The WTFs of an Investor: #3 Hypermotivated Founders

In 2013/2014 Inventures asked me to write a series on our experience as a Seed stage fund, about stuff that makes us wonder, but not in a good way. This series originally titled “WTFs of a Business Angel” hasn’t lost its truth it seems, so we decided to revisit the content, update and adapt it where necessary and publish it here on our blog (also because sadly is gone from the Web). Have fun!

When we started Speedinvest in 2011, we were a startup ourselves. A very well funded startup, but still, we were a team of people who had some experience in building companies and no experience in building a Venture fund. We’re still learning an awful lot, because you can profit tons from other people’s experience, but there is no way around doing things yourself, making mistakes, trying again and again, learning from what you’ve seen so far.

That is the spirit that we like to keep, a positive and pro-founder type of attitude, because the truth is: we love what we’re doing. It’s fun and exciting to meet visionary people, who have drive and enthusiasm to change whatever tiny bit of their world, step by step. However, there are those rare events where we sit across the table in our office and have a facepalm moment. When one of us gets an email from a startup or reads a piece of news about our industry that just makes you go “WTF?”. For your reading pleasure, but also to offer you the opportunity to learn, we open up our treasure chest of awkward moments and give you our top WTFs, of course with all due respect to those contributing to them.

WTF #3 The Hypermotivated Founder

As an investor, one of our main tasks is to talk to founders and grasp their ideas, try to understand what motivates them, what drives them and what vision they’re trying to bring to life. The first pitch often happens via email and it’s truly hard to write a good email pitch in times where people easily receive up to 100 emails per day. That probably leads to some of the mails that we get, where super- or even hypermotivated founders pitch us their idea as ”a revolution”, where they brag on about their business as being ”the biggest opportunity EVER” and that we ”surely don’t want to miss out on this” because this is ”unlike anything we have ever seen”.

Recently, we got an email from a founder, saying that ”only the heart sees everything, because the real beauty is hidden for the eye” and that if we only looked at his idea with ”our hearts”, we would see the true beauty of his media-related business idea. He then went on, presenting a list of things that the eyes see, followed by facts that only the heart sees. We had several WTF moments up until there, but our 2 palms were stuck to our faces when it came to ”now, after we have reached break even, we will launch in the US and this will multiply everything by at least 10, this is plain to see”. It all ended with ”what we need now, is someone like you, who sees with the heart. Are you ready for this? We are. Let’s rock.”. WTF?

I have witnessed this in pitches all across Europe as well: a very energetic founder goes on stage and completely ignores the world out there, thinking that his ”idea is going to revolutionise [fill in your industry] unlike anything else EVER before”. This might be true, and to be clear, we want motivated founders, we love if you create and dominate a category, we need you to believe in your idea, otherwise we can’t.

But there is a fine line between being really driven by your vision and being a megalomaniac that ignores that there is competition out there, doesn’t give a shit about business models and is basically drinking his or her own Kool-Aid. I have been there myself. As an entrepreneur you need this mode, where you completely ignore everything that keeps you from executing on your vision. You need to blind out the naysayers, otherwise you’ll never be able to cope with the rollercoaster you experience day by day, where one tiny success is followed by a massive drawback leading to another success within just a couple of hours.

Confidence without Attitude

But honestly: would you believe the salesguy who tells you that his product is truly the best out there, unmatched by anything else? You might be sceptical as well. And what you don’t want is that the potential investor becomes sceptical of you and your idea. It requires fine tuning, finding the right balance between being really confident about the potential of your idea and keeping the bullshit to a minimum. But once you figure that out, there will be confidence on our side that we can and want to work with you. Because we will also be very confident in our offer and the stuff we can help you with on your rollercoaster ride. Just try to keep the bullshit about exits, rich founders and all that glitter to the utmost minimum. Or like one Business School in the US puts it: “We make decisions based on evidence and analysis, giving us the confidence to act without arrogance.”

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