Having a great, defensible business idea in a scalable market is only part of the puzzle to attracting venture capital. A more important part is having a backable management team that can pull off the execution of the plan. Below are the top traits venture capitalists desire in their startup founders:
Domain expertise in industry or function. How many years of experience do you have? In what roles did you operate that were relevant to your new business? Or, for tactical positions, such as chief marketing or technology officers, what other roles have you had in the past, and were they relevant for a startup in this industry? A Fortune 500 CMO may not understand how to market a startup on a shoestring budget.
While in these positions, what successes can you share, and what failures did you learn from? Frankly, VCs care a lot more about your failures to see how resilient you were. Being battle tested is important for getting your business through the bad times, which are inevitable in any startup.
Related: 13 Startup Red Flags to Avoid
Credibility. Is your business plan well thought out and are your revenue assumptions believable in relation to your industry size and marketing budgets? Never come across as overly-pushy or too sales-y. The last thing a VC wants to back is a "used car salesman" trying to sell him the Brooklyn Bridge. A good entrepreneur must know how to "read" their audience, and doesn't always look at their startup through rose-colored glasses.
Passion and energy. Do you have the fire in your belly to wake up every morning and bust your butt to execute the business plan? It's safe to assume most good entrepreneurs are not lacking in this area, but you would be surprised how many startups come in with unenthusiastic or boring presentations that doesn't get anybody excited, regardless of how great the idea may be. If you cannot get your VCs excited, it is unlikely you will get potential customers excited and hit the VCs' return on investment expectations.
Listening and communications skills. The biggest mistake an entrepreneur can make is to assume they are the only smart person in the room, and nobody else knows what they are talking about. Don't forget, a good VC sees at least 250 business plans a year. Most likely, many of those plans were very similar to yours, in one form or another. So they bring a ton of market intelligence to the table to help you avoid known pitfalls. It is critical they think you are flexible and will listen to input as needed.
Long gone are the days a 21 year old with a high-level idea on a piece of paper (without even a revenue model) can walk into Silicon Valley and collect a $10 million check. A second-time CEO can often be a much better venture bet than a first-time CEO, since that entrepreneur has already learned how to avoid many startup pitfalls and can point to a proven track record, or lessons learned the first time around.
That narrows the "backable" pool of entrepreneurs down to a small list, compared to the many entrepreneurs that come calling. But there are ways to offset your own lack of past executive history: Surround yourself with a smart team of people that are proven experts in their field.
As an example, if your startup is dependent on social media for cheap viral marketing, and your CMO has a track record of quickly and cheaply scaling up large user bases in Facebook or Twitter, that will get a VC's attention. Not to mention, the VCs will be impressed by your hiring skills (finding the best talent) and sales skills (getting proven winners to buy into your vision). This deep team around the management table is exactly what the VCs want to make sure your business is more than a "one man show," in case the founders are ever hit by a bus.
Entrepreneurs are an eccentric bunch, often living on the edge between reality and pipe dream. These trailblazers and visionaries are what makes startups so exciting, and a potentially lucrative investment for VCs. But at the end of the day, a VC is looking for an experienced, credible, passionate, energetic and flexible team more than anything else. Management teams make or break businesses. VCs would much rather invest in an A+ team with a B+ idea, than an A+ idea with a B+ team.
For more details on what roles you will need to fill out your management team, check out this companion Red Rocket article on Startup Roles and Responsibilities.