Yrjö Ojasaar: grit is the number one character trait to lead a successful start-up venture


My guest in this episode of the podcast “Leadership is the Competitive Advantage” is an investment partner (Change Ventures) Yrjö Ojasaar who has been active in the start-up investment scene already for a decade. He consults technology ventures by finding leadership, advisors and financing for startup technology companies. Yrjö has advised with venture capital fundraising and negotiated many successful investments, including for companies like Fortumo, Pipedrive, Tahe Outdoors and others. He is also a coach and a mentor at various international accelerators and incubators, including European Innovation Academy (FRA), Startup Wiseguys (EST), Estonian Development Fund (EST). Yrjö sits on advisory and supervisory boards of several organisations, i.e. at the Prototron Fund. He is often lecturing at universities on topics involving entrepreneurship, strategic growth strategies, financing, etc. It was very interesting to exchange ideas with him about the grit, execution, vision, leadership, failures and many other topics related to start-up success.

“There is a book by Angela Duckworth called ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’. And I believe that more than any other specific character trait, having and applying grit and being gritty as it is described by Angela is probably the best indicator that the start-up founder or CEO or team member has what it takes to lead a successful venture. Obviously start-ups are a risky business, most fail, in fact significantly more than half aren’t going to be around. But being gritty, pushing through the difficulties, rolling with the punches that the real world throws at you and still sticking to your vision that is something that is a great attribute or skill to have. So grit is the number one trait. In this start-up world everything is changing all the time, you have a lot of unknowns, there is so much experimenting going on all the time that if you don’t have that grittiness in you, you will not be able to match the task. There will be just too much going on and the person will be overwhelmed with putting out fires instead of constantly focusing on driving the project forward. Having a clear vision is important but being gritty in pushing the vision from just a mental imagery into real world accomplishments – that is where the grit comes in. You can have all the vision in the world, but if you don’t persevere, if you don’t work hard at it, if you don’t make others believe in it and follow you then it is not going to be enough. And in order to assess the founder’s grittiness you need to look at their previous accomplishments. That is really the bottom line. Ideally they are a serial entrepreneur, their last venture ended up a huge success and they had a massive exit! Chances are, though, that you will not come across that ideal too often. Even if you don’t have that kind of success or resume, it is significant to look at what else have they done in their life. If it is not in the business, maybe it is in the sports, army or in their intellectual pursuits. Do they have a background in team sports and winning there? Maybe they were into debate competitions in college and successful in that? I am looking for accomplishments regardless of the area, things that will demonstrate that the person has carried a difficult task to its successful end. Track record of finishing things, carrying through and rising to the top, in whatever field, can substitute for some big financial or business success. These are life-skills and abilities that most likely will transfer from their sports, military or scientific career into their business venture as well.” – Yrjö Ojasaar



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