Even though startups expect 2018 to be a promising year for business, securing funding can still be a challenge. You may start catering to one investor's criteria only to discover that your other funding options are looking for something completely different.

What defines an ideal investment can change based on the industry and the individual investor. But while the specifics may vary, all investors are looking for the same basic ingredients -- namely, a winning idea that's backed by a talented team. They're also largely trusting their instincts when it comes to finding the perfect match, although they're not afraid to use the other tools at their disposal to validate their hunches.

One emerging trend is the use of AI and machine learning to help distill the best investment options from a broader pool of candidates. Hossein Rahnama, founder and CEO of Flybits, explains: "An AI framework arms VCs with the tools and information to use reasoning, knowledge, planning, communication, and perception to boil startup viability down to metrics that can complement gut instinct." AI internalizes data, similar to an automated financial advisor, and provides a success probability to a given company based on its industry experience, revenue growth, and the market size.

While investors run the numbers, you should focus on the areas that are within your control. If you can check the following boxes, you'll be in a great position to win funding from almost any investor.

1. Find your product's sense of urgency

Identifying a market need isn't just nice -- it's mandatory for any startup. And the ones with the best chances of success identify an urgent need. They don't look for what customers just sort of need, or may need eventually, but instead what they really need right now.

Show investors that customers will be wondering how they ever survived without your product or service. To do this, Mick Twomey, president and COO of Hyperlift, says that "Bringing a customer to the table to vouch for your product, even if it's in beta, and ideally sharing some ownership of the product roadmap narrative can truly set you apart with investors." An investor will have a much harder time saying no when there are actual customers present who can attest to the value of what you're offering.

2. Build a team of rock stars

Ideas come and go, and the most successful companies are often the product of many key pivots along the way. What tends to remain consistent is the team, provided it's made up of hardworking collaborators who push each other to be successful. Investors are taking a chance on you, so build a team that truly deserves that chance.

Team members should have a variety of backgrounds and skill sets, with minimal overlap or redundancy. They should also be ready to adapt to changes, meaning they're open to learning new skills and wearing numerous hats. The last key ingredient is passion. Share with investors what drove you and your team to start your company and how you're personally connected with the problem you're trying to solve.

3. Develop a strategy for growth and an exit plan

Investors want a return, period. The only variation is how long they're willing to wait for it. Have a plan for delivering this return across various timelines. Venture capitalists are typically looking for a massive return in a relatively short time frame -- around four to five years.

Zach Ferres, CEO of Coplextalks timelines: "VCs want exits out of their current fund before the end of its life so they can create investor liquidity. Ask questions about when the fund started and add 10 years to that date. This will give you an idea of the time frame the firm you're interested in has to create exits and uncover their deal selection motives." For instance, a fund with a lot of capital that is a few years in needs to look for quick, small exits. A fund that just started will be open to longer exit plans. Either way, it's your job to tell investors you have a plan to make investing in you worth their while.

4. Show you're self-sufficient

Nihal Mehta, founding general partner at Eniac Ventures, who has invested in more than 200 companies and founded several of his own startups, is consistently looking for founders with the technical clout to get a project done. He elaborates, "We really look for the technical cofounder, somebody that's full stack and can build and ship the product. We want to make sure the founders can be self-sufficient, and they are not relying on another team."

Relying on outside sources adds another layer of complexity and increases the possibility of failure. Whenever possible, keep technical development internal -- and make sure you have the genuine expertise to do so.

Investors will always be picky, which is a good thing. When you do finally secure funding, it demonstrates a level of confidence in your product that support from friends and family just doesn't convey. Focus on the above areas, and you'll be well on your way to winning the investment you've been looking for.