Even the best company can flop if its founder lacks the right skill set. Our partners at Inspired Capital have started 10 companies between the four of us. We know up close and personal what traits are most critical for success. The journey from building a company in a garage and growing it until it's worth billions of dollars can seem quite glamorous. But behind the scenes, there are sleepless nights and gut-wrenching decisions. Or as Jonathan Neman, co-founder of Sweetgreen, put it: "For that time, you're as much on the verge of a bankruptcy as you are of world domination."
With the uncertainty of 2021, founders must be tougher than ever to tip their company's fate in the right direction. Here are the skills that will be critical going forward.
Being a founder is like getting punched in the face every day. You will have daunting competition enter the scene. You will have valued employees give notice. Your app will crash. It's a given that things will go wrong, so as an investor, I look to back founders who consistently demonstrate a drive to win despite setbacks.
So when things get tough, do you panic? Or does stress wake you up and create maniacal focus? I invest in entrepreneurs who fall into the latter category. And if you're still working on that muscle, I recommend surrounding yourself with a network of advisers who have been there, done that, and can offer you perspective in your darkest moments.
A big part of grit and resilience is also knowing how to rest. When you've had a tough day, give yourself the space to reset by acknowledging that you're going to come back stronger tomorrow, ready to get back to work.
I look for founders who can paint a compelling narrative around why they are building this business. Tell me why you are the right founder for the job. Why should your company exist now? If you can nail your pitch to investors, it will be that much easier to sell your vision to customers and potential talent.
To make sure you're telling your story effectively, practice it over and over again. When I was launching LearnVest, I started by asking my most trusted friends and family to be my audience. I asked them to give me constructive criticism, took notes, and workshopped those changes into my next revision.
For example, if you're working on your pitch deck and notice you get the same question over and over again, turn your response into a new slide and answer the question before the next person you pitch asks it.
If you're going to build a company that defines the future, you need to have a strong vision of what that future is. It's your job to always strategize about where your company should be in one to three years. That ability to think a few years out is critical. It's one you can cultivate by relying on your director-level talent to handle weekly execution, and on your management team (think: C-suite) to own monthly and quarterly goals.
This skill is one you can hone over time. When you're in the early days, it's easy to get swept up in every single detail. If you're like me, that means personally replying to customer emails and obsessing over product mockups. But once your team scales, it's time to delegate. Joel Flory, co-founder and CEO of VSCO, said it well: "I feel like I'm reinventing myself every six months... I'm needing to be a new version of myself. I think that's been the greatest joy and challenge of being an entrepreneur."
Hire a strong team around you, so you can lift your head up and look out to where the business needs to be in a few years. You still need to pay attention to all areas of the company, but through a different lens: Is the technology we're building today going to scale when we have a million users? How much capital will we need to raise to hit our next milestones--and when? How can we drive more innovation in our product roadmap to stay ahead of the competition?
As an investor, a big part of my job is to identify founders who have that "it factor" -- the hard-to-define feeling that this is the right person to shepherd a company from idea to success. When I reflect back on my own experience of launching a company in an uncertain time (during the 2008 recession), these are the qualities I found to be most critical, and they're as relevant in 2021 as ever before.