What every startup founder needs to catch the attention of top investors
Every interview with a rock-star investor includes the same question, "What quality are you looking for in the ideal startup founder?"
And, they inevitably answer with one singular trait. Whether they call it "passion" "grit" or "obsession", they want to know that the steward of their capital will do whatever it takes to bring that product to market and grow the company against all odds.
Passion and obsession is probably the only thing that almost all successful founders have in common, regardless of the industry or era.
Here are a few perspectives from top investors based on their obsession with obsession:
" Tenacity is probably the most important attribute in an entrepreneur. It’s the person who never gives up — who never accepts “no” for an answer. The world is filled with doubters who say that things can’t be done and then pronounce after the fact that they “knew it all along.” Look at Google. You think that anybody really believed in 1999 that two young kids out of Stanford had a shot at unseating Yahoo!, Excite, Ask Jeeves and Lycos? Yeah, right. Trust me, whatever you want to build you’ll be told by most VC’s something like, “Social networking has already been done,” “You’ll never get a telecom carrier deal done,” or “Google already has a product in this area.” You’ll be told by the people you want to recruit that they’re not sure about joining, by a landlord that you’ll need a year’s deposit or by a potential business development partner that they’re too busy to work with you, “come back in 6 months.”
If you’re already running a startup you know all this. But some founders have that extra quality that makes them never give up. At times it goes as far as being chutzpah. And I see this extra dose of tenacity in only about 1 of 10 entrepreneurs that I see. And if you’re not naturally one of these people you probably know it, too. You see that peer who always pushes things further than you normally would. What are you going to get further out of your comfort zone and be more tenacious? It is really what separates the wheat from the chaff."
“I think passion is the wrong word. It’s way overused. The people who do remarkable things, whether it’s for a soccer club or creating and building a business, tend to be obsessed by what they are working on. The issue I have with the word ‘passion’ is it connotes that you need to be jumping up and down with enthusiasm at the top of your voice and brimming with excitement. But what people are really talking about is being completely captivated by an obsession that they simply cannot imagine conducting their life without.”
At the end of the day, the single biggest factor we look for in a founder is simple, but perhaps surprising: grit.
Do you take personal responsibility instead of blaming others? Do you set clear goals and exhibit determination, albeit others’ beliefs? Do you exude self-confidence about the challenges stemming from “figuring it out”? There are innumerable challenges that come with entrepreneurship, no matter your intelligence, wealth or network pedigree. Because of the hurdles you’ll need to jump, a healthy dose of grit is a crucial trait, for any leader.
Researchers at University of Pennsylvania determined that as an element of a person’s personality, grit has better predictability for ultimate success than IQ. While there are many attributes associated with grit, the bottom line is obvious – are you determined to cross the finish line, propel your company to the next level, and take on the next challenge? Or, are you only willing to do the minimum of what you’re asked, leave promptly at 5 pm, and expect glory for no effort?
And we're not saying passion and obsession is enough to make you successful, we agree with the epic twitter rant from superhero investor who squashed the idea that "following your passion" was good advice for new startup founders.
1/Thesis: "Do what you love" / "Follow your passion" is dangerous and destructive career advice.
2/We tend to hear it from (a) Highly successful people who (b) Have become successful doing what they love.
3/The problem is that we do NOT hear from people who have failed to become successful by doing what they love.
4/Particularly pernicious problem in tournament-style fields with a few big winners & lots of losers: media, athletics, startups.
5/Better career advice may be "Do what contributes" -- focus on the beneficial value created for other people vs just one's own ego.
6/People who contribute the most are often the most satisfied with what they do -- and in fields with high renumeration, make the most $.
7/Perhaps difficult advice since requires focus on others vs oneself -- perhaps bad fit with endemic narcissism in modern culture?
8/Requires delayed gratification -- may toil for many years to get the payoff of contributing value to the world, vs short-term happiness.