I’ve been investing in startups for more than a decade. In that time, I’ve been privy to hundreds of pitches from entrepreneurs and wannapreneurs and I’ve invested in over two dozen businesses of diverse shapes, sizes and interests.
The deal breaker for me on any investment is always the character, skills and attitude of the person behind the business.
As the saying goes, start-up investors don’t invest in ideas, we invest in people.
It used to take me months to form an initial assessment about an entrepreneur. These days it’s more likely to take minutes. My listening and observation skills have become honed through this process – and also the school of hard knocks (not all investments go to plan.)
Being part of Channel Ten’s Shark Tank series as a ‘shark’ was a great test of my investment intuition, with sharks needing to make a judgment call in less than 30 minutes about where we would place our money.
On the opening episode of Shark Tank, two clever businessmen from South Australia pitched their Cricket Cooler product. What’s not to love about this product? It’s a cooler that doubles as a cricket wicket, saving families from the age-old tradition of cobbling together a cricket pitch from driftwood or a fishing rod. Like many great ideas, it seems like an obvious invention. It’s hard to imagine why this product hasn’t been on the market for years.
When Adam Dubrich and Leigh Warren stepped into the tank, they were revenue positive, having already sold 4,000 coolers with a roughly 50% profit margin. They’re smart enough to own the patent for the product in most overseas markets and have their sights on expanding offshore.
The product was good, the pitch was going great. Then we hit a snag.
The duo confessed they were spending as much time on the new enterprise “as they could”, and planned to give up their day jobs when they could replace their income through the Cricket Cooler revenues.
In that moment, I decided I was out.
A true entrepreneur is not someone who transfers from a comfortable job to a comfortable job. At least, not if they want to be a successful one.
I don’t want to put money into a business with a part-time manager. To me, the telling sign of business success is when the person behind the idea truly has skin in the game. If they aren’t prepared to risk their cash, why should an investor?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay in a comfortable job – or to create one for yourself by running your own business. Just don’t confuse that with a business that can scale and make a significant amount of money – more than just a living.
Australia is on the cusp of a business revolution. We are a nation of SME’s –we have the entrepreneurial bug. That was evident in the incredible number of entrepreneurs who applied to be part of the first season Shark Tank. We are also an inventive nation, with a great track record of innovation – from the Hills Hoist to wireless internet.
The world is now a smaller place, one where a digital idea can be born in Australia and go global immediately. To remain competitive as a nation and as business people, we need to target a global customer base.
The opportunities are enormous.
The only real obstacle in our path is our ‘no worries,’ culture. We have a great lifestyle in Australia, and that should be protected. But let’s not stay a sleepy hollow.
Maybe we need to get a little less comfortable.
Some of us need to seize the opportunity and give up our day jobs.
This article first appeared on Business Review Weekly. View the original here.