‘A good founder needs to be very comfortable with uncertainty’

30 Mar 2021

Gabriela Matic. Image: ATI Boeing Accelerator

ATI Boeing Accelerator’s Gabriela Matic explains why the right team is key to start-up success, and why focusing on ‘being a founder’ rather than solving a problem can be a big mistake.

Gabriela Matic has a background in entrepreneurship as co-founder and former CMO of health-tech start-up MindMate. She left the company in 2016 to join accelerator programme Ignite, where she helped support more than 80 start-ups and managed programmes in London, Manchester and the north-east of England.

Matic is now programme director of the ATI Boeing Accelerator, a three-month programme that aims to support the future of the UK aerospace industry. The accelerator, which first launched last year and is now working with its second cohort, was created by the Aerospace Technology Institute and Boeing, and is run by Ignite.

‘As long as you are open to learning, you can become a good entrepreneur’

Describe your role and what you do.

At the ATI Boeing Accelerator I am responsible for designing, recruiting for and running the programme, as well as a core focus on programme pipelines. I work closely with our sponsors and partners and support the start-ups on a day-to-day basis with growing their businesses and building corporate partnerships.

In your opinion, which areas of science and technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

For me there are a couple that stand out.

In the past year, it has become more and more obvious how much work is needed in health and medtech to be able to prepare for a situation like Covid has put us all in. The follow-on effects of this will be extreme and demand for support for both physical and mental health will exceed capacities. I think technology can make a big difference here.

Then there is sustainability. Employees and suppliers in various industries are interested in working with companies that make a real difference, and consumers – who want to know that the services and products they are using are good for the planet – are adding increasing pressure. In aerospace and adjacent industries, it’s the big challenge that everyone is working on right now.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

I think both. I do believe that to succeed as an entrepreneur you need to have a certain mindset and relevant skills. There are certain inherent traits that make success more likely, but mindset and skills can be trained, adapted and learned.

As long as you are open to learning, you can become a good entrepreneur. Many skills need a lot of practice and you can’t stop at books, but individuals who build the right network around themselves and are open to feedback have a good shot.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

You need to be very comfortable with uncertainty and have a drive to execute. I also think you need to be an optimist while being able to communicate in an intellectually honest and curious way.

I’ve also seen founders be more successful if they have the relevant industry experience. Knowing the space and having domain knowledge typically helps you come up with a more defensible and differentiated solution.

Also I think people underestimate the superpower of being able to sell well – and to know when not to.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

One of the biggest challenges of running your own business is that there are always a million things to do. To prioritise and to say no are important skills to have. It’s also essential to learn to delegate or potentially outsource smartly. There are only so many hours in a day – founders who focus on what matters, in the short and long term, are not only more successful but also less stressed.

And another thing a successful entrepreneur will do every day is keep an eye on the finances – running out of money is one of the number one reasons why start-ups fail.

What resources and tools are an absolute must for your arsenal?

I think the most important ones are your mentors, advisers and your network.

If we think about actual ‘tools’, every start-up has to have a good tool to help them collaborate, to track progress and KPIs, and keep their customers happy.

How do you assemble a good team?

I believe having the right team on board is the most important thing – but can also be incredibly hard.

You need to find individuals that share the vision and have good chemistry. They need to make it through many ups and downs while staying productive and keeping up the energy. To be able to divide responsibilities and go faster, you also need a team with complementary skillsets.

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

The right team and the ability to execute as a team.

I guess a little bit of luck, good timing and awesome mentors can help, too.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?
  • Caring too much about ‘being a founder’ or ‘having a start-up’, rather than wanting to solve a real problem for someone
  • Lack of focus
  • Not keeping a firm grip on your cash flow
  • Having the wrong co-founders or early employees
  • Not looking after your health – physically and mentally
What are your views on mentorship and the qualities one should look for in a mentor?

Finding the right mentor can make a huge difference for your start-up. I think it’s important to be open to speaking to many different people but when it gets to filtering out the advice that matters most, the background and experience of your mentor is important. Have they built a business like the one you are trying to build? Do they have experience and a network in the industry you are trying to get into?

I have always found mentors most useful that are very transparent about their expertise and availability as well as being honest and happy to challenge you. That way you can build a more long-term relationship, which can help you grow as a founder.

What’s the number-one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

You are not your business. You are not a failure if it fails. It might not be this idea that makes it, but you will succeed if you keep working on yourself as a person and founder and surround yourself with the right people. The business, while still important, is only one part of who you are.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.