How do you evaluate founders and founding teams? It’s hard to have to assess the “fitness” of an entrepreneur if your overarching sentiment is one of respect for the courage of the journey.
Over time we have developed language around this question, things like personality traits (openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism), functional skills (domain expertise, commercial insight, ...), and EQ (charisma, coachability, etc.).
I find myself repeating a phrase that I heard (I think) early on my venture career: extraordinary people do extraordinary things.
I like that lens on a founder's background. It's unlikely in my view that we are going to meet a world-changing team that hasn't done extraordinary things previously. It's a hard truth, but relying on your company to be your first extraordinary thing is not a great idea.
This is true both as guidance for raising venture capital, but also as life advice. Why wait to lead an extraordinary life until you have identified a commercial opportunity to pursue?
Now what that extraordinary thing is varies very widely: by no means do I mean that you need to have a CV stuffed with extracurricular BS that seems to be the required condition for Ivy League schools or Goldman Sachs. No, I'd much rather you had set up a charity in Tanzania, rowed around the world, participated in the Math (or Sports) Olympiad for your country, written a few terrible (or amazing) screenplays, invented the hashtag, or run a kick-ass subreddit. I like curious founders whose ambitions go beyond the commercial.
Of course I subscribe to the notion that great ideas, and teams, and companies can come from anywhere. And so I will often meet with companies that look very interesting but come from "unlikely" teams. Perhaps more so than other folks in our market, I will take these meetings because I believe openness and whatever the inverse of cynicism is is key to being a good VC. And many folks don't talk about the fact that they've done awesome things in the past - they feel it's not appropriate in a "business" setting, especially if they held conformist jobs like consulting, banking, or corporate.
I do believe in the notion of extraordinary people and, perhaps even more so, teams. And hence our current tagline: early-stage venture capital for exceptional European entrepreneurs. We hope to meet more of them.