
    one, and it wins big, well thats even worse. So
    why do I help people? More on that later.

  • Unfortunately, there is no Entrepreneur by
    numbers book, magic bullet or even a course you
    can take that will make you a disruptive founder.
  • What is true disruption? The impact must be felt
    by millions of people.
  • Disruption might be best described as either
    creating a brand-new market, or a vastly more
    efficient process, distribution or logistics
    methodology to reach millions. But a better
    product alone is not disruptive, it must change
    the way the industry works, in fact it is a bit
    of a win lose situation.

  • Is Tesla disrupting the car industry, or fossil
  • Is Google disrupting advertising, distribution of
    information or libraries?
  • Is Amazon disrupting books, the post man, retail
    or the entire workforce?
  • Perhaps it is more about the way business is
    done, than the product. The word itself infers it
    changes behaviour of consumers. However, it is
    more than that, it changes the financial model
    for the participants in the industry.

  • Radically impacting utility or enjoyment is not
    the threshold for being disruptive. It is not
    enough to be better, cheaper or faster it must be
    fundamental shift in behaviour and market
    position. Its the habits of the successful
    entrepreneurs that differentiates them from the
  • Here are the 10 attributes I have found in
    successful founders.

  • 1. Competitive Mongrel.(as in fiercely
  • Winning is addictive my Mum told me when I was
    10. The relentless comparisons between sport and
    business is a convenient way to remind us that if
    you want to be the best, be prepared to put in a
    herculean effort. Only then, can you create a
    market leading position. Its not where you have
    come from, but what you are willing to do to get
    there.Every successful founder I have worked
    with since 1999, has a unique blend of
    competitive mongrel, mixed with lashings of the
    other qualities, but for me, it starts with

  • Matt Barrie, CEO of Freelancer Limited, states
    the fact that an A Grade Team with a B grade
    idea will always beat a B grade team with an A
    Grade idea. Emphasis on the word beat.
  • The first time I met Matt, in 2009, I was
    quizzing him on his game plan and he reminded me
    of a well drilled coach, who had prepared the
    game plan, and I knew he was going to win. Just
    quietly, he knew he would too.
  • If you want to change the world, you are going to
    get some knockers. Australia is famous for its
    Tall Poppy syndrome. When Matt won Entrepreneur
    of the Year, the very next day he came to see me,
    with a copy of the BRW magazine which had
    emblazoned his picture.

  • He wrote on it to me I couldnt have done it
    without you (yet). Nothing short of relentless
    effort will do. As competition heats up, the best
    double their efforts. Watch this space.
  • Being competitive does not need to be a selfish
    trait. Helping the community and giving back is a
    common trait Matt and all disruptive Founders
    share, but this characteristic is not unique to
    disruptive founders.

  • 2. They are obsessed with knowledge
  • Perhaps obsession is not a strong enough word for
    disruptive founders in this category. Mitch
    Harper deeply understands the problem. Mitch has
    lived it, dreamt about it, and is obsessed with
    it. However, knowledge is not gained for
    consulting purposes but to execute his game plan.
  • With this supreme knowledge, that only a few have
    obsessed over, a disruptive founder will
    enlighten their team, attain viral growth and
    sustain that velocity.

  • They rarefy the group with their knowledge,
    whether on the art of hiring, managing cash like
    a well-oiled treasury and allocating resources to
    provide infinite optionality. Will they need to
    raise capital? No, they will be hunted down by
  • Mitch Harper, Co-Founder of BigCommerce, one of
    Australias world class tech companies, exhibits
    this quality. I am lucky enough to see Mitch in
    action, and this guy knows his stuff.
  • Mitch has gone on to launch a new company that
    implements the competitive advantage his
    obsession with knowledge has provided. In
    building yet another successful business, he has
    found a major problem and is now obsessed with
    this problem too.

