Ilya Pozin is an entrepreneur, writer and investor. He is the founder of Open Me, a social greeting card company, and Ciplex, a digital marketing agency. He’s a columnist on entrepreneurship and marketing.
“This event was off the charts”
Gary Vaynerchuk was so impressed with TNW Conference 2016 he paused mid-talk to applaud us.
Success is subjective — especially for startups. For some, it means transforming an idea into a business or getting to market as quickly as possible. For others, it means getting a solid investment in your business. But there’s one thing that remains most important in all successful startup situations: You must possess the qualities of a good entrepreneur.
As a serial entrepreneur and investor myself, I’ve had more than my fair share of journeys toward what I consider to be a success. I’m still learning every day, but through time, I’ve gained invaluable knowledge about what it takes to not only be a successful business founder but also a great leader.
To gain more insight on the crucial traits required for startup success — especially in terms of attracting the attention from venture capitalists — I spoke with David Waxman, entrepreneur, investor, and Managing Partner of the technology-focused venture firm TenOneTen Ventures. He’s not only been a successful business founder, he also interacts with other founders on a daily basis.
Here are his six tips for success, when standing out to investors and beyond:
1. Consider the power of partnership
It’s easy to get caught up in the “party of one” mentality that comes with being a solo business founder. It’s time to ask yourself whether or not bringing on a partner could benefit your business. A terrific partnership or team can refine an idea, bringing it from “eh” to extraordinary.
Waxman says that when it comes down to investment decisions, he is more keen on companies with more than one founder. Aside from anecdotal evidence showing the pros of partnership versus going solo, Waxman also said it’s just downright hard to found and run a business alone — both intellectually and emotionally.
Even if you look at great companies where one founder — typically the CEO — seems to individually represent a company, there were other important people who had a hand in getting the company off the ground.
2. Exhibit unwavering tenacity
When it comes to being a business founder, things don’t always go as planned. In fact, it can be a pretty bumpy ride filled with ups and downs.
Businesses always face challenges, sometimes seemingly insurmountable ones. If you give in at the first sign of trouble–or if your investors and employees think you will–you’ll never make it through the tough times. Starting a business takes a special kind of tenacity, a characteristic Waxman refers to as “Chutzpah,” can add to your tenacious perspective as a business founder.
3. Include the right amount of confidence
Too much confidence can read as annoying and egotistical, while too little may land you in hot water when it comes to effectively selling others on your business. There’s a fine line between the little bit of reality distortion that makes a founder think they can change the world and actual delusion where one ignores the facts on the ground.
You’ve got to be “all-in” for your business, but finding the happy medium is essential to successfully portraying yourself and your company. Inject your confidence with a big dose of humility to ensure your attitude isn’t off-putting.
4. Never accept failure
Never say die. As a business founder, you should never be willing to take no for an answer and give up. Sure, you may have to redirect and find a new path, but failure should never be an option for you.
Waxman believes the best founders are constitutionally allergic to losing. When things seem impossible, they find a way. These inevitable moments of seemingly unavoidable failure are tough, but a failure-adverse mindset will ensure you pull through.
5. Be willing to do your homework
Forget luck — you’ve got to be willing to do research, prepare, plan, and research some more.
A founder has to do his homework. Whether or not you’re an expert in the field your company is attacking, you’ve got to learn everything you can and think through every angle. Potential investors shouldn’t be able to poke large holes in an idea you’ve been dedicated to for months or even years.
6. Get in the technical know-how
So maybe you’re not a wiz when it comes to the “under the hood” aspect of your company. But it may be time to bring on someone who is. Waxman typically invests in companies that have at least one partner who is a technical expert.
Given that building a product requires vast technical know-how, it doesn’t make much sense to have zero workers who can understand what’s under the hood. In short, find someone with a hands-on understanding of the technical part of your business, whatever it may be.
Embodying these characteristics will warrant you a second look from a potential investor — don’t skip them when founding your startup.
What do you think is an essential trait of all successful business founders?