One of the most important things I look for in founders is what I call "the juice". Although it's not the only thing that matters, it is an absolute requirement for greatness. I've found it hard to articulate what it is, so I'll attempt to put it into words here.
The juice is admittedly a pretty nebulous concept. Like the famous porn case, you know it when you see it. You'll know within 5 minutes of talking to a founder whether they have the juice or not. The closest thing I've seen that describes the juice is the Steve Jobs reality distortion field:
The RDF was said by Andy Hertzfeld to be Steve Jobs' ability to convince himself, and others around him, to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement and persistence. It was said to distort his co-workers' sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and to make them believe that whatever impossible task he had at hand was possible. Jobs could also use the reality distortion field to appropriate others' ideas as his own, sometimes proposing an idea back to its originator, only a week after dismissing it.
Startups are hard. You have to will something brand new into existence. You have to convince customers to use a product that probably doesn't work, convince people with much better options to join something that will probably fail, and literally create something from nothing. It honestly sounds insane and impossible when you say it out loud.
In today's world, there is no shortage of options. Unlimited companies, people, ideas, opportunities, etc. In this endless sea of options, only those with the juice stand out. Despite all odds they can always recruit the best people, get the best customers, raise from the best investors, capture the attention of the public, etc. There is some inherent magnetism about those people and like a moth to a flame you have to follow. Like the famous Colin Powell quote:
You’ll know you’re a good leader when people will follow you...even if only out of curiosity.
And it's not just charisma. Plenty of nerds who aren't the boisterous salespeople have the juice. They may be quiet but when you talk to them they are insanely compelling and you want to drop everything and go work with them. And there are plenty of charming salespeople who have charisma but come across more like used car salesmen rather than those with the juice.
While it's hard to pinpoint in a checklist, those with the juice are always compelling storytellers. It's a combination of confidence, competence, craziness, flair, and more. When those with the juice speak, we listen and usually follow. Only that type of magnetism can accomplish the impossible when all reason says it'd be crazy to even try.
One of the unique things is that when you meet someone with the juice, you can't really tell if they're a genius or a scam artist. It took me awhile but I've realized that it doesn't matter. In many ways both of these things are the same. In all cases they are just so compelling that they can get everyone around them to do their bidding no matter what. Whether they use that for good or evil is up to them and over the long arc if you bet on those with the juice you'll catch winners.
I often say I like to back psychotic founders. People that are crazy enough to try something insane and determined enough to make it work no matter what gets in their way. When you combine a) psychotic founder with b) problem founder fit and c) the juice...wow. Insta-back. That thing is going to sing.
While this has been centered around founders, having the juice is not just about founders. The juice is a requirement to greatness everywhere. Investors have to have the juice to stand out and get the best founders to pick them. Actors have to have the juice to get the best roles and stay in the limelight. An easy hack to see who has longevity and greatness is just to filter by who has the juice and you'll be surprised at how accurate it is.