Article - The makings of a successful entrepreneur

Pitching to investors isn’t getting easier. It’s challenging to know exactly what they’re looking for in a successful entrepreneur.

Enter, our Investor Panel discussions.

We gather advice and insights from Silicon Valley investors on what they like (and don’t like) to see from startup founders and their teams. We explore how to capture their interest, what trends are on the horizon, as well as their general thoughts on navigating the startup industry.

Curtis Feeny, Ben Narasin and Ed Lambert have been around a long time in Silicon Valley.

Ben Narasin has done his time as an entrepreneur for 20 years and is now an investor at one of the largest venture capital firms in the world, NEA, who have over $20 billion under management. Curtis Feeny spent 17 years as Managing Director of Voyager Capital and has now gone on to start up investment firm, Silicon Valley Data Capital, while Ed Lambert is a 14 year veteran as Senior Vice President of Bridge Bank.

These three are as entertaining as they are experienced and we recommend viewing their talk, but we’ve also rounded up the very best moments from our Investor Panel discussion – advice on becoming a great entrepreneur.

The magical formula that makes a successful entrepreneur

“I need five things. People, people, people, a great idea and a huge market if it works. That great idea is usually one I haven’t thought of. You guys have thought of it. And if it can create a huge market, then that’s what makes it exciting and that’s what makes markets in the future that I care about.” – Ben Narasin

The tenacious entrepreneur

Overnight success is a myth in the startup industry. Narasin told the story of Parker Conrad, the former CEO of the cloud-based HR platform, Zenefits, that Narasin invested in.

The story goes like this. Parker spent years before he started Zenefits, trying to raise money for the company before it. “When he got to Zenefits, he had eight term sheets within nine months for his series A at a ridiculous number and then on and on and on. $0 to $5 billion evaluation in two years but nobody remembers the years before that when he couldn’t get a dime.” And then he was fired from Zenefits.

“So, tenacity. Above and beyond all else. I’ve got to believe you will refuse to stay on the mat. When people beat you down, you have to get back up. There’s no other option if you want to succeed.”

Regardless of when, how, or by whom you are funded, it will be hard and the going will get really tough. The growth isn’t just going to be a numbers value for your company but also you as an entrepreneur. As Narasin puts it, the work “is never going to get easier, you’re just going to get better.”

“There’s all these little pithy comments Venture guys make, “I want an entrepreneur that’ll run through walls, they’ll break glass”. And that’s fair, it’s a true point.” – Ben Narasin

Narasin talks about his own experience as an entrepreneur – that classic moment of dread where you don’t know whether you can pay your employees.

“I had a company where we were at a point where we were not going to make payroll. I had $200,000 of credit card loans, the whole thing. We were out of cash and I had only one shot to make payroll and I just had to make that happen. And part of being able to make that happen was not being willing to give up.

Bottom line is, quitters never win, winners never quit. If you have even a little bit of a chance in you that you’ll give up, you will because you will have never done anything as hard in your life.”

The humble entrepreneur

“You only know what you don’t know that you know you don’t know – we don’t know.” Ed Lambert explains it better.

“You’ve got to have enough humility to know when you need people that are more qualified than you to join your team.”

Know what your limitations are, don’t always refuse to give up a piece of what you think – knowing your own mind is also knowing when you need to go off and find somebody that will help you.

The entrepreneur who knows when, and how, to move on

Much like dating, entrepreneurship is a ‘put yourself out there, get knocked down, and try again.’ kind of business. And just like the most successful daters, the most successful entrepreneurs are not the ones pining after an investor who doesn’t want them.

As Narasin says, “there’s all kinds of euphemisms: not really fit for me, not really my sector, not sure it’s big enough. It doesn’t matter what the language is, all of those things mean “I am not going to fund you and if you want to spend the next four and a half hours trying to convince me, my mind is not going to change”.

See it as a favor. Knowing that the euphemism is a no, means you’ll be quicker to cross that investor off your list, learn more about the type of investor you should be targeting, and get closer to that signed contract.

“If it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit. It doesn’t matter how much you think it is, you’re not going to muscle your way through that.”

The entrepreneur who knows how to keep an investor interested

“The longer you tell me about your technology and the less you tell me about your results, the less interested I’m going to get every minute you do it.” – Ed Lambert

What about some marketplaces that investors are interested in?

As Curtis Feeny aptly calls it, the tsunami of data is coming, and most consumers and enterprises are not equipped to deal with it.

Building a company that creates solutions for these enterprises is about knowing how to invest in your team, according to Feeny. He suggests investing early in a world-class data analysis team who bring the best algorithms and solutions. It’s still an industry that is in its infancy. Bringing on the best of the best to create and innovate in that space gives investors peace of mind – particularly around the kind of high quality customers that company will be able to bring onboard.  

Have you considered coming to one of our startup events to see our investors in action? All of our events have Q + A and networking components to them and are held several times a month at Founders Floor HQ in downtown San Jose. Take a look at the latest events >

Our Investors

Ben Narasin

Ben Narasin is a Venture Partner at New Enterprise Associates, working with startups in the tech and healthcare industries. NEA invests at any stage and on a global scale. Previously, Ben worked as a Partner at Canvas Ventures, who have invested in many well known companies such as Evernote, Upwork, and Branch Metrics.

Curtis Feeney

Curtis Feeny is the Managing Director at Silicon Valley Data Capital, an early stage investor in next-generation enterprise software companies. Previously working as a partner for Venture Capital, who manage a $420 million fund with many successful exits.

Ed Lambert

Ed Lambert is a seasoned angel investor, who has advised many startups.  A 16 year veteran as Senior Vice President of Bridge Bank, he has helped finance many tech companies in all stages from early startup to IPO.

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