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Whether the economy is doing well or in a phase of uncertainty, the fundamentals of building an investable start-up remain the same. You don’t need to be a mind reader to determine what investors want to know.
Here are five tips to help convince potential investors that your solution solves a big problem for a large market and that your team has the talent, creativity and character to deliver on your business plan in favorable or uncertain market conditions.
1. Be clear about the problem
It is more important than ever to be clear with investors about the problem your company solves. The number one thing that matters today is how quickly and clearly an entrepreneur can articulate the problem that her startup solves. Why? Because investors know that when a startup fails, it is usually because there is insufficient demand for the product. What specifically about your solution will make customers change what they are currently doing and pay for your new product?
2. Know your audience
Determine beyond any doubt that you are working in a space that an investor cares about and that your vision and goals align with theirs. Investors in technology-driven high-growth companies are looking for hyper-growth in specific industries, for example, advanced materials, information technology or biotechnology — large markets with tremendous opportunities. If your vision isn’t stoked by the risk and endurance it takes to build and scale those businesses, high-growth entrepreneurship is likely not the right path for you.
3. Provide the evidence
Nothing beats demonstrating your first-hand understanding of your market. Entrepreneurs who have lived with a problem in previous roles or their personal lives uniquely understand the impact and the potential gains of their solution. Suppose that’s your backstory, great. If not, describing what you learned and how you pivoted from surveys, interviews and by listening to customers builds credibility—especially when some of those customers are willing to become early adopters and go through multiple iterations to prototype your technology and prove your business model. Convincing customers helps convince investors.
Investors expect entrepreneurs to be enthusiastic. When that passion is combined with an understanding of customers’ needs and of the impacts that your startup solving their problems can have on their bottom line, investors pay attention. Focusing on your customer’s pain points and the payback of your solution encourages investors to focus on you.
4. Understand the economics
What has to happen for your new business to achieve 20, 50 or 100% year-over-year growth? Investors will listen when you demonstrate your clear understanding of the business unit economics for your company. Show how you can gain enough traction with the first feature set and early adopters to prove the market and technical viability of your solution and market. Sometimes entrepreneurs are so focused on a specific solution that they become less open to a solution that could be better. Show that you know how to listen for signals and to narrow up or pivot if that’s what it takes to scale.
While there may be multiple longer-term markets and product enhancements, don’t dilute your team’s focus. Can you build the solution? Is there a gap in the solution? Can you plug in? Focus on business development, not product innovation. Prove scalability in the first market and generate enough revenue to secure follow-on funding to support additional growth.
5. Show your flexible mindset
Investors want to collaborate with high-integrity, coachable entrepreneurs. Every interaction with you influences whether you are someone investors will trust and want to invest in. Balance the tightrope between ego and confidence. Be willing to acknowledge what you know and what you don’t. It’s rare to find an entrepreneur who hasn’t made mistakes.
Eventually, almost every startup will need a flexible mindset to pivot on some aspect of their business plan. Seek trusted advice, then follow your instincts. Successful entrepreneurship always comes back to the basics — market validation, product/market fit and staying focused on the business plan.
Trustworthy, confident and coachable entrepreneurs don’t allow an uncertain economy to distract them from executing their business plan.