During Advertising Week's "Inside the Shark Tank" event in New York City on Monday, John explained he looks at the entrepreneurs themselves and not just their business idea. "It's always going to be about the founders," John says, "and it's always going to be about how they react to issues and challenges."
John, who took the stage with Lerer Hippeau Ventures managing partner Eric Hippeau, also shared some of the specific traits he looks for before making a decision to invest:
1. Resiliency: "I have to know that they've failed a couple of times."
2. Mastery: "They need to know every single thing there is to know about an industry."
3. Vision: "They should have a plan about what they want to accomplish in the next five years and how they're going to get there."
4. Leadership: "Someone who is infectious--they are going to do it no matter what and and they want you to be a part of the ride."
In his remarks John mentioned that he's particularly attracted to businesses that don't rely on inventories, such as an Airbnb or Uber, as well as those that have a strong subscription model. "I'm looking at people who I can either license out the product to, or because I know a retailer [who can sell the product], or I can use my manufacturing" to produce it, he said.
But getting financial backing is hard whether you are on a TV sound stage or making a conventional pitch in a boardroom. Hippeau said his venture fund sees about 1,700 companies a year and invests only in about 40 of them. So to improve your odds, every pitch should be catered to specific investors in a way that allows them to understand and connect with your vision.
For John, knowing that the company is involved in community outreach makes it more appealing as an investment. "Regardless of whether we do well in the business, if we've changed a couple of lives, it's fulfilling," he said. Finally, he added, it doesn't hurt to offer younger customers a purpose behind their purchases: "Millennials have an option to buy anything they want, and they generally want an experience and they want to know their money is being used in some way that is going to help others."