I’ve mentioned many times in previous posts that the team is one of the most important factors in early stage investments. Often I get asked “well how do you define and assess a great team?”.
What guides me in early stage investments is the notion that uncertainty is high and the team is likely to meet roadblocks, forcing them to take detours and pivot. I believe past performance is a good indicator for the future. Many times I ask the co-founders to tell their story and describe how they came up with the idea and how the product evolved to-date. Their story gives a chance to get insight into numerous ingredients:
- Are they market focused – Have they spent majority of their time developing the product internally or frequently engaged with potential customers to validate assumptions and get feedback during the development cycle.
- What is likely to happen when they hit a roadblock – How long did it take them previously to identify a roadblock and detour. How resourceful and creative was the team when things didn’t move forward as planned.
- Execution and focus – What have they done since kicking off? Do they have any distribution partnerships? Any beta customers? Advisors? To what extent have they been focused on execution vs. ideation? To what extent have they been generally focused?
- How do they handle disagreement – Roadblocks, unplanned surprises and disappointments create friction, disagreement and the need to make tough decisions. These situations might even lead to the departure of some team members. A high performance team is put to the test at such situations. Past performance is a good indicator for future one.
I find that being prepared for upsides is easy but recognizing potential downside is challenging. Military Special Forces teams usually perform well by preparing and training for worse case scenarios. Similarly, founders who recognize and are prepared for different scenarios tend to perform well. Given that, I find that having a conversation around potential risks and surprises gives a good indication to the team’s professionalism and readiness.