TechPORTFOLIO interviewed investors, financiers, and academics and asked them what they look for in early stage startups – and how they define success. Here are their answers.
Chris Arsenault, managing partner at iNovia Capital, says that the most successful companies he has backed early-on have made sales and growth a priority: “It’s often easier for a startup to be 100% focused on the product, while sales take a back seat.” One of the biggest barriers facing startups is lack of sales-focused management teams, he says.
However, he stresses, the product roadmap needs to incorporate upgrades and new features according to customer needs. The best practice is to find your customers and then develop your product in the early stages with their feedback.
“You can fill faster and iterate better by leveraging customers early in the startup process,” says Dr. Sean Wise, Associate Professor, Entrepreneurship, Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.
“Success for me is not necessarily the same as what an entrepreneur defines as success,” says Matt Roberts, associate director at the IT Venture Fund at Business Development Bank of Canada. His aim is to build all the internal processes to allow the company to grow up and then get it set up to access series A funding.
“I want my companies to have the wherewithal to attract other outside capital, to continue to grow, and execute on the business,” he says.
Michelle McBane, investment director at MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund, agrees. When the companies leave the stage of working on their key product and customers “then our companies are graduated, so that means they’ve passed the baton to the series A/B investors. That’s success for us.”
“Diversity helps ensure there are different perspectives around the table, driving better decision making that will ultimately lead to better long term performance,” says Will Hutchins, Managing Director of Espresso Capital. “I believe this is true at all stages of a company’s growth–from startups to mature companies.”
“Startups have more needs than they have resources. Leveraging your community allows you to leverage what little resources you have,” says Dr. Sean Wise. A dense community offers cheaper and easier talent acquisition and, of course, more investors.