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How Troy Carter Picks Projects And People Who Succeed

The talent manager and successful startup investor’s philosophy is both simple and proven.

Troy Carter has plenty of irons in the entrepreneurial fire.

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He runs the talent management agency Atom Factory, which represents the likes of Meghan Trainor; he manages an investment portfolio that includes Uber and Spotify; he’s guest judging this season on ABC’s Shark Tank; and he’s serving as a judge and mentor for Hennessy and WeWork’s Privilège Lab.

In each of his ventures, Carter has a knack for finding winners and helping them fulfill their greatest potential (this is the man who helped make Lady Gaga, after all). Here’s how he approaches his work.

Quit Dreaming, Start Working

While Carter has come to most of his investments and partnerships through recommendations from his own trusted network of sources, he’s constantly being approached by eager entrepreneurs, too. He has a simple piece of advice for them:

“Be clear in your vision, be clear in the problems that you’re solving, and also show why you’re the person that’s going to be qualified to take the market or beat an incumbent,” Carter says. “We meet with founders all the time where the idea might be good, but we just don’t think it’s the right fit for us. Somebody in the room might be walking that fine line between being very confident and being overconfident. We end up passing on 90-something percent of the deals we see, and we end up passing on 90-something percent of the artists we see.”

To get the attention of investors, he recommends the same method he employs in his own ventures.

“Do the work. That’s as basic as you can possibly get. You can’t dream your way out of a problem. You can’t just dream your way into the business. You’ve got to actually put rubber on the road and do the work,” Carter says. “If your job is to sweep floors, the only way those floors are going to get swept is if you put the broom on the ground. If your job is to code, you need fingers on the keys. So whatever it is you do, you actually have to do the work. You can’t just talk about it. You can’t be philosophical about it. You have to get the physical work in.”

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Embrace Your Inexperience

Being an outsider to an industry comes with its advantages. Carter points to Silicon Valley successes like Warby Parker, Uber, and Spotify–all founded by players outside the eyewear, transportation, and music sectors, respectively.

“Most of the larger business that we’re seeing profit right now aren’t from people with core domain expertise. It’s from people who are curious about a space or had a problem in the space and put a lot of energy behind solving those pain points,” Carter says. “What Spotify came and did for piracy–that was the thing that got us interested. You had this illegal-downloads business out there on the peer-to-peer sites that the industry cannot get under control. They made it actually easier to stream a product than it was to steal it.”

And while Carter may already have a foot in the door to multifarious sectors from his work as a talent manager, his status as an outsider to the companies he invests in allows him to be especially objective.

“A lot of the businesses that we traditionally invest in aren’t our core business. They’ll have the fact that they’re a technology company in common, but if you think about a Warby Parker, or you think about an Uber, or you think about a Spotify–they’re all different products, and they’re all different sectors. So just having the ability to look at these sectors with fresh eyes is an advantage.”

Kill Two Birds

To keep up with his dozens of projects, Carter is strategic about his endeavors so he doesn’t exhaust himself. For one, he uses his experience as a talent manager as a jumping-off point when investing in new companies.

“One of the benefits of being a talent manager is that we work across so many different areas with our clients, whether it’s political with the White House and relationships with the Senate or local mayors across the country, that’s beneficial to a young startup that wants to launch a new market or clear regulations,” Carter tells Fast Company. “Whether it’s our relationship with the beauty industry, whether it’s the relationship with sports or broader entertainment–I think that broad network and the brands as well, our relationships with Fortune 500 companies–is very beneficial to young startups looking to launch or expand on their brand.”

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He also leans towards partnerships or investments that share some common thread with his existing knowledge base and expertise.

“I think there’s a lot of common denominators between the types of projects we invest in. We’re either investing in artists or entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of similarities between them,” says Carter, who insists that a “people” fit is the final decider in whether to pursue a partnership. “Looking at the people and seeing whether these are people we want to be in business with, people that we think we could learn from that would make great partners. And then also looking at the larger opportunity there: Does this complement our core business? Could this be beneficial to our music clients? Could it be beneficial to our portfolio companies?”

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