What to Look for When Backing a Founding Team


Whether experienced entrepreneurs, successful executives from a previous start-up, rock star developers from a technology bellwether or hungry, scrappy, determined newcomers looking to change the world, we want to talk to you. With that said, these are the characteristics we’ll be looking for.



Notice that in every case we referred to a founding team and not an individual founder

We prefer a team of 2 or 3 co-founders with complementary skills. The team needs to be supremely passionate about the venture. Preferably two developers or engineers and a business person/evangelist that can create buzz, attract funding, set-up and take meetings, conduct market research, take care of the books and generally deal with all of the non-development related issues. We don’t believe that it’s possible for a single individual founder to do it all. Even if we found that incredibly capable individual, the investment would be too risky.

A successful founding team will embody a number of rare qualities

The team must have absolute trust in each of the co-founders. They should be confident in their abilities, needs and expectations, yet humble enough to know that they will face adversity and have to forge ahead. They must be capable of executing fast and hitting markets hard while understanding that customers can be a valuable source of feedback which could cause changes in product or direction. The team must be willing to release early versions of their product, gather feedback, re-release their product, gather more feedback, etc., essentially adopting the lean start-up methodology. They must be willing to fail fast and move on to the next iteration, next product or even the next venture. They must be open, honest, candid and extraordinarily resourceful. At least one, hopefully all, should have significant leadership abilities. We’re also really interested in what’s motivating each member of the founding team.

A successful founding team will create a culture that attracts the best and brightest 

We are looking for open, honest, no politics, mutual respect, meritocracy, engineering-oriented, customer-focused, work hard, play hard, obsessed with measurements and metrics, value quality over quantity, consistently deliver superior products on time team. Meetings are consensus driven with the understanding that “agreeing to disagree” is consensus. Fast decision making is leveraged as a competitive advantage, appreciation for action over analysis paralysis and everyone is focused on cost efficiency. The ultimate goal is to have fun creating an awesome product while making truckloads of money to better the world in some way, shape or form.

Founders “tough questions” have been addressed

Equity split and a course of action to be taken if a founder decides to leave the company has been agreed upon. Reasons a founder can be terminated have been agreed upon. Conceptual exit value and strategy, strategic decision making process, operational decision making process, cash investment expectations, full-time or part-time arrangements, founder compensation and whether or not founder non-compete clauses are required have been agreed upon. Founders have signed over all intellectual property to the company and there are no “lost founders.”

Cultural fit for us

We are a jeans and t-shirt, roll up your sleeves, kick ass and take names while having fun investor. We like to invest in companies that we think we can add value to. Whether it’s our experience in fundraising, due diligence efforts, corporate strategy, technical strategy, complex sales, engineering or some form of research, we are looking for opportunities to add value in addition to our investment. If this isn’t what you’re looking for, we’re not a good fit. We believe that the money invested is worth far less than the mentorship and help we provide.

Basically, when speaking to the founding team, the words that should come to our minds include: trustworthy, confident, intelligent, motivated, passionate, capable, knowledgeable, humble, inspiring, and fun to be around.

Reprinted by permission.

About the author: Dr. Jim Brinksma

Prior to founding Visible Arbitrage, Dr. Jim Brinksma launched Business Information Technology Solutions, Shellback Research, and Shellback Labs. He also held positions as Vice President at Goldman Sachs & Co., Sr. Director of Systems Engineering at Ciena Corporation, Sr. Systems Engineer at Cyras Systems, Network Engineer at Enkido, and served in the United States Navy during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

Jim’s doctoral dissertation at University of Maryland covered “Public Market Signals as a Guide for Entrepreneurs Seeking Venture Capital Investment”. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems Management from University of Maryland, completed the Strategy and Innovation Program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and completed the Non-Profit Board Leadership Program at Harvard Business School.

Jim has global experience and has provided a range of services to entrepreneurs, venture capital firms, hedge funds, institutional banks, service providers, equipment manufacturers, and non-profits.

You are seconds away from signing up for the hottest list in New York Tech!

Join the millions and keep up with the stories shaping entrepreneurship. Sign up today.