Ashton Kutcher made headlines at SXSW this year when he announced the launch of a new investment fund with business partner Guy Oseary. But Kutcher and Oseary are not new to the startup game. In fact, Kutcher made early investments in Uber, Airbnb, and Spotify, showing a keen eye for investing in promising startups. When CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo asked Kutcher what he looks for in new companies, one of his answers was “extraordinary entrepreneurs."
What creates an “extraordinary entrepreneur” in the eyes of an investor? As Founder and CEO of Foxwordy, a startup that is the first private social network for lawyers, as well as a member of one of the largest angel investor groups that invests in Silicon Valley startups, I’ve found there are key qualities that attract investors’ attention and lead to strong, lasting investor/entrepreneur relationships.
Here are seven key attributes of extraordinary entrepreneurs:
When it comes to your funding strategy, there are three schools of thought. One approach is to take only those investments you currently need, while the other approach is to take as much investment as you are able to get. Yet another approach is forget fundraising and focus on building the best business you can and the money will come. While there are pros and cons to each approach, what’s important is to figure out which one makes sense for your venture and stick to it. Defining your strategy in advance helps avoid setting yourself up for unmet expectations or taking your eye off the ball when it needs to be on the product or the business.
Whatever funding you have must be used wisely. Spend your investors' money as if it were your own. Even better, have it be your own. I am a strong believer in the importance of entrepreneurs investing their own money into their own companies, and it is something investors are bound to appreciate and respect. WhatsApp, for example, hardly spent any of the $8M they raised from early investors, because they didn’t need to, although they certainly could have. Spend when you need to do so and save when you don’t.
Investor Mark Birch explains that prior domain expertise is not always a prerequisite to startup success. However, Birch cautions, “You can’t simply Google and Wikipedia your way to expertise, it requires time, research, talking to knowledgeable people and digging deep into the guts of the matter.”
Indeed, if you are new to your startup’s industry and don’t have the necessary domain expertise, you’ll need to invest time in building knowledge and networks, as well as focus on making key hires that bring domain expertise to the table. Zipcar founder Robin Chase, for example, talked about how she started a car company, yet knew nothing about cars. She made a smart move by hiring a VP of Operations who had deep experience with Hertz.
Investors want to see that you have the backbone to deal with the difficult decisions that inevitably will arise. From having to fire family members to deciding whether to expand from a single location to multiple locations, entrepreneurs face tough calls on a routine basis and how you deal with those decisions demonstrates your leadership abilities.
Authentic communication is imperative to building trust in any relationship, especially between entrepreneurs and investors. Provide transparency via regular reporting and be sure to share the ups as well as the downs. Investors know how challenging it is to build a new business and open, honest communication about challenges and successes is key.
You’ve heard it before and it’s true: never give up! Investors want to see determination. In fact, how you deal with setbacks can be the very thing that sets you apart in the eyes of investors.
Richard Branson says, "many venture capital investors evaluate potential partners on how they reacted to a failed business, seeing it as a test of character, rather than a mark against them." The "key," according to Branson, is how entrepreneurs bounce back.
7. Open to advice
Don’t be afraid to connect with potential investors for input and advice. Many investors are entrepreneurs themselves and have immense knowledge and experience to share. Rather than demonstrating uncertainty or lack of knowledge, asking for advice shows a willingness to learn and consider multiple points of view. Doing so may also open the window of opportunity for funding. As Datanyze CEO Ilya Semin noted, "If you want advice, ask for money. But if you want money, ask for advice."
Is there a secret formula to being an "extraordinary entrepreneur"? Probably not. But adopting these seven attributes can certainly help you get recognized for the entrepreneur you are. Moving forward, demonstrating these key qualities will go miles towards ensuring the ongoing relationships with your investors are amazing.