How simple and compelling is your startup's pitch?
The romanticized view of entrepreneurship is of creating something world beating. This is still the view of many VC firms, I'm sure. Yet - in the the VC firm where I've been working - this is not necessarily true. This may be because this particular VC firm is moving later stage with its investments, which may be true of many European VCs comparative to Americans. In any case, the experience of intern'ing at a London based VC firm has coloured some of my thinking on start-ups. Here are some of my take-aways.
You doesn't necessarily have to have something market leading. You just need something that gains market traction and generates revenue. If it makes enough of an impression on the market, it'll be acquired and generate a payout for the entrepreneur and the investors involved. It is not necessary to build a new way to brush teeth; a better way to brush teeth is fine.
There are lots and lots of startups everywhere. It is amazing how many there are. They are flies circling VC firms. The VC will say that only thing that ultimately differentiates one against another is revenue, profitability and the opportunity for growth.
It's not necessarily about creating a good business as much as creating a good exit. Having mentioned how important revenues are... on the flipside, if you can sell the hype that a service with millions of people using it, yet no revenue, will in some future generate large revenue returns - so be it! The classic example of this is Google's purchase of YouTube.
Entreprenuers fumble about a lot before hitting the jackpot. There are a number of examples of companies that are successful now, but which weren't originally as successful. As they started investigating a problem, they stumbled on something which was the real money making opportunity. A recent British example of this is Skimbits, which eventually found a neat way to monetize links and created Skimlinks.
Some entrepreneurs are more impressive than others. Some of the most impressive entrepreneurs have a long track record in the field they operate in, with deep industry knowledge, know-how of the market and what users want from the product. They also have lots of connections within the industry and experience of the technology or innovation involved. One entrepreneur I've come across has such a reputation in his industry, a firm he was interested in acquiring dropped their asking price from £1M+ to ~£150k for a 50% stake in their business: they believed he could dramatically increase their revenue.
Presentation and clear articulation are important. Many companies will approach a VC firm in many different ways. Some companies can be overlooked quickly merely because the concept is not clear. This is particularly true if the financials are not particularly impressive. The clarity of the message is important. How well the entrepreneur communicates this can reflect on him/her positively or negatively. Realism with a slick, carefully thought out presentation can go a long way. The first presentation everyone (including a VC) will look at is the company's website.
There are signals for good and bad. A company seeking investment for international expansion is attractive. A company seeking investment to expand by going into a new market (which it may not have direct experience), is much more risky. If the company has a foot in the door (e.g. a pilot) for the next growth opportunity that they promise, this is a good sign. If the company needs lots of physical assets to operate, it can be difficult to scale it.