This is an incomplete, non-exhaustive, and unstructured list of things I personally am impressed by when watching founders pitch their startups:
Related experience. This may mean someone who has worked in mobile for over a decade who has a mobile idea; but it doesn’t have to be. Having related experience professionally is fantastic – but most important is a personal understanding of the problem they are trying to solve. A parent solving a problem their child faces, for example, means there’s a higher degree of empathy than you might expect.
Comfort with ‘failing fast.’ I love when I hear a team say they tried X or observed Y and it didn’t work. It shows a level of not only experience but also maturity, resilience, and focus that they continue. The “failure” doesn’t matter, it’s the learnings and insights that are the real value.
Killer team. A startup’s leadership team is everything – it sets the tone for culture, for fundraising, for future hiring, everything. So the page with the names and brief bio’s of the team are usually among my favorite. Ivy League pedigrees don’t matter, but people who show commitment to past jobs, a willingness to roll up their sleeves, and some indicators of success are the ones who are most likely to make the best use of funds.
Thoughtful business model. False precision in unit economics is just that – false precision. But having a well-thought plan around how a company can grow, and generate eventual revenue streams, shows that in addition to vision there is a commercial mindset in the company. You don’t need to breakeven in your first month or even year, but being aware of who values your product and shows willingness to pay, at a high level, is critical.
Realistic product pipeline. An MVP should be just that – minimum viable product to see if the concept sticks. But having a prioritized plan that shows what features matter most, and at what stage, shows discipline. The best product managers ruthlessly prioritize the features needed, and thus the resources required to build them.
Enthusiasm. A founding team should be, by definition, the most excited people in the world about that idea. That enthusiasm should be visible in the presentation and in the Q&A. Not everyone is born a perfect presenter or speaker, but the level of enthusiasm is certainly palpable in pitches – and matters a lot.