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Founding team traits that make VCs go weak in the knees

Intelligence, innovative thinking, and perseverance are essential qualities of a promising founder. However, as a general partner of a VC firm that has already invested in over 50 startups, I've learned to look for something beyond these attributes.

Here are some traits that I believe distinguish exceptional founders from the rest.

Optimism (even when the world is f***ed up)

Founders must maintain a positive outlook, despite challenges. After all, they are the ones who inspire the whole team to keep pushing. A demoralized leader will ruin the team’s morale and make poor decisions.

Study the cases of Ukrainian startup founders who keep thinking positively amid the full-scale war in their country. VCs are looking for such teams.

Clarity in email writing

Investors receive dozens of pitch decks a day, and emails are the first thing they see. The way some emails are written can discourage me from talking to its sender, let alone investing in them.

An email to VC isn’t a place for storytelling or vague wording. Start with the subject: Don’t write “Seeking investment” or “My pitch deck.” Instead, specify the industry, round, and location right away: “Edtech startup from Ukraine raising $200k pre-seed.”

In the email’s body, keep going with facts — not adjectives. Tell investors about the problem you are solving, how you are doing it, and show the metrics that prove the idea is actually working. It could be your MRR, CAC, and MOM.

Curiosity to learn more

Thirty-five percent of startups fail because the founding team has not learned enough about the market and what people actually need. Founders should study their market to understand their potential clients, launch effective marketing campaigns, and ultimately create a product that people will use.

And curiosity is the catalyst for acquiring that knowledge. It drives founders to constantly learn, adapt, and innovate in response to the ever-changing business landscape.

Read more: Web Summit talks: What makes a world-class founder

Readiness for feedback

Investors could be former founders themselves, serve on multiple boards of directors and have a wide network in the industry. They have enough knowledge to help their portfolio to see new opportunities, reduce risks, and achieve goals they have.

But founders should be ready to listen. When, instead of listening and talking things through, founders burst with anger and throw tantrums, there’s little chance a VC can help.

Very few investors want to deal with an “ego-driven” founding team that, instead of having a constructive dialogue and accepting feedback, get defensive and argue.

Greediness, but not for money

Almost all the successful founders one can think of are revolutionaries. But their goal wasn’t to get rich, they wanted to change the world. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg prove that.

“We don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services,” said Mark Zuckerberg back in 2011 before taking Facebook public.

“I never did it for the money,” said Steve Jobs in a 1996 PBS documentary. “I made a promise to myself: I said, ‘I’m not going to let money ruin my life,” Jobs said in a separate interview.

Focusing on getting rich can lead to unrealistic expectations and an unsustainable target on short-term gains over long-term success. Venture capitalists are seeking determined market disruptors who are driven by a desire to change the market, rather than money.

Determination in sports, hobbies

If you believe that winning a sports contest or graduating with honors won’t aid you in fundraising, I can assure you that it can — it shows determination.

Concrete achievements in sports, social life, hobbies, or academics can serve as a positive indication to investors that you possess the necessary drive and work ethic to succeed. Don't hesitate to share your key accomplishments during a meeting with a VC.

Resilience (or praising past failures)

Jeff Bezos, Reid Hoffman, Stewart Butterfield and many other world-famous founders worked for other startups before they started their companies Amazon, Netflix and Slack.

From investors’ perspective, a founder who was previously an early employee at another startup is considered stronger than a founder who spent over a decade at a large corporation. Those with startup experience are more likely to be flexible, have unbiased thinking, and possess some awareness about the startup ecosystem.

Even if you owned a startup before and it failed, you still have an advantage. Statistically, founders who have previously failed have a 20% chance of success with a new venture, compared to 18% for first-time founders.

This article was originally published on Vestbee's blog with the title "Co-Founding Team Traits That Make VCs Go Weak In The Knees."

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