I have a simple investment thesis; find someone to believe in, open my wallet and get in line behind them.
I look for individual founders who I believe have what it takes to make their ideas and their missions work.
When push comes to shove, those are the people who will keep trying a new approach or a new angle, pushing, learning and building until they have something that sticks.
Execution is everything.
People talk about “the next billion dollar idea”, as though all it takes to build everything from Bitcoin to Facebook is a spark.
The truth I’ve always held to is that ideas are completely worthless. They don’t mean a thing. Everyone you talk to, from the dude in line at the check out, to your Mum’s new boyfriend’s best friend from work will have two fantastic ideas in their lifetime.
An idea for a game changing app, and…
…an idea for a world changing novel.
Neither of those ideas will ever see the light of day in any meaningful form.
Because ideas only develop value when they are made tangible, when they are executed effectively.
Execution isn’t an easy task. It takes the right timing, with the right elements, with the right approach. But more than anything, it takes the right people.
The right people are the ones who have the drive, the belief and either the skills or the readiness to develop the skills necessary to build on the spark of an idea and turn it into something real.
The right people are the ones who come up with a new way of living, working, doing or being, and then put in the hard work, the blood sweat and tears needed to create that elusive Version One.
The right people are the folks I want to invest in.
I’m not trying to win the lottery.
Startups aren’t a billion dollar lottery, no matter what Shark Tank, Hollywood or the rich list want you to believe.
Startups are a hard slog, where the odds are against you, you’re going to come up against a wall every single day, and statistically speaking at least 70–80% of you will fail.
When I come across someone who gives me a reason to pause and say “tell me more” — it’s not because I think I’ve found a golden ticket.
I go into every single investment 100% prepared for that money to vanish forever.
It’s not about winning the lottery, it’s about giving runway, connections, network access and advice to people who I believe in and want to support.
I want to back people who iterate.
Being wrong is incredibly exciting to me. It’s a chance to gather data, learn and grow.
When you’re able to admit that you’ve fucked something up, built the wrong product, or sold it to the wrong audience, what you’re really doing is collecting an advantage and an edge on whatever you build next.
That doesn’t mean chopping, changing and suffering epiphanies that give you an entirely new direction every six months.
It means identifying your mission, distilling it to its purest form, and designing however many attempts it takes to translate that into a product.
Great products don’t arrive fully formed and in the flesh in Version One. Great products are often embarrassing pieces of shit with a sprinkling of X-factor.
Never forget that Netflix V1 had nothing to do with streaming; it was a DVD rental service.
The data and the customer base they were able to build is what enabled them to iterate on that service in pursuit of their primary mission — giving everyone access to the best media entertainment on demand.
What I’m really investing in is the relationship.
Even if a founder does manage to crack execution, there’s still zero guarantee of success and zero guarantee of a return.
The most storied and celebrated founders today have a track record of trying and failing before creating something that worked, lasted and succeeded.
Ev Williams, one of the early co-founders of Twitter and the founder of Medium (the God forsaken home of listicles and 10 things successful people don’t do) founded a podcast platform called Odeo as his first foray into building a home for user generated content.
I don’t know if it was good, bad, or if it totally sucked.
And I don’t really need to know, either. I know that a few shots later, he was a founder with a win.
When I meet someone I believe in, my goal is to build a relationship that will give me access not just to their current project, but to everything they work on and create next.
My goal is to help them, support them and be a part of their journey so that in 5–10 years when something is starting to pay off, I’ll be right there with them.
You can only buy that level of access before it becomes important.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, Angel investor and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator of Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack.