TFF #016: The 3 ways to show you are a mission-driven founder

Mar 09, 2023

This week’s tip: why you should be a mission-driven founder

Building a company is difficult. It requires a ton of sacrifice, mental strain, and hard work to succeed.

Every founder will experience dark periods while building their company. These are the periods when the real success rate of a company is determined – not when everything is going smoothly and the company is growing, but when it's two months away from liquidation, and the founders are working as hard as possible to prevent failure.

Investors know how hard it is to build a successful company because they've seen it before. That's why they look for founders who have the resilience to pick themselves up and keep going, who they can trust to stop at nothing to succeed.

At Octopus, my VC fund, we referred to this as "a founder who would walk through walls to succeed". It was a phrase we used internally to assess whether we thought a founder was worthy of our investment.

Here are three ways to demonstrate that you are mission-driven:


1. You have a north star

 Investors are looking for founders with a clear goal or purpose, a "north star," if you will. In Octopus' internal investment committee (IC) paper, it is listed as a top priority. This demonstrates the high importance of having a clear north star for Tier-1 and all other venture capitalists.

This ties into your vision and how you see the world in the future. It's essential to focus on what changes you want to make in the world.

What will the world look like in 10, 20, or 30 years when you succeed?

What are the key reasons for why you care so much about this?

Why is this important?

Because if you don't have a north star: why would an investor believe that you are committed to the long-term success of your company? One of the worst examples of this is when founders refer to doing something else in a few years and don't see their company as a long-term endeavour.

So you have to make sure you know what future you are trying to build and make that the central pillar for everything you are doing.


2. You care about your problem

 One of the biggest red flags for a founder is when a VC detects a lack of genuine concern for the problem. This is especially common in the earliest stages, when a founder is so focused on their idea that they fail to communicate with their customers.

In other words, the founders do not seem passionate about the problem they are trying to solve. It is essential to care deeply about the problem your company aims to solve and ideally have experienced it firsthand.

While it may be tempting to mention the allure of making money, this is never the right reason to start a company for 99% of founders. Not even an absurdly high salary will keep you motivated during the inevitable dark periods that startups must endure.

Investors know this deeply. That’s why they hone into whether or not you care deeply about your problem or whether there is founder-market-fit.

For example, in recent months VCs have seen numerous pitches for "AI for X" where the founders do not seem to have a compelling reason for incorporating AI beyond its current popularity.


3.You are building a culture around your mission

 The first two steps in building trust as a founder are focused on you personally. While this is a great start, it's not enough to create a mission-driven company. To truly succeed in this area, you need to show how you are creating a company culture centred around your mission.

Ask yourself the following questions about your current team and your plans for hiring:

  • Is everyone on board with your mission?
  • Is your mission a key factor in your hiring process?
  • Is your onboarding process tailored to your mission?
  • Have you brought in top-tier employees who are willing to take a pay cut to support your mission?

When investors see that every member of your team is fully committed to your mission, they'll know that your company is truly mission-driven. This is how you build a massive amount of trust. Not only will they like you as a founder, but they'll also know that you're doing everything in your power to create a culture that supports your mission.


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