Be Very Determined to Succeed
Intelligence, education, experience, and charisma are all fantastic personal qualifications for the members of your leadership team, but determination to succeed is the single defining characteristic which is most highly correlated with a successful entrepreneur. You’ve got a vision, be determined to reach your goal and stay the course no matter what happens. Don’t let them see you sweat? Exactly, do not get discouraged easily and certainly don’t give up. Not getting a response from connections you’ve made? Don’t assume they are not interested, keep asking (politely) until you get a yes or no. And if you get a “no,” don’t lash out, sulk away, or demand a rationale, but do thank them for considering the investment and ask if they know others who might be interested in investing in your company.
Be credible in your actions and words. If you say you’ll do something, do it. If you promise more information, take the time to provide it. If you say you have data, be honest in your assessment of your data and comparisons. Overselling only leads to let downs later.
Dress for Success
You don’t need to wear a $10k suit – you are an entrepreneur, after all – but you do need to look like someone in whom an investor can invest. Although exceptions can be made when investors visit you in your research lab or manufacturing plant, when you visit investors or meet them in the community, dress appropriately.
Maintain cordiality in your communication, correspondence, and interactions. You are a gentleman or lady, act like one. Why? Investors invest in people they like – or they can make connections to other investors. However, investors like anyone else will only expend their personal capital to make a connection when they believe you will be a positive (or not negative) reflection on them (i.e. that there is value in the connection for the person to whom they are connecting you and that you will not act like a jerk).
Determination to succeed doesn’t mean “your way or not at all.” You might find mentors, investors, or others who provide input, support, or investment that lead to you consider reaching your goal by another path. Be flexible enough to constantly re-evaluate your resources and determine the best path to success. This does not mean for you to be wishy-washy or to be willing to change the strategic plan every time you speak with someone – which would be terrible. Stay the course, but be flexible. (Imagine you are driving a car and come up on a traffic jam; be flexible enough to take a different route if needed, but don’t drive in circles or change your final destination.)
Build a Team, Not a Group
Data shows that start-ups with a single entrepreneur are not nearly as successful as one led by 2-3 people. On top of that, investors realize a significant risk exists when one person is completely necessary to the success of the venture. Start-ups are a team sport and there is no “I” in team (as the over-used cliché goes). Good teams include 2-3 people that work very well together (friends without baggage are the best partners) and need to have trust between them. Also, what happens in the locker room stays there – when you are on the field, don’t let the outside world (the investors, your advisors, employees, etc.) see you fight. You are a rock-solid team and you solve your differences behind closed doors, come to an agreement/decision, and it is a unified decision when you emerge.