Listing the must-have skills for success as founder is a favorite parlor game of startup insiders, with VCs, CEOs, and accomplished entrepreneurs all weighing in periodically. But while it's fun to read and compare their many lists, there's one fact that's often missing from these discussions of essential traits and key skills -- the world is changing at a head-spinning rate.

That means that today's extremely well equipped founder, could easily be an also ran in a few years' time if his or her approach and abilities don't keep pace with the changing landscape. And what's essential for success now might soon be just a nice bonus, while a characteristic that's barely mentioned these days could assume central importance thanks to shifts in tech or business.

So what will lists of essential entrepreneurial skills look like in five or ten years' time? That's the question that sparked an animated panel discussion among experts at a forum sponsored by European business school INSEAD in Singapore. These are a few points the panelists agreed on.

1. Experimentation over expertise

If you think about the current crop of startups-turned-superstars like Facebook and Google, the technical skill of their founders was often central to their success. According to the INSEAD panelists, that's going to be less true going forward. Knowledge will never be a bad thing to have, of course, but in the coming years experimentation is going to be more important that expertise.

Why? Increasingly, you can simply buy the knowledge you need. What's harder to find is the inclination and ability to tinker with new ways of deploying that knowledge, a process that often involves failure and resilience, as well as constant learning.

"It used to be about knowing a few things deeply, while it now seems that it is becoming just as important to learn a high number of things very fast," said panelist and angel investor Will Klippgen.

2. How to turn a bunch of freelancers into a team

Increasingly you can find freelance talent as needed, but hiring a bunch of experts doesn't a team make. So another key skill in the future will be the leadership chops to cement a diverse (and often dispersed) group into a cohesive and culturally distinct unit.

"Technology is still years away from enabling lifelike remote interactions. Distributed teams do not have the same cultural osmosis. They require a completely different leadership approach. Otherwise, you're set up to fail," Cameron Stevens, founder and CEO of online peer-to-peer lending platform Prodigy Finance, cautioned.

3. The ability to talk social impact

Now and always, investors mostly want to make money, but going forward they also increasingly want entrepreneurs to be able to talk about making a difference, the INSEAD panelists claimed.

"When I advise entrepreneurs on their pitches these days - no matter what the project is - I always tell them to prepare a backup slide detailing what the social impact spill over of their business would be. Investors and corporations often have their own formal sustainability programs to think of, and will want to verify that potential partners are on the same page. 'I don't know, I hadn't thought of that' as a response to the social impact question isn't likely to further your cause," writes INSEAD entrepreneurship professor Philip Anderson in his article detailing the panel discussion.

What others skills or characteristics would you add to this list?

Published on: Dec 15, 2016
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