Investors expect a great return for their risk, so they look for people who can look beyond the technology and their own passion to see a customer need that perhaps even the rest of us haven't yet envisioned.
I always wish I had a definitive checklist of all the right attributes that I could share with you, to encourage you to develop and highlight these attributes in your efforts with potential investors, and guide your own actions in starting the next billion-dollar company.
There are no magic bullets, but here are the key items that always bubble to the top:
1. Confidence that you can deliver a new business.
I don't want to hear how easy it's going to be (naivete or overconfidence). I want to hear practical strategies to overcome the inevitable challenges and competitors that you will face. Creating and growing a business requires creativity beyond the product, in the areas of finance, marketing, and operations.
Unless you just sold your last business for a billion dollars, it's hard to talk credibly about your next one without a written plan that outlines key business strategy elements, as well as product details. Don't assume you can just scratch the details on the back of a napkin.
2. Understand the real-world domain you are entering.
Markets and industries are always more complicated than they seem. People who tackle a world that is unknown to them, with no relevant prior experience or insight, are very likely to be unable to adequately respond to ambiguous situations and competitors. Pick a world you know and understand.
3. Highlight a background of trust and integrity.
It is no secret that investors invest as much or more in the person, rather than the solution. You need to tell your personal story, and highlight previous work or experiences that show your integrity in the face of difficult challenges, and evidence that your team and constituents have trust in your leadership.
4. Have the support of an expert team and advisers.
If you have taken the initiative to assemble a support team of experts and business advisers, this speaks volumes about your ability to get the help you need, surround yourself with smart people, and effectively communicate. All of these are key to fulfilling the multiple disciplines of business.
5. Able to move smoothly from idea to execution.
Some people like to talk incessantly about their idea and possibilities. But a successful business is all about focus on specifics, and making them happen. Investors (and customers) need to know the realities of costs, prices, marketing, delivery, and what differentiates your offering from competitors.
6. Driven by a higher purpose as well as profit.
A visible sense of purpose, such as feeding the disadvantaged or helping the environment, complements your business drive, and creates an extra degree of engagement for team members and customers. Investors look for this as a measure of your conviction and determination to produce results.
7. Able to integrate principles from disparate domains.
The best business solutions are often ones that have principles tried and tested in one domain, and now transferred to another. An example would be the now popular notion of consumers sharing underused resources, such as ride sharing (Uber) incentivizing the businesses of home sharing (Airbnb).
8. Demonstrate a creative mindset and endless curiosity.
Investors know that an initial solution and business idea are only the beginning. Business success requires an endless stream of innovations, problem solutions, and follow-on ideas. Curiosity provides the incentive and determination to learn and adapt as your market and environment changes.
Great entrepreneurs like Elon Musk are always talking about their next venture to another planet, underground transportation, or electric vehicles. This gives them the credibility, both public and private, to enlist the support of the help they need to make it happen.
If you are like the rest of us, and need every advantage you can muster, to get the funding and support you need for your new business, see how many of these non-product elements you can highlight in your next networking discussion.
The payoff will be a heightened personal satisfaction, as well as the resources you need to make it happen.