You invest in strong founding teams with a strong idea and a working prototype of their product/service that they’ve already put in front of customers.
Common questions you should consider asking in due diligence:
We like your vision; how do we know that your team has the technical experience to solve the problem?
Dig into the team’s experience and skillset. If it’s a tech platform–who will write code? If it’s a business-to-business sales platform, who knows the industry enough to make progress with buyers? Ask questions to understand whether the team doesn’t just have great ideas, but the chops to execute.
What is the specific problem you’re solving–for your customer?
As Thomas Edison once said, “vision without execution is hallucination.” We have seen a graveyard of “solutions looking for problems to solve.” Get the team to be tactical about how they can solve the customer’s problem. You might want to try this simple “Mad Lib”: “We sell A to B. B has a problem, and it is C. We solve C through D.” Let’s take, for example, Google. “We sell consumer data to advertisers. Advertisers have a problem, and it is that they don’t know how to reach the right audience online. We solve this problem through the world’s best search engine, which gives advertisers highly customized information.”
Do you need patents? Regulatory approval? Licenses? If you don’t have it yet, have you what you’ll need in the future and how you’ll go about getting it?
Where you can add the most value to entrepreneurs at this stage:
Customer, customer, customer:
Make sure your team is spending all of their time with customers at the beginning. Encourage them to get out of the lab and get a minimum prototype in the hands of customers as quickly as possible to test whether they are even on the right track.
Freedom to operate:
Push them on ensuring that they have freedom to operate – that there are no regulatory, legal or IP hurdles in executing on their solution.