Drinking the IRN-BRU – that don’t impress me much

Updated on by Fraser Davidson

So this is the second blog in my series revisiting old material that I wrote from the investment/advisory side of the table prior to getting a ‘real job’ as a CEO. My goal to try and compare and contrast perspectives.

In That Don’t Impress Me Much, (a full extract of which is appended below) I reflected upon the fact that being a ‘superstar’ didn’t make you stand-out to an investor. Everyone believes they are a superstar. Instead it was the ‘effort’ that made you stand-out, the first customers, the references, the indicators that you were onto something…… the small things that were hard to achieve.

And I believe that remains true. Big dreams are ten a penny, execution is much harder.

Walk the Walk

However, the bit that I had missed was looking at the investor through the eyes of the CEO. I hadn’t really walked in the shoes of the CEO.

It is all very well to understand that you need to have both vision and execution, however it is another thing entirely when every investor abstracts exactly how much execution you need, in what flavour and for how long. A lack of precision also means that those goalposts can move.

What I hadn’t appreciated is that in the same way that investors see lots of opportunities, CEOs see lots of investors. Pretty obvious with perspective. I am in the privileged position of having investors knock on the door of Cyclr, and it’s an interesting experience. Purely subjective measures of success/qualification from investors don’t cut the mustard and don’t endear the investor.

Investor Signals

The interesting thing now in the shoes of the CEO is the degree of inconsistency from one investor to the next on what exactly defines the ‘signals’ for Series A. What is missing is that clear commercial outline of what needs to be achieved to hit ‘credibility’ (not ‘investability’ you might note!) with an investor. Defining it as ‘revenue’ and/or ‘traction’ and/or ‘effort’ is hedging your bets and allows mega room for ducking the issue/changing opinion.

Next time round (if I am ever in those shoes again) I will endeavour to be MUCH clearer on objective measures of what those defining things are that qualify an opportunity in or out……. ‘effort’ per the blog below is all very well but it IS subjective, and not measurable.

As the author, I was the arbiter in chief of what ‘effort’ was – and I could change my mind. Much more useful would be to define bespoke measurable characteristics that would qualify a business in or out. It would make the life of the CEO that much easier and help the investor stand-out from the crowd of investors the CEO is faced with.

I really do see the issue from the other side of the table now.


Original blog in full:

that don’t impress me much….

Hi. Okay. So you have: a phenomenal CV, identified a mega problem/gap in the market, a genius CTO/co-founder, a brilliant business idea, a huge addressable market, some interesting and well respected investors/advisors and you will be worth £millions in a very short amount of time.

Unfortunately, in the words of Shania Twain, “that don’t impress me much….[oh oh oh oh]”.


Because with that list you are the same as the large majority of entrepreneurs that have managed to navigate their way to a first meeting. It is undifferentiated.

Now I know that sounds churlish, but if you sit on the side of the table of the person being ‘pitched’ business ideas then that is pretty much what everyone they see says to them. Think about it – why would you be pitching someone if you didn’t believe you matched the criteria above? You are the same as everyone else. Don’t turn-up unless you at least believe you have a brilliant idea.

What makes an opportunity interesting and unique is the elements around the ‘mega’ description that rise out of a ‘pitch’. That there is some degree of progression/validation/uniqueness that makes you think twice about the chances of the business being ‘the one’.

Now this list is harder to compile as, after the generics listed above, it comes down to specifics for each company.

However, as a general rule, I can boil it down to one simple thing – effort.

  • Effort in developing a proposition against the grain
  • Effort in working with what is probably bugger-all capital to prove some small but significant points in the business plan
  • Effort that produces some degree of evidence that the whole proposition is more than just a ‘very good idea’.

How you ‘impress me much….[oh oh oh]’ is by standing out from the crowd through the significant actions you have taken that your peers haven’t. Fundamentally demonstrating that as a founder/team you have the drive and initiative to take things forward regardless of the circumstance you are faced with. It is a massive indicator of the ability of a team to execute on a plan and deliver against the odds. This is a skill set that is invaluable in the years post-investment/involvement, when things will inevitably not go to plan.

It needn’t be earth shattering either. A basic mock-up of a product that you have showed to 10 or so potential clients. A series of ‘client interviews’ that validate your proposition. Hard evidence of the opportunity based on your previous experience and even, incredibly positively, being born out of the learnings from a previous business failure.

I then also look for a good understanding of what ‘business milestones’ de-risk your idea and how these align to your fundraising goals – but in truth I am happy to work on these with teams that show they have that bit of extra ‘sizzle’ through their own efforts.

The conclusion? Read your pitch deck. It should include the mega list in paragraph one, but ask yourself whether it has, or you have conveyed, the elements that will make it stand-out from the crowd. Do you demonstrate those extra efforts/points of validation?

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