What makes a great Talent Investor?

Posted 10 November 2023
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This is the third in a series where we are taking a deep dive into what it means to be a Talent Investor. This developing field is the frontier of company building, and some of the people who will come to define it may not have even heard of it. If you believe that you could identify and amplify exceptional individuals that will build generation-defining startups, apply now.

There is no formula for the perfect Talent Investor. But what we have learned over the past decade is that finding exceptionally talented founders requires equally exceptional Talent Investors. While they may not be alumni of the same colleges, have the same degree, or even have jobs in common, there are five intrinsics that set them apart from everyone else. It’s these qualities that mean Talent Investors are able to identify and engage exceptional founders.  

1. Intellectually curious

This is core to their person, and to the job of being a Talent Investor. They’re relentless in interrogating the world around them and they’ve always been this way. For these people, seeking out the foundational ideas behind a concept or belief system is vital to understanding and challenging it. 

Building and sharing knowledge is strongly encouraged at Entrepreneur First. As well as regular learning and development sessions for Talent Investors, there are informal ways everyone can benefit. This is anything from a Lunch and Learn on CRISPR, to a weekly knowledge sharing call about AI. 

We’ve learned that people who go on to become Talent Investors often have multiple interests and hobbies – some of which may be quite obscure. One of our Talent Investors challenged himself to learn chess within a couple of months (and now has a 1900 ELO score!), while another applied mathematical principles to examine her life from a different perspective. 

For Talent Investors, there’s no end point when it comes to learning. They’re constantly updating their knowledge and beliefs through self-directed learning. It’s a superpower: being an infinite learner gives you a head start when connecting with others about emerging technologies and areas of discovery. 

2. Network building aptitude

We’ve seen it in action: exceptional people attract exceptional people. Talent Investors know how to seek out and engage the groups where potential founders gather because they’re in those groups themselves. It’s part of their intellectual curiosity and gets them asking: “What are the most exciting people doing? How can I learn about that? How can I get involved in it?”

Being a Talent Investor is much more than guiding a founder through some frameworks and handing over a check. It is rooted in becoming a trusted counselor, dedicated coach, an advisor, a supporter. It requires building genuine relationships with exceptional people as early as possible to have the opportunity to guide them on their journeys towards extraordinary outcomes. The meaningful relationships that are built through Talent Investing will last much longer than the length of the program – and may even span the length of the founder’s career.

3. Discerning judgement

Talent Investors set the bar high for themselves, and the people around them. Not everyone is founder material, but Talent Investors are really good at being the first to see who that might be in their community. Identifying exceptionalism is a skill. Great Talent Investors have found themselves naturally drawn to these people in their pursuit of knowledge, long before they turned to talent investing. 

As Talent Investors, it’s now a job to figure out how to identify and build that muscle, turning it into discerning judgment. One of the most important things that a Talent Investor will learn throughout this process is how to balance the optimism of finding someone exceptionally talented against the realism of whether they will make a good founder. This is what makes the difference between a good Talent Investor and a great one.

4. Definite optimists

Our Talent Investors are always sharing the latest developments they’re most excited to see be applied by future founders. Restless curiosity and a finger on the pulse in leading tech communities helps Talent Investors build on and challenge their expertise: “It’s invaluable to hear a potential founder’s take on fresh developments and how they want to apply them to build new technologies” says a Web 3 Talent Investor. Talent Investors are fascinated by technology’s potential for impact, especially through early stage company creation. 

This doesn’t mean a Talent Investor has to have a tech background. For those who don’t, setting aside time every day to learn more about the areas of interest or expertise of the exceptional founders you are working with will have a big impact on their ability to push founders to greatness. The Bangalore Talent Investor that has invested time in learning about robotics and AI is making a real difference to founders in her cohort, strengthening the ways in which she can engage with and challenge them.

5. Relentlessly ambitious

Ambition isn’t a dirty word: it’s one of the core values for a great Talent Investor. Talent Investors set the bar really, really high. Whether it’s personal or professional, they know what excellence looks like and they won’t let anything stand in their way. They approach the founders they work with like this, too. Talent Investors will push themselves and others to greatness, even when it gets uncomfortable. 

There’s a reason that the unofficial Entrepreneur First mascot is Stoffel the Honey Badger. If you’ve never heard of this tenacious little creature, Stoffel can’t be constrained. He will creatively find every possible way to achieve freedom from his pen, no matter the barrier placed in front of him. 

Just like Stoffel, Talent Investors don’t settle for “it’ll do”. The difference between great and good was summarized pretty well by a London-based Talent Investor, “I was recently confronted with an unfamiliar concept, and in the moment I had two choices: give in to impostor syndrome, or push through and start asking questions to conquer it. I choose the latter every time.”

How does that make a great Talent Investor?

There’s one last thing that knits those traits together: the desire to apply them in the pursuit of an extremely ambitious goal. Imagine chatting to someone you know is really exceptional, who has all the potential to create something truly world-changing, but they don’t see it yet. It’s like an itch you just have to scratch, prodding them towards the realization that there’s something more they could be doing with their life. And that’s just the start.