Bure Valley Group is an investment introducer platform which links successful investors with exciting, innovative UK startups seeking funding. This content is for information purposes only and should not be taken as financial or investment advice.
Leadership is all about influence within a social circle – like a business. It aligns everyone in a collective direction, uniting them in a shared set of behaviours towards the achievement of key goals (e.g. turning a startup into a profitable business). Good leadership is crucial to whether a startup will succeed or fail, so investors need to be skilled in identifying its hallmarks when they choose early-stage investments for the portfolio. Below, we offer six key leadership skills to look for as you weigh up different prospects. We hope this is useful to you. To find out more about our EIS and other investment opportunities, visit our portfolio page here. To enquire regarding our latest projects and funding, you can reach us via:
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#1 Strategic Planning
Think of the great military leaders in history. Their success in the war theatre, almost always, depended heavily on their ability to devise – and follow – a wise strategy. Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War, for instance, relied on a strategy of guerrilla tactics to wear down the U.S. Forces – and public opinion at home – until they had little choice but to eventually withdraw. A startup leader, similarly, needs strategic skills to navigate a competitive landscape and get the business in front of paying customers. Do they intend to go “head to head” against key players already in the market, or do they have more of a “guerilla strategy”? Whatever the plan, it needs to be well thought through and plausible.
Some may argue that startup founders need, to some extent, to cut corners and “bend the rules” to succeed (e.g. using “grey hat” SEO). However, a mark of true leadership is honesty, integrity and strict ethics. In the long run, this enhances the reputation of the business – helping to attract and retain customers, investors, suppliers and other key stakeholders. A good sign of integrity is that a founder takes responsibility for his or her actions, putting others’ needs before their own and manifesting humility (in the face of flattery).
#3 Communication Skills
To unite a team behind a vision, a leader needs to communicate it clearly. Their message needs to be memorable, easy to understand and, ideally, engage the listener’s passion. After all, if the startup’s team deeply believes in the leadership’s vision, they are more likely to stay committed to it during tough times. Moreover, communication skills help a leader understand other team members’ goals, desires and grievances – helping to offer solutions. If staff and customers feel that they are not listened to, then they are less likely to stay around.
A good leader knows which decisions can be put off for a while, requiring careful thought before committing to action, and those which need to be quick and informed. Decisive leaders can gather information from colleagues, reports and fellow leaders efficiently and execute plans – not “fudging” or hesitating, to everyone’s frustration. Sometimes, there is no “right” decision but a decision simply needs to be made, and quickly. A decisive leader will recognise this, make an informed decision and not “flip back and forth” afterwards.
Decisiveness, however, needs to be balanced with adaptability – especially when it comes to a startup leader. Sometimes, it is clear that a plan is not working (e.g. a marketing strategy) and there needs to be a pivot. Perhaps the market or economic environment has changed. Maybe new regulations have suddenly come into force, changing the landscape. Customers might have changed their behaviour – as they did in 2020, during the covid lockdown when everyone moved online to work from home. A leader’s stubborn refusal to adapt – possibly out of fear of appearing “wrong” – can result in the downfall of a business.
Running any business is challenging, but few things test your mettle like the early years (much like raising a child!). A startup leader needs resilience to get through these challenging times, “bouncing back” during setbacks and putting on a brave face in front of team members. Whilst leaders are certainly allowed to struggle internally for a time, it is important not to let this spill over to others in a way that undermines morale. An investor can take great confidence from a leader who does not engage in dysfunctional, harmful behaviour. The difficulty, of course, is that there may not be much of a business track record to refer to when judging a startup founder. Instead, you will need to ask questions to get a sense of his/her attitude to hardship. Do they come across as someone who would sustain their energy levels under pressure? How do they talk about other difficult times in life – perhaps in their family, or in previous employment?
There are many more leadership qualities that we could discuss such as collaboration, passion and emotional intelligence. However, these 6 “core” qualities are arguably some of the most vital for facilitating a startup’s chances of success.
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