Toronto’s Mark Attanasio, Other Leading Venture Capitalists Share Startup Lessons for Entrepreneurs


Everyone loves a success story.

A passionate entrepreneur works tirelessly around the clock to get their company up and running, relentlessly networking with potential investors and finally lands a meeting with a venture capital firm. The entrepreneur works to prepare the pitch, walks into the room, impresses the investors and walks out with the resources to fund their dream.

If every story ended this way, the road to entrepreneurship wouldn’t be such a long process. The truth is, there’s a lot about navigating the venture capital world that many entrepreneurs don’t fully understand.  This lack of knowledge is what might be preventing good companies from getting launched.

When it comes to the investment business, these leading venture capitalists know what to look for in a successful venture.  They share their insight on what they’ve learned over the years with these five lessons:

1.Be prepared

Julia Polk has mentored more than 100 startups and is currently chief financial and chief strategy officer at IQuity.  Polk says that if an entrepreneur is about to pitch an investor for startup capital, it is crucial for them to walk in to the meeting prepared.

“Do your homework on investors, so you don’t waste their time if you’re not what they’re looking for, they’re out of money, or their fund wants to write a larger check than you need,” Polk says.

 2.Have a vision

Toronto’s Mark Attanasio of Hillcrest Merchant Partners outlines what he and his partner, Donato Sferra, look for in business ideas and explains how start-ups work with VCs to become successful companies.

Mark Attanasio: “When we first look at an entrepreneur, the number one thing for us is, do they have a compelling vision? How do they articulate it? Why will people want to follow this idea and how will it upset the existing market?”

“If someone is walking into our office, we want to see how that person or team will show us that they are the right people to launch the product that they really care about into the world,”  Attanasio goes on to explain.

3.Set Goals and Have a Plan

 Ironman athlete Clayton Lewis, who joined B2C venture capital firm Maveron as a general partner, says it’s important for entrepreneurs to set goals and then work to achieve them.

“I’ve had the same experience in my business profession,” he said. “When working with a team or with a board, set real clarity of audacious goals that seem crazy as heck, but dissect them and come up with the work plan to achieve them,” says Lewis.

 While this “sky’s the limit” approach is good to start out with, Lewis reiterates: “However, it’s important not to overreach, or in the Ironman world, overtrain. “In business, we tend to set ourselves up for failure because we’re trying to do something that we haven’t adequately planned or resourced for,” Lewis said.

4. Release products early and often.

Eliot Durbin is a partner with BoldStart Ventures and has learned the value of getting your product into the market as soon as it is ready.  He says taking action is what really resonates most with investors.

“Whether it’s software application or another product, getting it out into the wild (aka the market) provides the best substance to discuss with investors. Also, releasing often, teams updating your product to reflect how it’s being used and measured by how much more customers use that product before and after the update,” explains Durbin.

5.Be ready for questions

 When entrepreneurs come in to pitch their ideas and strategies, they should be fully prepared to answer some tough questions. Scott Kupor, managing partner at Andreessen Horowitz, says it comes with the territory.

“Yes. Part of our job is to kind of yes, poke holes maybe the negative way, I would say is to kind of test the limits of their thinking on some things and figure out kind of what is assumptions. And it’s so important and again, this is, we talk about this a lot in our pitches, is we don’t expect you as an entrepreneur to have the answer to everything,” Kupor says.

Pitching venture capitalists can be a nerve-wracking experience, particularly for entrepreneurs who have never done it before.  That’s why it’s important for entrepreneurs to come prepared, stick to the pitch and, hopefully, come out with the finances to get their business off the ground.