Does a Founder’s Personality Predict Startup Success?

Erman Misirlisoy, PhD
4 min readMay 8
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Who are the people succeeding at the height of business leadership? The extraverts? The logical thinkers? The psychopaths?

At various times in the past, I’ve heard people talk about the psychology and personality of business leaders, but it’s not always a consistent story. You can find reports of high levels of psychopathy among CEOs, confidence in embracing change, a tendency to be friendly, and many other traits that may or may not be relevant.

So what does the latest science actually say? A study just published in the journal PNAS (May 2023) takes us a step closer to a reliable answer. Researchers at Columbia Business School observed over 10,000 startup founders and investigated how their personalities correlated with business outcomes through the lifespan of their companies.

To work out each founder’s personality type, the researchers first trained a personality prediction model using data from Facebook. Between 2007–2012, Facebook users could take a validated personality questionnaire known as the Big Five personality test, which provided each user with a score along five personality axes: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism.

Using this data, the researchers trained a model to predict user personality by analyzing status updates. Consistent with other existing research, the model was able to accurately predict a user’s personality purely from the language they used in their Facebook posts.

The researchers then applied their model to predict the personality traits of startup founders from their tweets. Tweets and Facebook posts have a lot in common: for the most part, they are short bursts of text that communicate a thought, feeling, or action. So the researchers used their personality predictor to infer the personality types of each founder from their tweets.

To understand how successful each entrepreneur’s business had been, the researchers also took data from Crunchbase looking at a few specific business outcomes. I’ll focus on two of those outcomes here: 1) How much money the business had raised, 2) Whether the business had launched an IPO or been successfully acquired. You can think of these two outcomes as success at different business stages: early-stage success…

Erman Misirlisoy, PhD

Research Leader (Ex-Instagram / Chief Scientist at multiple startups). Author of the User Insight Newsletter: