The investor’s role in a founder’s three key priorities

It’s often said that a CEO should focus on three key things: Do I have the right people on the team? Are those people working on the right thing? And is there enough cash in the bank to keep the lights on?

The right investor should help a founder with all three of those questions:

1. Do I have the right people on the team?

The best investors are instrumental in helping founders recruit the perfect team. For key positions, they should jump in and pitch a candidate to join a portfolio company. Secondly, investors should spend enough time discussing hiring priorities with the CEO, as well as help craft target profiles for senior-level hires.

2. Is the team working on the right things?

An investor should serve as a critical sounding board during strategy discussions…Do we have the right strategy, are we focusing on the right priorities, are we growing fast enough (or maybe too fast), and when should we expand into other verticals or geographic territories? In those discussions, the best investors are great listeners and rather ask the right questions than provide all of the answers.

3.  Is there enough cash to keep the lights on?

Making important early introductions to follow-on investors is one of the best ways to make sure that a portfolio company will be in a good position to rase the next round of financing. Great investors have a large network to pull from and make very specific introductions.

When I first started out as an investor fresh from operating my own start-up (AbeBooks), I often focused on helping founders figure out operational details and processes. I’m sure I was somewhat helpful in these cases. But after years of experience, I’ve come to realize that I would have provided more value and my time would have been better spent by serving as the best possible sparring partner in these strategic matters.

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