Recently, I was working with a Founder/CEO through some fairly complex and challenging issues. In this case, I was not a member of the Board, but instead acting as an advisor/coach to the Founder. And, the issues being worked through were significant – it is not an exaggeration to say that the combination of issues could be fatal for this company.
It’s always interesting to see how entrepreneurs react to our content and our different styles and perspectives. This particular team is the classic case of consultants that have solved a problem for years with bespoke, customized services but believe they have found a way to build a scalable technology product. They have immense industry knowledge and experience but they recognize selling a SaaS product is different than selling a custom service offering, and they are eager to learn.
I am often asked, “What do you look for in an entrepreneur?”
I believe there are all types of successful entrepreneurs. There are visionaries that lay out bold initiatives and then delegate the day-to-day operations to others. There are technical, product first entrepreneurs that deeply understand the customer but do not have a clue how to organize, scale or lead teams. There are sales leaders that can tell a great story and convince early customers to take a chance on a new product, but are not detail oriented. There are operational leaders that focus on building great teams. But all of these differing backgrounds aside, to be effective, an entrepreneur must be intellectually honest with themselves about their own strengths and weaknesses and that of their team. In short, they must be self-aware.
“Build a great business and the exits will take care of themselves.”
I hate when people say this.
What is true about this statement is if you build a great business – you will have many exit opportunities along your path. I have been doing M&A since 2008 from both the buy side and the sell side - which offers me a unique perspective as I help entrepreneurs navigate these early offers.
I am maniacal about talent. I know that the right team with a shared vision and a growth mindset can make all the difference. I also know a wrong hire can be devastating. That is why I spend so much of my time scouting talent and recruiting. In fact, if I count it all up, I spend anywhere from 10-30% of my time on talent each week. Sometimes this is hardcore-we have an open position in one of our portfolio companies and we are actively sourcing against a specific set of criteria. In these cases, I am helping to source, interview, negotiate and close. More often this falls into the realm of networking with individuals from different background and skill sets - understanding their roles as well as their unique strengths, challenges and personalities. Then, waiting for the timing to be right to make a match for one of our portfolio companies.
In May, I wrote a blog about about Setting the Record Straight. I received many comments about the post and clearly it touched on something that resonated with many people in the venture community. What most people don’t know is that I had been talking about starting a blog for more than a year. As I wrote about in the May post, it is one way to create my brand within MATH. However, more importantly, it allows entrepreneurs and other investors an insight into working with me. It also allows an opportunity for me to give back to the community-to offer a point-of-view that might not otherwise be out there.
When I first got involved early stage investing, I read everything I could find on start-ups and the venture capital world. I studied lean start up principals and subscribed to every major blog out there. I was a sponge soaking it all in and I was on a steep learning curve. I also found a surprising number of things from my corporate career that translated to the early stage world.