Matt Lerner is a London-based growth marketer, strategist & VC. He is the Founder of Startup Core Strengths and was previously London-based Partner of early-stage VC fund, 500 Startups. Prior to that, he worked for several years building and managing growth teams for three startups, and later at PayPal.
We highly recommend listening to the full conversation below:
But if you’re looking for some immediate insights, here are the three main takeaways.
1. Successful companies do things completely differently.
Matt: "The most successful startups that we've studied, that we've been a part of, they don't look like a tiny little slimmed down version of a big company. They don't start with a marketing department and have this department and silos and all those things. When it's time to grow, the entire company focuses on growth. Engineering, product marketing, everyone works together, and aligns around this North Star metric, this single number that increments when you deliver value to customers. And everyone works together to optimise that number. So it's like a different operating system. And then they don't have two year plans and budgets. It's this process of experimentation that happens in very short cycles, one week to one month sprints, where you're gonna try things out. We started by just giving these companies a bit of tactical advice about this landing page or this headline, or this market strategy. What we figured out was that the value of the program was in teaching people how to run this growth process. And focus not just, you know, a couple of marketing hires, but the entire organization on growth, when it was time to do that."
2. The most important things to look at in a startup, as an investor, are the founder and the business model.
Matt: "The four components of that we were looking at, at seed or pre-seed stage, were the founding team, the business model, product-market fit and traction. Out of those four criteria, if you can see all four, generally, I'd say that's a great investment, but you wouldn't write very many checks if that was your goal, and your LPs don't pay you to sit on cash, right? So barring that, in early stage, the most important things are the founder and the business model. And then as the things start to launch, and the business starts going, then you're going to look a lot more at traction. And then of course, product-market fit is great if you can have it. But even product-market fit alone isn't necessarily good enough. If you don't, for example, have the right business model or team behind it."
3. Founders: being bright is important, but you need the practicals too.
Matt: "I don't think, as an investor, I was ever certain. But certainly when I go back and look and think about mistakes I've made as an investor, I can definitely think of a few companies where they had an exceptionally bright founder, but once I started working with them, it was mostly thinking through stuff, really complicated, impressive stuff, and just not enough like, okay, pencils down. Let's try it. That's not nearly enough focus on execution. Another one is I think I underestimated people's ability to raise follow on and how much that matters, you can have a great product, you can have a great business, if you can't go out there and get a lot more money, someone else is going to eventually outraise you and do it. That matters a lot more. This isn't like Warren Buffett, where you can find like a diamond in the rough and just sit on it for 30 years until the market realises it's valuable. And so I think, well, this person's not the best fundraiser. But this is an amazing team and an amazing product. Unfortunately, I underestimated how important it was that they'd be able to get follow up and, so maybe it was a question of the founder. Or it may be that it's in an industry that's out of favour and struggling to attract investment just because of the category."
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