Based on my experience as a business advisor, I’m convinced that most startup investors invest in the entrepreneur, as much as a solution or product. In that context, I’ve long realized that some players seem to command real attention, even if their proposal sounds far-fetched or very risky. The attribute most often mentioned in this regard is supreme self-confidence or chutzpah.
Examples of this today would obviously include Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs a few years ago. In a new book, “The Unstoppable Startup,” by Uri Adoni, a widely respected venture capitalist from Israel, I was pleased to see real specifics on how you can successfully demonstrate the right level of confidence and boldness, without stepping over the line into arrogance and insolence.
The book author’s background and experience are with entrepreneurs and startups in and from Israel, but I believe the key rules he outlines, which I am paraphrasing here, are equally applicable and important to aspiring entrepreneurs and startups everywhere:
- Challenge status quo and currently accepted reality. The attitude of taking nothing for granted, of disbelieving the conventional wisdom, of challenging the way things are done, is essential for a winning entrepreneur. Of course, this passion must be backed up by documented evidence and logical arguments, not just loud talking and arm waving.
While “personal” computers are taken for granted today, I can easily remember my early days in IBM when no one could conceive of a computer outside of business. Only people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had the chutzpah to propose a computer for every home.
- Dominate or create the market category you seek. I often hear the argument that this opportunity is so large, that even a tiny percentage will be a good business. Without the self-confidence, secret sauce, and a plan to become the dominant player over time, investors know too well that you will likely be overrun by competitors or lost in the crowd.
- Innovate to meet future demands you foresee. Investors are most impressed with entrepreneurs who are part futurists and part prophets, with insights to see “around the corner,” and innovation and production plans to get there first, even in today’s rapidly changing market. They readily admit to challenges, but display confidence to proceed.
When Elon Musk talks about us becoming a multi-planet species, or alleviating earth travel congestion with a network of tunnels, people now listen, especially when he can show that SpaceX and The Boring Company are already demonstrating results.
- Convince people the market needs what you have. Steve Jobs is known for asserting, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Chutzpah is often required to create and expand markets, especially in cultures that are stifled by acquiescence and authority. You have to overcome existing players, and the human resistance to change.
- Bend the conventional rules of what is possible. Most of us have an innate sense of what is physically possible, and what is considered “good business practice.” Disruptive innovations challenge one or both of these assumptions, and it takes real self-confidence to bend these rules with credibility and integrity. Solicit experts to support your assertions.
Another approach is to seed your team with “divergent thinkers.” These are people with the uncanny ability to think “outside the box,” and come up with free-flowing ideas, as opposed to their convergent-thinking counterparts who think in a linear fashion.
- Show, don’t tell people what your product can do. If you can provide living proof of what your product can do, with a proof of concept (POC) or minimum viable product (MVP), people can’t help but believe you. Entrepreneurs with the right level of self-confidence are always ready to back up their talking with action and results.
How potential partners, investors, and customers see you is critical to their ultimate support and acceptance of your proposal and your solution. They have to believe in your confidence, as well as your ability to deliver. The principles outlined here, carefully embodied in chutzpah, will put you in an elite category of entrepreneurs. Then all you have to do is to demonstrate results.