Finding the Right Fit

All great pitches have a few things in common: the founder/team is wicked smart, the idea is big and a breakthrough, and the market is potentially enormous.

But the best pitches are also usually non-obvious and unique to the particular entrepreneur’s story and background. “Founder/market fit” is important. Does the founder’s life story, educational background, personal struggles, Ph.D thesis, or prior work experience somehow qualify them to unfairly prosecute the opportunity they are pursuing? At our firm we always start off our meetings with a deep dive into the entrepreneur’s background, and the most convincing pitches literally pour out of them with some deep connection or “aha” that led them into the business they are explaining. By doing so, the idea is unique/original and is presented authentically versus a canned sales presentation.

A lack of originality and authenticity is probably the biggest turnoff. Stereotypically, this can be a couple of MBAs that have been churning through different business ideas in order to find something that might make them rich. Or it could be a hired gun/former sales VP as the CEO adopting or explaining someone else’s idea. In both cases, they typically have done a superficial, McKinsey-esque market analysis but have no passion or connection to the business.

Another important quality of a “perfect” pitch is when a founder exudes in many different ways, the confidence and courage to go the distance, against improbable odds, to make an enduring or lasting business. They come off as expertly informed, determined and unflappable during the hard questions. And they usually lay out a series of chess moves that reveal an even bigger ambition: “If we do this, then we can do that…”

A lack of confidence is also a huge turnoff – usually typified by a single slide in the deck entitled, “Exit Strategy or Exit Options.” This is the kiss of death for our firm.

This post originally appeared on the WSJ Accelerators Blog.

  1. Hey Scott – article hit home. My co-founder and I could certainly be typecast quickly into a couple of those buckets. I've found the leading indicator of success is a founders traits, over skills, and certainly over experience. I'm sure its the exception to the rule, but my guess is that there are some MBAs, former sales VPs, with visible passion, intense focus, and the right amount of crazy that would be solid bets for A16Z.

    • scottweissa16z said:

      Yeah, empirically there's been a lot of former sales VPs and MBAs that we've observed as "faux founders" but they certainly aren't the only ones. And there's been plenty of great REAL founders that have MBAs and/or have been former sales or biz dev execs. Of the eight GPs/founders at a16z, five of us have MBAs, including me. I guess people in glass houses…

  2. Wow, this is post is a gem. Thanks very much for sharing such a condensed yet incredible rich information. I have one question though, I have heard several times from different investors that they are looking for a ~3 years exit strategy where they can have a great return. For that reason I have included the "kiss of death" slide on some presentations with the intention of pleasing them.

    So my question is, if I really demonstrate huge commitment both in effort and time, far beyond ~3 years, can I keep the "Exit Strategy" slide just for Investors? or should I skip it completely and focus on the project/business case?

    • scottweissa16z said:

      The "Exit Strategy" slide screams built to flip versus built to last. I'm sure there are investors that have the 3 year criteria but I'm not sure I'd want them investing in a company I would start. I want investors that will help me build an enduring company… I'd skip it.

  3. Borris said:

    No Exit here! Only through the gift shop.

  4. Excellent Post! It's nice to read something like that and feel the fire inside that you're talking about. It's like it doesn't take any convincing or persuasion at all from the founder, their energy, confidence, idea, and clarity of seeing the idea form all angles, is enough for anyone to want to sign on.

    I also love how you included how important it is to see the future of the startup and where it can lead, possible additional avenues. Great!

    It's just a matter of getting into that room with a firm like yours to show them! That's the hard part.

  5. Thank you for sharing this very revealing look into how you make your decisions. I found it very informative to learn about the traits you guys look for. Authenticity + Originality = WIN!

  6. Robert Conrad said:

    Robert Conrad,
    I like the new format, and the new emphasis on intangibles.
    You say "authenticity", I say inner enthusiasm, integrity, decisiveness and determination. Clear motives is also very important: Why do I want to do this; what can I contribute that is unique, and what will I do with the $ 4-100 Million plus if you are acquired or go public.

    My experience is that if I/others are not doing it for themselves, the mission will not be sucessful.

  7. Dania said:

    This can be a couple of MBAs that have been churning through different business ideas in order to find something that might make them rich.

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