How we identify the entrepreneurs and companies with whom we choose to work.
Ask 100 people how they would describe an “exceptional” entrepreneur, and you’ll probably get 100 different answers. Having met and worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs over the years, it’ll probably come as little surprise that we have our own view of what being an “exceptional” entrepreneur means. We share this to help you better understand the traits we value most -- and to help you understand whether or not Fundamental is a good fit for you and your business.
Before we go further, however, it is important to note that there are two things you won’t find on our list: First, no particular credentials or experiences are required. We are interested entirely in the character traits of the entrepreneurs we back, because experience tells us it is these qualities that make the difference between a run-of-the-mill entrepreneur and an exceptional one.
Second, there are no prescriptions for how to act. Leadership is a learned skill. Entrepreneurs are often equipped to develop certain leadership attributes more quickly, while others take more time. There are many paths to becoming a great leader, but each one is built on the foundation of character. This is why we care less about how an entrepreneur acts in any particular setting than we do about the foundational traits that guide them.
There are many ways character manifests -- prior team experiences, a personal interview, negotiations, and beyond. It is hard to put a finer point on how we come to learn about the entrepreneur traits that we back, but in short, our antenna is generally more sensitive to “Who are they?” rather than “What have they done?” or “What do they want to be?”
So what do we look for?
There is an internal compass in each of us. One thing we know from experience is that every entrepreneur will face any number of difficult challenges -- and will have to make big decisions under great pressure. Even the best entrepreneurs make significant mistakes along the way, but the ones with integrity won’t rationalize unethical shortcuts or dishonesty.
There is perhaps no greater predictor of success than curiosity level. This applies as much in business as it does in any other competitive arena. Understanding how something works at the most granular level is the only course to mastering it. It is why Steve Jobs labored endlessly over the smallest design features and why Vince Lombardi-coached teams practiced the sweep play (literally) thousands of times. We like the entrepreneurs that instinctively roll up their sleeves and are curious to understand the facts. On the other hand, we find it hard to warm up to entrepreneurs that know their “pitch” better than their facts and seem too inclined to delegate knowledge of the facts.
There are only so many hours in the day, and the competition, no matter your industry, is intense. We think there are barely enough hours in the day to build a terrific business and still have a reasonably balanced personal life. Having balance in life is critical to business success in our view, but “balance” is the keyword. We often run into entrepreneurs that seem to do a lot of things and prioritize items that seem like a lot of fun, but also seem extraneous from our lens. So when we run across entrepreneurs that have a lot of what seems to us to be competing interests, we think “good for them” -- and “not so good for us.” We prefer to just be friends with these entrepreneurs.
There is really no substitute for the instinct to do more with less -- and it’s among the most important traits for an entrepreneur to possess, in our view. Legendary venture capitalist John Doerr once defined an exceptional entrepreneur as one “that can do incredibly big things with an incredibly small amount of money.” We agree with his sentiment totally and are thrilled when we meet an entrepreneur that embodies the spirit of being a “bootstrapper.”
It is terrific for an entrepreneur to have a curious nature. It is paramount, however, that the passion for details not translate into a “do it all by myself” approach. Assembling the right team for any project is the key to its success. Great entrepreneurs both attract and inspire their colleagues, and this is what being a team player means to us. People tend to have an innate bias towards team building and we look for it -- or at least the ability to develop it -- every single time.
There are a ton of decisions at work and in life that are no-brainers. There are also many close calls. We find that judgment in entrepreneurs forms patterns -- and that these patterns tell the story of a person. It’s not about always being right or even having been successful. It’s about the quality of the decisions that have been made.
In closing, there are, of course, many other attributes that contribute to (or detract from) the personality and aptitude of an entrepreneur. But it is these central character traits that matter most to us, because it is these character traits that have defined our successful experiences with entrepreneurs in the past. See yourself in this description? We’d love to have a conversation.