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Jan. 15, 2014 12:15 pm

Investors choose people, not pitches: TK Kuegler

At Wasabi Ventures, we hear 126 pitches per week, 52 weeks per year. What I've learned is that it's all about the people, not the idea.

An October 2013 pitch night at theHive3

This is a guest post from Wasabi Ventures cofounder TK Kuegler.

At Wasabi Ventures, we hear 126 pitches per week, 52 weeks per year — that is more than 30,000 pitches we have heard during the last five years. While I have not heard all of them personally, I have seen my share of founders telling their stories.

When people ask me what is the biggest thing I look for when I hear a pitch, the answer always comes down to the person giving the pitch.

Wasabi bets on early stage companies, and in that arena nothing matters more than the quality of the founders. How will these founders react to the way the market thinks of their product? What will they do when one of their key people quits? How will they look at the world when revenues are lagging by 75 percent?

These are the questions that go through my mind as I hear a founder pitch. I am trying to determine if I like this person and will want to work with him/her every day for the next three years.

This month, I heard a pitch from a gentleman who was currently active duty military and deployed in Afghanistan. In 20 years of being part of startup pitches, I had none where someone was pitching from an active war zone. While the idea of his startup was not something I think has a high level chance of success, the founder showed me his amazing amount of fortitude.

If he is able to take the time to make a VOIP call and tell me his story from a battle zone, I want to figure out a way to work with this man. His character trumps everything else.

While understanding a market, presenting the product solution and showing a market potential are all key to a successful pitch, these presented aspects are only a reflection of the person presenting.

How a founder presents himself/herself and handles questions goes a lot further in showing chances of success than having the best looking slides.

The next time you are trying to convince someone you have a great startup, make sure you highlight how great of a founder you are. You are the most important of any great pitch.

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TK Kuegler

Tom “TK” Kuegler is the co-founder and general partner of Wasabi Ventures. Wasabi Ventures is a venture capital, incubator, and consulting firm that specializes in building and advising early stage technology companies.

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  • Hardebeck

    Amen, TK. One of my earliest investors listened patiently as I implored him to invest in the revolutionary, world-changing product I was pitching, and then said “Jason, we don’t invest in ideas. We invest in people.” That has never left me.

  • Dave Troy

    I’d go a step further and say that most investors seldom invest far outside their social network. This can be helpful in that it can provide a level of trust and familiarity, but it also insures that most investors miss out on opportunities that are outside their comfort zone. This is why warm referrals have long been the currency of the VC world, and there is likely room to disrupt it — especially if you use a highly data-driven approach that’s especially focused on strategies that purposely aim to break social network barriers and use other ways to establish trust and accountability. Big opportunity for arbitrage here if done right.