  • This desire to attack problems and obsession with
    detail, or as Mitch calls it, differentiation by
    design is straight out of the Harper playbook.
    Watch this space for yet another world class

  • 3. Ruthless honesty
  • Whilst I believe ethics are the new black, nice
    girls dont have to finish last.Founders who are
    caught making false promises, treating staff as
    expendable, or relying on gouging suppliers are
    destined to fail.
  • It is the perception of value, rather than the
    scientific cost benefit analysis, that engages
    customers exponentially.
  • Naomi Simson, founder of RedBalloon demonstrated
    ruthless honesty. The problem with offering
    experiences in a marketplace is the perception
    that customers must to be paying more if they buy
    via a middle man.

  • Naomis clever solution was a fully transparent
    promise that vendors of experiences will not
    supply an experience to anybody cheaper than on
    the RedBalloonwebsite. Naomi told me she turned
    small businesses into bigger businesses allowing
    people to focus on their passions, and leave the
    marketing, back end etc to us. Pretty cool.
  • The simplicity of treating customers as
    intelligent consumers worked wonders. I later
    celebrated with Naomi and some friends over a
    well-earned single malt, when she went on to
    share her knowledge on Shark Tank.

  • 4. Curiositybetter again, they just work it out.
  • The most common question I am by first time
    founders as a mentor is what should I focus on?
  • Should I read blogs, books, go do a course, hang
    out at meet ups? My answer is you have to work
    it out! Whats the one thing that would make
    the biggest difference to your business or
    knowledge, in 90 days and just obsess about that
    and get it done.

  • Most disruptive founders, know this already. He
    or she has already worked this out. If you dont
    already know this you are probably feeling the
    anxiety of the process. Go with what you feel.
    Go! Be Nike just do it
  • Katherine Pace and Aimee Atkins from ELANATION
    ask questions of smarter people, and listen
    intently. The ladies spent months walking around
    talking to kids asking them impressions of their
    prototype. Kids are super honest. The feedback
    and research they obtained was worthy of a thesis
    on child psychology and behavioral sciences.

  • If a kid stopped playing the game or approached
    it a different way, they learned to iterate by
    seeing it through their eyes. They worked it from
    every aspect of the industry including
    psychology, the best operators, parent forums,
    school interactions and policies with gaming.
  • But they didnt stop there. They scrutinized
    global trends, pricing, and the type of investor
    who might like what their team was doing. Nothing
    was left to chance. I was lucky enough to mentor
    them and see them become amazing (by any
    standard) at pitching, launch their product and
    now scale Their products are now sold in 101
    stores across Australia and growing.

  • Matt Dickinson, is a king of arbitrage. He
    recognises patterns, and has a black belt in
    research. He is expert at overlaying systems and
    data, has courage to burn and executes with
  • Matt is widely regarded as an amazing Growth
    Hacker. Matt has always been considered one of
    the best mentors in Startmate, and in fact helped
    get me started with my obsession with scaling
    companies upon joining Startmate too.

  • 5. They back themselves
  • Hardly surprisingly, when hiring, bootstrapping,
    raising or scaling, disruptive founders have an
    innate belief that they can nail the job at hand.
    A backward step is not an option, at least in any
  • This should not be confused for arrogance, but in
    any situation, from asking someone on a date, to
    merging in peak hour traffic or anything tough,
    if you believe, people will fall in. Im not
    describing a pathological optimist here because
    the founder will also possess many or even all of
    the 10 characteristics to back up the confidence.

  • In one meeting I organised for a new founder,
    Manuri Gunawardena of HealthMatch exhibited true
    grit. On that day, seven highly credentialed
    industry experts, including Private Equity
    Investors heard her pitch.
  • Unfortunately, one of the attendees proceeded to
    tell the founder her silly little start-up had no
    chance, nor did she. He spent the next ten
    minutes cutting her down, explaining how she
    didnt understand the industry, the process, the
    costs involved and how she was simply wasting her
    time and everyone in the rooms too.

