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12/19/2016 02:28 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2017

Top Investors Look For This One Essential Trait in Founders

What are some of the strongest things you've seen in a pitch? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Steve Vassallo, General Partner at Foundation Capital, on Quora.

In my experience, the pitch matters a lot less than the people or the product. Very interesting things happen when you see alignment of a founding team's talent and skills with an impassioned focus on a new opportunity. When a challenge that seems impossible, even crazy, meets entrepreneurs who are so incredibly well-suited to that problem, and so intensely devoted to solving it, tackling it begins to feel not so insane. A great pitch should reinforce this alignment and make clear why it is that this founding team is so well suited to the opportunity in front of them.

I'm leaving for the South Pole in a few days, which has me thinking about Ernest Shackleton, the polar explorer who, just a century ago, reached and crossed Antarctica. I imagine that there were only a handful of other people in the world at the time who could've done what he did, who had the skill and the will. That's what I get really excited in a pitch: when I feel like I'm meeting a "Shackleton entrepreneur," to coin a term, who makes me believe, Of course it can be done. And there's nothing else this founder should be working on, nor would the problem get solved if they weren't the ones working on it. I've been fortunate enough to work with a few Shackleton entrepreneurs, including Lynn Jurich and Ed Fenster at SunRun, Nate Weiner at Pocket, and Dan Widmaier and David Breslauer at Bolt Threads.

More practically speaking, I have a product background and spent my first five years designing products at IDEO, so I tend to gravitate towards product-first founders. I also love really well-done unit-economic analyses. I love it when founders think not just about the current round of capital that they're trying to raise, but about the capital that will be required over the life of the company. I'm encouraged when they're mindful of, Here's what I'm building now, but here's all that needs to happen after this milestone and the capital that will be required to build it. Lastly, I love entrepreneurs who have a hundred-year mindset -- trying to create something of deep and lasting impact, rather than a quick fix to a trivial but perhaps lucrative inefficiency.

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