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Why ‘investing in people’ isn’t just a cliché

Why ‘investing in people’ isn’t just a cliché.jpg
Discover the best of #LEAP22 and get a tantalising taste of the insights ahead at #LEAP23.

Each week, we share our pick of quotes from LEAP contributors. Discover the best of #LEAP22 and get a tantalising taste of the insights ahead at #LEAP23. 

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This week we’re quoting…

Daniel Bernard (Sports Industry Investor)

What Bernard said: 

“One of the mistakes people make in pitch competitions is they make it a little too much about themselves. And it’s critical to understand how your proposition hits the market, hits the world.” 

Less about you, more about them

Bernard was sharing his advice for startup founders to get the most out of the opportunity to pitch to a VC investor. 

The message is pretty simple: make it less about you, and more about what your business or product can do.

You should be easily able to answer questions like: 

Where does your offering fit into the market? 

What purpose does it serve? 

Who does it help? 

Why is it better than other services/products out there? 

Reign in your excitement

You’ve created a product you’re excited about. It’s amazing, it could change the world; you love it. You’re really, really proud of it. 

But when you’re pitching to investors you need to reign all of that right in. Yes, you are an important factor in whether or not your startup will be successful. And it does matter that you believe in what you’re doing. But you don’t need to say that over and over again; it’ll be implicit in the choices you’ve made, the actions you’ve taken, and the way you position your product. 

So instead of waxing lyrical about why you believe in your product so much, talk instead about what it will do for the people who use it. How it will change the world. And how VC backing will catapult it to success. 

Some encouragement, in numbers

  • Nearly 50% of grant-funded deep tech ventures take several rounds of grants before they succeed in attracting VC funding. (source: Hello Tomorrow)
  • A unicorn startup is a startup that reaches the $1 billion mark. And right now, there are about 1,183 unicorn startups in the world – compared with just 39 in 2013. (source: CB Insights)
  • Of the billion-dollar tech startups that are around right now, more than 50 were founded during a recession. And the tech unicorns founded during the 2008 recession are now worth a collective total of about $150 billion. (source: Startup Genome)
  • 139 of the unicorns in the world are in FinTech – making up 19.5% of total global unicorn value. (source: Hurun)
  • In 2021, early-stage startups secured a total of $210 billion in VC funding, across 8,000 startups – up 99% from 2020. (source: Crunchbase)

If you’re seeking investment for your startup, our message to you is straightforward: don’t give up. 

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This week we’re also quoting…

Obediah Ayton (General Managing Partner at Synaptech Capital)

What Ayton said:

“We also have to look after startups — because at the end of the day we’re giving them the growth capital they need to succeed; we’re believing in founders to achieve sufficient goals, but I think the part a lot of people miss is the skills required to do so.”

What skills do startup founders lack? 

Founders are visionaries. They’re innovators. They’re passionate drivers of technological change. 

But every business skill they don’t have costs them money at an early stage – because they have to outsource that skill. Whether it’s bid writing, or marketing, or product development, or networking, or PR, or market research – upskilling yourself as a founder (or upskilling your small internal team) can save serious $$.  

Articles about the skills startup founders should have (like this one on Forbes, and this one one the Harvard Business Review) often focus on intangible skills like empathy, and proactiveness, and a desire to learn, and generally being a good person to work with. 

All of which are important personal qualities for a founder. But if you neglect your hard, practical skills, you’re missing a trick. 

Skills like…

  • Writing killer copy – to make your pitch decks and your marketing content stand out from every other startup vying for attention.
  • Developing and testing digital products – so you don’t have to outsource to an agency at a high cost.
  • Connecting with potential users/consumers to conduct market research – again, to minimise outsourcing, and to enhance first-hand product and market knowledge in-house.
  • Networking with journalists – so you can avoid expensive PR agency fees.

The list could go on. 

So where do you start?

If you want to upskill yourself or your team, then, how do you know which skills to focus on?

You could start with the skills that cost you the most to outsource in the short-term. Or, you could focus on the skills that will elevate your career or elevate your team long-term

We’d vote for the second approach – because sustainable startups take a bigger picture view and set themselves up for longevity, not just rapid growth. 

By the way, we’re not against outsourcing

Just to be clear, when it’s done in the right way, with the right suppliers, and for the right reasons, we think outsourcing is great. It’s the lifeblood of startups with small teams that can’t yet afford to expand with more permanent team members, and it’s also the lifeblood of big, established corporations, because they get to bring in creative talent from outside the office walls, and benefit from fresh perspectives and broader experiences. 

But outsourcing because you have no choice but to outsource can put pressure on a startup’s budget at an early stage. When that pressure is felt, being able to pull more skills in-house can free up cash flow elsewhere. 

So even if you’re not going to use your new skills all the time, or very much at all…still develop them. Invest in learning. You’ll give yourself more options – and you’ll be better at managing outsourced skills when you do decide to loop an external worker in, because you’ll have a better understanding of what those skills involve. 

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