  • Just as I said thats quite enough mate, he
    told me he was finished anyway. Having glanced at
    the founder to see if she was ok, she gave me a
    slight nod and added. I accept your points, but
    dont agree it cant be done.
  • Then, in the same order of the 10 criticisms, she
    articulately recounted how she would deal with
    each of his insurmountable hurdles. In my view,
    she sat him on his backside.Needless to say, if
    I wasnt already an investor, that sealed the
    deal. Sure, this wasnt going to be easy, but a
    disruptive CEO won over some experts in the
    health sector that day.

  • 6. They have gravitas and build culture
  • Culture is often defined as what the business
    does, but its hard to create and maintain a
    great culture and many people simply give it lip
    service.Create a movement, not a job says Dean
    McEvoy, Founder of Spreets and now CEO of Tech
    Sydney. The culture he established in Spreets
    created a buzz in the office.Camaraderie and
    equity allocation was spot on. Next stop,
    hyper-growth and the rest was history. Doing
    something that will be change the world, disrupt
    an industry and create excitement in the business
    is a super power of disruptive founders.

  • Overnight success is a myth. It is by
    establishing routines, recognising patterns (in
    multiple contexts), perpetual iteration and
    audacious tenacity that disruptive founders rise
    to the top.
  • Not surprisingly, the members of the team Dean
    assembled have gone on to so many other
    successful companies. Deans next challenge
    reinvent how buildings are valued, produce a
    guaranteed income for a new restaurant.

  • Enter Icon Park, the highest grossing crowd
    sourced restaurant and building in a new type of
    partnership. Enthusiasm is infectious and so is
    Dean. The challenge of the unknown, pushing
    yourself and having fun while you are doing it is
    winning formula.I love the mantra Ray Dalio
    mentions in his book Principles, Im motivated
    by doing meaningful work and creating meaningful
    relationships. Perhaps this best encapsulates
    the concept of culture, or at the least is a
    great blueprint for you to build your own.

  • 7. They imagine a better world aka Vision
  • The great John Lennon and Dr. Martin Luther King
    imagined or dreamt the world into a frenzy. Matt
    Barrie of Freelancer also nailed this
    category!Why should a person in San Francisco
    or Bucharest, Romania with identical skills, have
    a 10x difference in living standards? Matt asked
    me. why are they not able to feed their family,
    or commence a start up without a prohibitive
    financial hurdle, breach geographical access to
    markets? Matt demanded.

  • In disruptive style, Freelancer listed on the
    Australian Stock Exchange, not NASDAQ.
    Reinvigorating Australia as a tech hub,
    attracting talent and slowing the exodus across
    the Pacific was also extremely out
    there.Freelancer Limited continues to empower a
    world without borders and safely settles
    transactions, managing cyber security risks with
    their business Escrow Inc.

  • 8. They recognize their blind spots
  • Access to information, fast, has never been
    better. Whether for the sake of excellence or a
    better use of the Founders time, this element is
    a must. Not believing your own B.S. is critical.
  • Self-awareness of your blind spots takes courage
    and builds trust with your team. Its ok to not
    know everything. A mentor can often help here,
    but it starts with the truth. Obviously,
    recognizing the blind spots is the first step to
    a cure.

  • I wont point to a founder here, but frankly no
    one is perfect. This category overlaps many of
    the others mentioned and is compensated
    abundantly by the ability to execute.I will
    mention myself in this category, and what I do.
    Its about strategy, or as I call it CEO as a
    Service or CaaS. I am typically talking to six
    founders a day and you get good at asking
    questions that unlock value.
  • These blind spots can then be fixed. Common
    discussions include problems with a raise, the
    sizzle in a pitch deck, staff concerns (hiring,
    firing) or pricing.

  • Other things that need to be addressed are the
    business model, signing up corporate partners,
    negotiation with VC and almost always plugging in
    my network. Its simply what I love to do. Living
    it, learning and sharing in equal doses with
    fellow mentors yep, Im obsessed.

