The economic environment under COVID is volatile, which makes temperance and a measured approach tougher than ever—and all the more impressive to achieve. This year, I’m particularly interested in partnering with entrepreneurs who exemplify an ability to reconcile opposing forces and tensions, even when under pressure. Here’s my advice for how to achieve this sense of balance—and why investors are likely to find the skill more valuable than ever.
Authenticity balanced with preparedness
I look for partners both in business and in life who are the real deal. The pandemic has put a lot into perspective, making it harder to justify investing time and effort with people who seem to lack authentic intent. I am a judge on Shark Tank, and every season there is at least one entrepreneur more focused on saying what he or she thinks the sharks want to hear than on what is truthful. These entrepreneurs turn everyone off and rarely walk away with a deal. People are skilled at sniffing out a gimmick, so be real, honest, and sincere—even when you have bad news to share. On the other hand, don’t confuse being authentic with flying by the seat of your pants. If on one side is the fake person who is overscripted, on the other is the person who didn’t put in the work to anticipate questions and objections. Good entrepreneurs will balance rigorous preparation with an ability to read the room, see changing patterns, and react authentically.
Grit balanced with wit
Hard work is about waking up earlier and going to sleep later—giving it more hours than your competitors do, so that you always maintain a competitive edge. Grit can go far when solving problems. When you hit a wall, by pounding it repeatedly, you may tear it down. But what if there’s a window right next to the wall—and all you had to do was lift it? Just as we need grit, we also need wit: the ability to work not only harder, but smarter, too. Wit is about stepping back to see not just the trees, but also the whole forest; examining your options carefully; and deploying your resources efficiently. Because the entrepreneur who really wins is not the one who plays to win, it’s the one who completely changes the rules of the game. While nothing can replace hard work, real and lasting success requires a combination of both tireless drive and the creativity, ingenuity, and nimbleness to do things differently.
Growth-mentality balanced with resourcefulness and discipline
An entrepreneur needs to respect money. Just as companies who spend gluttonously can wind up with indigestion, those who starve themselves of investment opportunities will stunt their growth. By building a culture of resourcefulness in which dollars are respected and not feared, entrepreneurs can reach the sweet spot of capturing opportunities and seizing momentum without spending needlessly. While an entrepreneur’s ability to create opportunities should be applauded, some are so hungry to grow that they just can’t say “no.” By jumping on every opportunity that comes his or her way, an entrepreneur will dilute his or her efforts and do nothing well. All entrepreneurs tend to struggle with exercising the discipline to say “no,” so my technique is to say simply “not now” or “not yet.” You don’t need to treat those opportunities as forgone—just as deferred until you are truly ready to embrace them.