7 Lessons from Investing in 200 Startups

By the time Michael Mark was 25 he had founded a company that competed with IBM and sold it. He knew then that the startup life was for him. Four decades later he had started more companies and had invested in more than 200 startups. He does not merely invest in companies; he rolls up his sleeves and goes to work helping the founders build their business with advice, encouragement, connections and more. Recently I sat down with him for a delightful chat about that experience (click here to listen to the interview) and here are some of the more salient lessons:

  1. Qualities of a Strong Founder: Brains is a vital prerequisite. So is tenacity and focus. However these need to be open to evidence about the success of the business. A fine balance is needed between these qualities so that the founder works tenaciously on a plan until she realizes it’s not working. At that point she needs to have the flexibility to develop a new plan. Two excellent examples are given.
  2. Markets: Need to be big enough to make the possible rewards large enough.
  3. Affability: Michael only invests in people he likes.
  4. Pivots: The story of three remarkable pivots was told. One of them became the top performing stock on the NASDQ.
  5. Beware of Bringing Large-Company Executives to Startups: Startup CEOs need to be able to pivot. Executives from large companies frequently focus on executing existing businesses better but it is frequently necessary to discover a new business. They often lack the skills needed to create a new business; or even realize a new one is needed.
  6. “Luck Probably Plays a Role in Every Successful Company. The Entrepreneur Likes to Think It Doesn’t But…”
  7. One In Two Hundred: Having invested in more than two hundred startups Michael could think of only one (Progress Software) which had gone according to plan. This statistic emphatically underscores the need for founders to be able to pivot.

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