  • 9. They are a bit crazy, yep they are whacko.
  • Ive heard Niki Scevak, Co -Founder of BlackBird
    Ventures, and co-Founder of Startmate, say dozens
    of times, I look for a founder thats a bit out
    there or crazy.No rational person wants
    attention for so many dysfunctional reasons. The
    suffering a founder endures is huge.

  • Whilst in my experience, its almost become
    cool to be a Founder and a Start-up is the old
    I have a shell in public company parlance, its
    not for everyone. If you really want to change
    the world, take on the big corporates, expose
    your weaknesses, do more with less, surrender
    yourself to relentless days, weeks, months, hell
    years of torture and suffering you just might
    have what it takes.

  • 10. They are system and process thinking devotees
    but they just get it too.
  • Dr Matthew Cullen, Founding CEO of Tonic Health
    Media is a system or process thinker. The right
    task, done at the right time by the right person
    sounds simple in theory. At the outset of a new
    business, I have to do everything myself, says
    Cullen.Only once a task is done, the process can
    be mapped. If it critical to be part of the
    machine going forward, it can then be delegated.

  • In the early phase of a business I hire assuming
    the person has the right skills and is a culture
    fit for an 18-month stint, if they can evolve,
    and they stay longer, thats a bonus. A common
    problem in early phase businesses is that
    founders fall in love with their product, they
    dont recognize that their role and indeed that
    of the CEO requires a different approach,
    personnel, mindset at a 1, 10, 100 and 1000
    employee companies.

  • Cullen says its the same innovative and
    disruptive thinking but wrapped into a clear
    process and approach to implement the right
    activities and strategies at various stages or
    life cycle of the business. The way I work in the
    early days is very different as the business
    progresses from early to mid and late phase. A
    key dimension in all of this is working out where
    you add the most value and delegate progressively
    those areas where you add the least value.

  • Dr Cullen was also Founder and CEO of McKesson
    Asia Pacific which was sold to Medibank Private
    in 2010 for 140 million. He built the company to
    a turnover of 75 million with 700 staff across
    Australia and New Zealand. It is often said that
    some people can start a company, but different
    skills are required to scale one.Process
    thinking with 18 month sprints. Quite simply,
    its something disruptive founders do better than
    anyone else. Meanwhile, I have observed Dr.
    Cullen treating his team with respect and all
    stakeholders with humility he executes double
    digit growth Year on year at Tonic Health Media.

  • The Big Picture
  • Whilst I dont know if entrepreneurs have
    different neural pathways, they dont always come
    from adversity. It isnt obvious, or easy to spot
    one at first. Perhaps the above 10 elements can
    be used as a ready reckoner/checklist or at least
    a starting point to seeing yourself as a
    disruptive founder.
  • Is this you? Well get on with it.
  • So, who am I?

  • Create the future, is not coincidentally the
    name of my new blog. It is what excites me. My
    own disruptive journey of starting in an age-old
    business, accounting, was by accident, when I
    couldnt decide what to do after school. My
    stepfather (at the time) said, Chartered
    accountants will inherit the earth.
  • I had no idea what this meant at 18, but know as
    a coach to entrepreneurs, I have found my
    calling. On day one, or perhaps a week into my
    career, I had decided pure accounting was not for
    me. I couldnt see myself adding up numbers and
    focusing on the minutia.

  • Perhaps otherwise I would have never discovered
    the world of growing companies, CEOs, negotiating
    partnerships, developing talent and doing deals.
    Working with some of the smartest people who have
    inspired, taught and befriended me has been a
    blessing.If I havent mentioned you
    specifically, trust me, I have appreciated what
    you have taught me.
  • So, whether you are a new founder, scaling or
    about to IPO, your growth as a person is the
    vanguard of the prosperity of your company and
    everyone in your life. The freedom this brings
    will fulfil you, give you more time for the
    things you love. You too can build a disruptive

  • The world you envisage wont just happen, you
    have to create the future.
  • If you would like some help, check out setup a
    time and we can have a chat. Ask us how our
    Virtual CFO services have helped many
    entrepreneurs learn how to set up a business goal
    and maximise growth.
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