During the past 30 years, hundreds of people have asked me, “I’ve got this great idea for a product. All I need is funding. Will you help me?”
As I search through online forums, I see similar pleas over and over again, “I have this great idea for a new app. Will you help me build it?”
Kickstarter and similar venues are full of great ideas that need money.
Let’s assume that you have a great idea. Will adding money be sufficient to create success? Or are there other ingredients that make a business successful? The answer of course is that building a profitable business requires more than a great idea and money!
It includes attributes of the market, the industry, your background and skills, and the rest of the team’s background and skills, to name just a few. But let’s focus right now on just YOU.
Are you a good risk as an entrepreneur? Do you have what it takes? Should others have the confidence in you to bet their money on you and your company? Here is a list of qualities that experienced investors will be looking for from you.
1. Are you 100% committed?
Assuming that you are looking for others to invest their money in your business, they need assurance that you are completely committed. After all, when things get tough (and they will), you should not find it easy or comfortable to simply walk away from the business.
To demonstrate commitment, you need to show you have some kind of skin in the game. This can be done in many ways. For example, quitting your day job. Taking out a second mortgage on your home. Putting your retirement savings into the venture. Using personal credit card debt to partially fund the company. Working 60 hours a week for the new company while working your day job. All of these demonstrate commitment.
If you don’t show commitment, you don’t have what it takes, and you should not be surprised if others see you as a poor risk.
2. Do you surround yourself with excellence?
Startups require an enormous breadth of skills. As an entrepreneur, you need to be confident enough in yourself to bring on board your team the absolutely very best talent that compliments your skill set. You do not have all the skills necessary to run a company by yourself. Nobody does. Whatever talent you are lacking (e.g., law, accounting, sales, marketing, engineering, product development), you need to hire the absolutely very best!
If you are afraid that hiring somebody “better than you” will somehow erode your position, you probably don’t understand the role of a corporate founder. If you are afraid to hire the best, don’t expect others to invest in you. You don’t have what it takes.
3. Are all the requisite skills covered?
In the previous section, I talked about the fact that no single individual can possibly have all the requisite skills to run every aspect of a company. So what are these requisite skills? Among others, they include:
- Product development
- Quality control
And each of the above has multiple dimensions that sometimes require multiple individuals (unless you are fortunate to find individuals whose skill sets span the dimensions). For example, within marketing, there is SEO, website development, marcomm creation, lead acquisition, branding, and so on.
Of course, some of these areas are easily outsourced (e.g., law and accounting). And others can easily be deferred until the company grows.
If you are going after serious investor funding (e.g., from angels or VCs), you will need to have all these areas covered, or at least make it clear that you understand that you will need to quickly fill any vacant positions.
4. Have you or your team “been there before?”
Experience running a startup arms you in a way that cannot be replicated by books, mentorship, and research. These are important too but experience is the best teacher. Regardless of whether that company was ultimately successful and not, certain patterns repeat themselves in every company. Investors do not like seeing their money squandered while first-time entrepreneurs learn lessons.
If you are a first-time entrepreneur, you might think that you have no chance to secure funding. That is not at all true. The solution is to build your team and make sure the team includes individuals who have been there before. Consider “having been there before” as just one of the many diverse set of skills one needs on the team.
Personally, I served key roles in two startups. First I was a non-founding, vice president for a company that eventually had an IPO. Second I was a founding member of the board of directors for a company that was acquired by a publicly traded company. By the time I launched a startup as the CEO, I clearly had “been there before” even though I had not personally been the founder or CEO of either of the two earlier companies.
5. Are you a proven leader?
You may be the perfect founder for a company, but may have none of the skills required of a leader. In such a case, you might want to serve as the chief technical officer (CTO) for the company and allow somebody else to run the company.
You will still be a significant shareholder, but the company will be more attractive to investors and you’ll end up with a smaller piece of much larger pie than a large piece of a very small pie.
6. Are you motivated by the right things?
Outside investors (as well as potential colleagues) are going to be assessing what motivates you to start a company. It has to be for the right reason. Or at least it must be for a reason that is compatible with the investors.
Some of the likely wrong reasons to start a company are power and ego gratification. A good reason to start a company is a sincere desire to satisfy a customer problem. Wealth creation might be okay if it is not the only reason, and it isn’t just for yourself.
I remember asking the founder of my first startup company what his goals were; he responded, “I plan to become very rich, and I hope as many people as possible become very rich along with me as we endeavor to solve the problems that the customers have” I like that!
Many aspiring entrepreneurs who lack funding blame investors (or lack thereof) for their failure. In many cases, however, these individuals have at least two options:
- They can improve their chances of funding by changing their own skills, attributes, and attitudes.
- They can figure out how to bootstrap their businesses. By doing this they expend their energies slowly growing their businesses instead of complaining about the lack of funding.
If you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, the next step is to create your pro forma financial statements. If you want to learn how to generate pro forma financial statements automatically from your business assumptions, check out www.offtoa.com.
About the Author
Dr. Al Davis has published 100+ articles in journals, conferences and trade press, and lectured 2,000+ times in 28 countries. He is the author of 6 books, including the latest, Will Your New Start Up Make Money? He is co-founder and CEO of Offtoa, Inc., a SaaS company that assists entrepreneurs in crafting their business strategies to optimize financial return for themselves and their investors. Formerly, he was founding member of the board of directors of Requisite, Inc., acquired by Rational Software Corporation in 1997, and subsequently acquired by IBM in 2003; co-founder, chairman and CEO of Omni-Vista, Inc.; and vice president at BTG, Inc., a Virginia-based company that went public in 1995, acquired by Titan in 2001, and subsequently acquired by L-3 Communications in 2003.
If you’d like to learn if your great business idea will make money, take a look at Will Your New Start Up Make Money? If you’d like to verify that your great business idea makes financial sense, sign up for www.offtoa.com.