As an entrepreneur mentor, my mission is to foster the attributes in you as a startup founder that I believe will lead to success. I know from experience that my friends who are angel investors are looking for the same indications, although none of us has a scorecard, or even know exactly what we are looking for. Sometimes good things are easy to see in others, but hard to see in yourself.
For example, I worked with an entrepreneur a while back who was clearly intelligent, had a great idea, and communicated well. Yet I was often disappointed by his habit of committing to a specific deliverable, but then not delivering. He always had a plausible excuse, such as an unexpected problem, or family conflict, but the frequency left me with low confidence in his ultimate success.
If you are having trouble finding an investor, or not attracting some key team members that you need, I encourage you to do a self-assessment against the following key characteristics, from an outsider’s perspective, to make sure you generate positive success vibes in each of the following:
After the idea, your focus must be all on execution. I sometimes find entrepreneurs who highlight that their strength is “ideas.” Unfortunately for them, building a business is all about implementation. Idea people must surround themselves with people who build momentum and get things done, including production, marketing, finance, and sales.
As an example, I worked with Bill Gates early on, but I fear he may have failed without partners Steve Ballmer and Paul Allen. Gates was a software developer genius, but Ballmer upheld the marketing and business side. Paul Allen was the idea visionary.
You set goals and targets, and build a plan from these. Investors are not impressed when targets and plan are not focused, or seem to change with the wind. You will find that your team, partners, and vendors feel the same way. People expect goals to be hit more than missed, and you be willing to pivot as required, or take timely corrective action.
Unless you sold your last startup for a billion dollars, the days are gone when you can just scratch your idea on the back of a napkin, and investors will throw money at you. They now expect a solid documented plan, with specific goals and targets based on data.
The ability to make timely and fact-based decisions. Some entrepreneurs have an abundance of passion, but are short on the realities of customer needs, market trends, and financial constraints. I expect decision making to be a rational process, decentralized as much as possible, and based on data, as well as sensitive to competitors and others.
Your organization, process, and team are in harmony. It’s amazing how much I can learn by spending a day at your office. I expect to find a positive and supportive team, with advisors, and just the right amount of process and structure, to get the job done. It must be evident that they all understand their role, and are aligned on the same agenda.
Employees are engaged, committed, and accountable. Technical entrepreneurs, in particular, who build an innovative product, often don’t realize that building a successful business requires an equal focus on hiring the right people, providing the right tools and resources, and communicating effectively. Business success requires buy-in from all.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, I recognize that you won’t have all these attributes on day one. That’s why you need to get used to hearing the standard rejection from investors – “I love your idea, but come back when you have more traction.” It’s never too early to take a hard look at yourself in the mirror, and focus on those attributes that you may be still developing.
A little farther down the road, the challenge is to retain these attributes for the long haul to success. During scaling, many entrepreneurs get complacent, and forget that focus on innovation, fast decision making, and a supportive team culture. They soon find that the market and competitors are changing faster than they are.
Business success is an elusive target. – every one of us needs to keep growing and learning how to make it happen. Start today.
*** First published on Inc.com on 03/11/2021 ***
Martin Zwilling is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides services to startup founders around the world. See more details at www.startupprofessionals.com
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