Building your mission for your startup and or your career could be one and the same.
Investors invest in people they trust, not companies. They look for good founders who could be great early on. Top performing founders clearly articulate the company mission and drive results. Investors I know, both in San Diego and Silicon Valley, always say the same thing about what separates the good founders from the best founders. And they all come back to one thing: mission-driven. Why? Because mission-driven founders are the ones who will produce results. But how do you identify a founder as mission-driven? What is interesting is that these same traits are the ones that will accelerate your career.
Based on research and experience, investors pursue mission-driven founders, and people, who possess these three traits:
Empathy Through Adversity. Investors look for people who have been on a mission in their career. They look for early signs of people who responded to a mission, whether that was through other startups, spin-outs from bigger companies or even military experience. They look for any adversity in a founder’s life which made him or her work harder or smarter than the rest. Then they look for the benefits of this adversity and hope they see empathy through this process, a certain humility that the founder has instilled with them. Sheer willpower, smarts, effort or luck will not win the day. Rather, leading others and self while moving forward accelerates the leader’s learning at a very young age.
Are You Coachable? Founders of startups are already driving in a direction that others would not. They have stepped out to build a company, solve a problem and take maximum commercial or career risk to do so. They have departed known feedback or management loops from their last role at a larger company. These founders have investors, teammates and perhaps even a board, but they lack traditional feedback in the startup compared with successful leaders. But their desire to learn, improve as a leader, and serve their teams does not stop because they are mission-driven to solve the problem. The really great ones will be coachable because they know what they don’t know. And they want to know more. They are able to put their ego aside and learn from a coach, be they an advisor or mentor. The reason is that the mission they are on is higher than their own self-achievement.
Domain or Industry Expertise. Finally, they need to have “domain expertise” in the problem or market they are trying to solve. These founders have felt the pain of the problem first hand which provoked the call to action. They believe equally in their hearts AND their minds that the problem must be solved. “If not me, then who?” They are willing to risk it all because they understand the impact the solution could have on their network, their customers, and/or the issue at hand. They understand the market landscape and confidently step forward to burden more than their fair share of the task.
While quite a few investors don’t actively look for purpose-driven entrepreneurs as a thesis, they tend to embrace them when they meet them. I remember being at a meeting at Sequoia Capital in Silicon Valley in the mid 90’s. We were walking in when the PayPal founders were walking out, Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, and the partner at Sequoia saying this,” Whatever you guys want to do next, we will fund you.” Investors invest in founders they trust.
Here are three more attributes that founders on a mission have that makes them desirable to investors.
Founders with Grit and Motivation. The biggest advantage mission-driven founders (and, by extension, investors in those founders) have is extra motivation to stay in the game, a willingness to find a way to make things work and an ability to not give up. It adds to their resolve, grit and adversity muscle. Building a company is a long journey, and there are many adverse situations along the way. Having a mission or purpose provides the extra fuel to keep trying until a way out of the adversity is found. Since most startups fail, anything that improves the odds of success gives you an unfair advantage. Founders who are working in areas they are passionate about and which they feel connected to by a purpose, fueled by grit, are more likely to succeed.
A Mission Helps with Recruiting. The mission also helps with recruiting. In the early days of building a company, hiring great talent is a critical factor. Startups that offer a way to associate with a bigger purpose are not only able to compete with larger companies, but also find people who are self-starters, driven, and motivated to go above and beyond. This separates the great startups from the good ones. While mission is not the only way to attract great talent, it is one of the more effective ways.
Why is More Important Than What. Smart investors primarily invest in people, so it’s important to understand and to learn why the entrepreneur is doing what they are doing. So, there is more focus on why you are building the company, not what you are building. This helps the investor understand what drives the startup founder, their analytical framework and their values. When evaluating startups, investors will focus on learning this reason.
So as a startup founder, understand your mission and how it correlates to the type of investor you actually want. Hopefully you will actually choose investors who invest in people, like you, who are on a mission. Don’t take money from just anyone. Take investor money from people who actually believe in you and your mission.
If you are building your career, pay attention to these attributes as your senior leaders and managers are trying to decide if you are worth “investing” in with mentoring, training and additional responsibilities.