What I've learned from screening 7,000 companies this year

I find myself saying this all the time to entrepreneurs: I don't think I truly understood the value of a quality investor until I completed my first recruitment season with StartFast. I'll be honest, when I was running my previous company I was a huge investor cynic. Much of that I think was due to the very authoritative tone most investors tend to have (a trend I am trying very hard to disrupt) but I think it was also my lack of understanding of what their perspective can actually bring to the table.

It's currently early-April 2019 and I've so far screened 7,000 companies this year. I've had 100's of conversations with entrepreneurs about their businesses and teams. Contrast that to the average entrepreneur who knows their business and their market better than anyone else but that's often all they see. I've got the view from a satellite while the average entrepreneur is digging in the weeds.

The primary advantage to that is the ability to see patterns in a way that entrepreneurs simply can't. An entrepreneur will understand the most minute details of their product, their marketing strategy, their competitors, and hopefully their customers. An investor will never have that deep of knowledge on these subjects but what they do have is an ability to match what you're doing to what others are doing. What do you have that have been found in other successful companies and what things are you doing that match companies that failed?

Here's a perfect example regarding B2B SaaS companies. I have never once met a successful B2B SaaS company who didn't have at least one killer salesperson (usually either VP of Sales and/or CEO) on the founding team. So you may have a great product, maybe a lot of industry experience, maybe even a bunch of rich uncles willing to fund you but if you don't have someone who can sell with the best of them the odds are very stacked against you.

Every founding team without this combination I'm sure is now furiously thinking of how they're a special exception. I understand that instinct but pause for a second and just absorb that information before becoming defensive. I've probably had close to 100 conversations with B2B SaaS companies this year and have a network of 100 more that have grown past the early stages. The pattern is as clear as day. So as an entrepreneur you're now faced with a choice: 1) start coming up with excuses for why you're the exception to this rule or 2) do the objectively responsible thing and start looking for a killer salesperson to add to your team.

Which brings me to another extremely important example: If you're ever faced with a similar situation where someone says to you "you know every successful company like yours has had ABC and you currently don't have ABC" how you react to that is another important indicator. Entrepreneurs that are less likely to succeed will respond in a dismissive, defensive, or sometimes arrogant fashion. Successful entrepreneurs take a deep breadth, ask detailed questions about how to acquire ABC, and then set out to do it ASAP.

The point here is when a sophisticated investor makes a suggestion don't just assume they're implying "do what I say because I'm smarter than you". Ask them about their experience with other companies in your situation. What patterns have they seen? Chances are they aren't smarter than you they're just working off a different data set than you are.

James Shomar
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