Horses and Startups: How An Investor Chooses a Jockey

November 21, 2014

12:30 pm

Horse racing and startups have a lot in common. They are both exciting, fast paced, adrenaline-fueled experiences where the outcomes are uncertain and fortunes can be made or lost. It’s no wonder why they can both become lifelong obsessions. I know this because my grandfather was a fixture at the track. My memories of him are at places like Belmont and Saratoga. Early in the day, before the crowds appeared, we’d walk around the stables to inspect each horse scheduled to race that day, expertly identifying those subtle aspects that would help or hurt a horse's chances. His eye would catch a slightly longer nose or a tiny crack in a hoof, all calculated when he placed his bet, or maybe we were just walking and looking at horses; I can’t be sure, I was only 6.

When it comes to the track, you bet on the horse. To prove my point: What was the name of the jockey who rode California Chrome to victory in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness? I had to google it, too.  But unlike the races, when it comes to investing in startups, Angels and VCs bet on the jockey. Why? Because the product or service you pitch to me will likely look and act a lot different when you go to market;in other words, the horse will have changed, sometimes completely. Here are 3 ways you can convince investors that you and your team have what it takes to get the horse you're riding across the finish line first:

  1. Tell me your story: I have just a few minutes to determine what kind of team you are, and a great way to help me understand is through your unique story about how and why you came together. Tell me why you chose to dedicate your life to this problem, and why it matters to everyone on the team. Share an example of a storm you weathered together and what you learned from that experience. I am looking for the bond that is going to get you through rough times, so help me see it.
  2. Pass the Baton: Nothing baffles me more than an investor pitch delivered by only one founder especially when the other founders are present. Your pitch is the perfect setting to demonstrate how you work as a team, how each person fits into the equation, and that you all respect and trust each other enough to handle such an important role. It’s natural for the CEO to do most of the talking, but be sure to get your other founders up there, if even for a moment to talk about what they bring to the table.
  3. Who’s next: In startups, no team is ever complete, ever. Be sure to tell me who the next few additions to the team will be. Tell me how they will move the needle for your startup and what crucial skills they will bring. Communicating your plans to grow your team will demonstrate that you are aware of your vulnerabilities and that you will move quickly to fix them.

Use these three tips to show me your team has the right stuff to win the startup race. By the way, his name is Victor Espinoza, and if you had bet on him, regardless of the countless horses he’s ridden, you would have won 3,100 races so far. I think I’ll bet on that jockey.

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Gavin McCulley hosts “The Pitch Deck – Inside the Startup Funding Game” podcast available on ITunes and at Gavin is an active Angel Investor, Startup Mentor, and Entrepreneur living in Charleston, South Carolina. Gavin is the Managing Partner of the Charleston based Early Stage Investment Partnership, Twin Rivers Holdings, whose investments range from digital media, tech start-ups, health care, real estate development, film studios, restaurant chains, educational products, and both commercial and defense manufacturing. Gavin hosts “The Pitch Deck – Inside the Startup Funding Game” podcast. Prior to his current roles, Gavin served as a Logistics Officer and Commander in the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), and served 2 tours of duty in Iraq and 1 tour in Afghanistan where he was decorated 3 times with the Bronze Star Medal.