Nobody can dispute the fact that the iPhone is an ingenious idea—but to leave it at that would be a severe injustice to Steve Job’s little pocket computer with over 1,000,000,000 units sold worldwide. The original idea behind the iPhone, a portable smartphone with a touchscreen, is just one minor part of the puzzle leading up to the device everyone knows today; the rest was up to a superstar team of executives, developers, visionaries, and product designers collaborating on design, internal components, user-feedback, and changes in technology for the greater part of 10 years.
Transforming an idea into a sustainable business requires a lot more than a solid starting idea. There’s no shortage of great ideas in the world, but there aren’t many that stick around long enough to become a sustainable business. The fact is, a founder’s likelihood of finding success has much more to do with their individual personality traits and soft skills than the quality of their original idea. It’s easy to pivot ideas, but changing a founder’s deeply ingrained habits requires massive amounts of time and effort.
Investors don’t have the time to retrain startup founders with marginally decent ideas. Relying on growth figures to can only go so far; investors are almost always looking for something more. Here are the top five traits investors are looking for in startup founders today.
As an entrepreneur, it’s hard to make it very far without a hefty dose of tenacity. When investors are looking for new opportunities, the first thing they generally look at is a founder’s ability to take hits and move on.
And when you’re building up a startup, regular setbacks of all shapes and sizes are inevitably part of the process. Your failures and successes are of equal importance in the eyes of most investors. Success is definitely important to prove you can handle the monetization and growth side of your business, but it does little to inform investors of your team’s dynamic or consistency in working together. In order to learn more about a startup’s true team dynamic, investors must look at previous failures, how you responded, what you learned, and what changes you made to prevent something similar happening in the future.
Nobody has ever built a startup by quitting after their first idea didn’t work out. If you want to attract the attention of prominent investors, you need to show that you’re able to roll with the punches and still show up at work feeling excited the very next day.
2. The Ability to Collaborate
On a small startup team, working well together and being able to articulate your ideas is central to the daily tasks of a new business. In a creative environment, collaboration breeds better productivity. The ability to collaborate well doesn’t necessarily mean blocking out 25 minutes of the morning to stand around a whiteboard with your team scribbling down new marketing ideas. Effectively working together as a team is actually a lot simpler. If you want your team to master the skills of perfect collaboration, start by practicing your listening skills.
Collaboration doesn’t have to mean working in the same room or even country for that matter. A team’s a ability to truly collaborate is measured by their organization, efficiency, satisfaction, and stress levels.
It’s never a good thing to have too many cooks in the kitchen and the same goes for optimizing your team’s ability to collaborate. Adding more people to a project doesn’t help if they’re only going to increase the number of toes being stepped on.
There’s nothing investors like to see more than a founding team that makes each other forget they’re actually at work. The ability to collaborate decreases turnaround times, reduces stress, and brings down the risk of a team completely falling apart. Regardless of how incredible your idea is, you can’t scale a startup without a solid team.
When it comes down to it, there’s simply no substitute for putting in the hours. Investors are always going to be more likely to back people with industry experience as opposed to those on their first venture. Investors know more experienced founders will generally have a better idea of the bigger picture.
Experience indicates dedication, a trait most investors look at as a prerequisite. However, keep in mind that your experience doesn’t necessarily have to end in success. Investors are equally attracted to founders that have encountered common industry problems and learned from their mistakes, allowing them to take a different angle when future tribulations inevitably arise.
4. Innate Curiosity
Curiosity is the driving force behind any great idea and without it, it’s impossible to remain excited about what you’re working on. Solving your existing problems is only part of it; investors seek out founders that take a proactive approach in finding new problems that need solving.
Founders with an innate curiosity are more likely to pursue user feedback on their own, something integral to the success of any startup throughout every stage. Most investors agree that being curious about consumer behavior is one of the biggest drivers of future product innovation. There’s really no way to fake it; if you want to wow investors, you need to be interested in what you’re trying to build.
5. Communication Skills
Like I mentioned earlier, your team’s ability to collaborate piggybacks off of individual communication skills. As a startup founder, your main job is learning to communicate your ideas in the clearest and most concise manner possible.
Your ability (or lack thereof) to effectively communicate your thoughts and goals is one of the first things investors pick up on when you step into the room. The world of startup funding is overcrowded and extremely competitive. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and when you’re fighting for just a few minutes of an investor’s time, every second counts. Choose your words carefully and remember, less is almost always more.
When you’re presenting to potential investors, prioritize important ideas over pretty looking metrics. It’s easy to show investors the “what” of your business by putting bullet points and income figures on the screen, but talking about statistics doesn’t tell them anything about your ability as a founder. Before getting involved in an expensive, risky long-term relationship with your startup, most investors want to see that you can convey the “how” and “why” of your business just as easily.
Don’t be worried if you can’t check all of the boxes yet; the most important thing is to show investors that you’re constantly thinking and trying to improve.