How Do You Know If They Have “It” Inside Them?

This post is by Jeff Carter from Points and Figures

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When you meet someone for the first time everyone tries to put their best foot forward.   Smiles all around.  A first pitch meeting.  The first class with a professor or teacher.  The first meeting between an entrepreneur and VC firm in their office.

I was reflecting on this last night when I was watching the NCAA tournament final.  Coaches have similar meetings.  They hear about a player and go watch them play.  They might see some film on the person.  They see their physical attributes, their physical athletic ability, and the juices start to flow.  Needs become wants which become demands.

I liked the kid from Wauconda, IL.  Brian Mooney.  Unrecruited by all the big teams in high school.  Went to the Air Force Academy and played his freshman year.  Transferred to South Dakota.  All conference South Dakota, but let’s be honest.  South Dakota is the basketball wilderness.  Transferred to Texas Tech, also not the first team off the lips of basketball junkies when naming top programs even though it is in a Power 5 conference.  Betcha Mooney might make a great entrepreneur someday or be a tremendous addition to an entrepreneurial team.

The thing that really separates the best from the best is their mental capability.  Their internal drive.  That engine.  People call it “fire in the belly” or “an engine” but I like to call it intestinal fortitude and MTXE. People like Mooney don’t have the credentials or the outward appearance of being big time.  But, they are.  Remember that the next time you are hiring an MBA from a top school and one from a “lesser” school.

The thing that separates great entrepreneurs from good entrepreneurs is the exact same thing that separates great athletes.

Signs they might have “it” inside them go back to their childhood. Warren Buffett delivered papers and had a pinball business before high school.  No one had to motivate Buffett.  He got up off the couch and did it.  Signs also might be in the classroom.  They might not be an A student, but they work really hard.  They went to office hours and asked for help.  They were both diligent in not missing classes and resilient when they failed to understand concepts for the first time.

I can, I will, I must.

Maybe it’s their first job or two.  Their superiors say the same things about them that a professor might say.  They made the extra call.  They went the extra yard to delight a customer.

This is the hard thing to pick up from a meeting or two.  It’s almost impossible to pick up in a Demo Day pitch since people are so polished and coached.  But, there are clues and it’s up to investors to find them.