7 traits that every investor looks for in an aspiring entrepreneur

  • Marty Zwilling is a startup angel investor and the CEO of Startup Professionals, a business that supports small business owners and founders.
  • He explains it takes a lot more than a good idea for an aspiring entrepreneur to successfully land investors, even if they think they have the best idea in the world.
  • If you don’t have a lot of business experience, highlight what leadership and management experience you do have, whether from school projects or having a job.
  • Also, be sure to demonstrate your listening skills. Show a potential investor that you want to learn from them, instead of acting like you already know everything about your product, service, or industry.
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As an angel investor in startups, I’m a believer that smart investors invest more in you as the entrepreneur than the next billion-dollar solution you are pitching. Yet I find that most of you find it hard to make the case that you can be the next Elon Musk or Bill Gates. I’m not looking for words, but examples of how your habits and attributes have produced results, even before your startup.

In my experience, building a business is more about getting results than having the right dream or the right technical skills. I want to see and hear that determination, never-give-up attitude, and focus that separate the exceptional entrepreneurs from the other 90% that ultimately fail or give up in the face of the big challenges that face every new business.

In this context, I recommend that you highlight some key personal attributes and mindsets in your investor pitch. The following will convince a savvy investor to believe you can deliver the business as well as the solution you are pitching:

1. Highlight prior results from your early initiatives.

Even if you are still in school and have never started a company before, strong entrepreneur candidates can point to projects they initiated or led that produced significant results. Founders like Gates and Mark Zuckerberg always had projects going and even dropped out of school to start their big business.

2. Relate a higher purpose to your business proposal.

These days, customers expect to hear and see social and environmental value from a new business, rather than just a new technology or profit. Certainly, investors want to see a financially attractive opportunity and return projection, but they also want entrepreneurs who can take it to the next level.

For example, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard made it clear from the beginning that his company mission was to save the environment, not just be another outdoor clothing seller. He built an “activist company,” and continues to lead and profit from that strategy.

3. Give examples of your determination and problem solving.

The startup road to a successful business is always a long one, with many unknowns to overcome. Even if you don’t have previous businesses to reference, relate examples of your problem-solving ability and determination in other contexts. Highlight your growth and continuous learning.

4. Demonstrate business as well as technical acumen.

Many aspiring entrepreneurs are so focused on their technology, that they display no interest or credible understand of the financials and metrics of growing a business. This can be mitigated by introducing a partner with the necessary complementary skills and focus to balance the equation.

Before looking for an investor, you or a partner need to demonstrate an understanding of the implications of startup valuation, revenue projections, break-even, and ROI. Ignoring these, or taking an unrealistic position, will kill even the best solution proposal.

5. Practice excellent communication and listening skills.

The ability to get your message across effectively through storytelling, examples, and clear terminology is key, not only in convincing investors, but in attracting customers, vendors, and business partners. Great entrepreneurs know how to listen and learn effectively, as well as talk.

6. Keep a positive perspective, even on competitors.

Great entrepreneurs never degrade their competitors, and provide a positive outlook on all the challenges ahead. They position competitors as a base for their solution advantages, and an indication of existing market demand. They talk positively about how customers will appreciate value.

For example, I often hear statements such as, “competitor x’s product is expensive and hard to use.” Real entrepreneurs highlight their positives by saying “product x is good, but our solution supports all the new environments, and still gets the job done faster and easier.”

7. Show credibility as an industry influencer and leader.

As an entrepreneur, you will have to be able to deal with disparate views and ultimately build solid people relationships in support of your efforts. Relate how you have been able to lead a team and positively influence an organization to align with your beliefs. Leadership is tougher than invention.

As an investor, I see hundreds of innovative solution pitches, but only rarely do I see an aspiring entrepreneur who demonstrates the attributes outlined here or who can convince me that they could be the next Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos.

I urge you to take a hard look now at how you come across to peers and people in business. You may be the biggest hurdle to your own business success.

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