If you’re a first-time founder without much experience and no one has ever heard of you, this Silicon Valley investor wants to meet

September 26, 2015
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Originally published at on September 26, 2015.

It doesn’t matter where you came from, where you went to school or what you did before, says General Catalyst venture partner Niko Bonatsos.

Niko Bonatsos. Venture Partner, General Catalyst

He still wants to see your pitch.

“I like anybody who comes out of nowhere. They probably have a chip on their shoulder, and they want to prove themselves and basically show to the world I’ll go the extra mile and I’ll prove to you I’m at least as good, if not better, than anybody else who has a great pedigree,” Bonatsos told Business Insider. “That’s how this country was built.”

Bonatsos sees it as an advantage for consumer products, like social apps Snapchat and Yik Yak (he has investments in both). It’s admittedly different if you are an enterprise or B2B founder where having worked in a big company is important to understanding the business and building your sales network.

With consumer products, though, it’s about differentiating yourself by having a fresh thought.

“If you are in consumer, normally the less legacy you have the better it is, assuming you are a learning animal. You have fresh thinking and interesting ideas and non-painted views,” Bonatsos said.

Loving wannabe entrepreneurs and barely built apps means Bonatsos gets a lot of email. He opens every single one, though, and some have turned into gold, he says. Still, he only meets with about 10 percent of the companies that cold call him.

To sort through the pitches, Bonatsos asks founders for a slide deck or to answer a few questions about their metrics.

“The simplest question if it’s consumer facing is ‘Hey, how do your users describe the product to their friends?’ And if they have a really good answer, I get really excited,” Bonatsos said.

A “Tinder for X” or a “Snapchat for Y” doesn’t qualify as a good answer. He’s looking for a description that compels people to sign up for the product. Instagram, for example, can be described as an app made your photos look amazing and made you feel like a professional photographer. It’s not just photo-sharing.

There’s also a few things that mean instant elimination to the venture capitalist. Claiming you will be the first trillion-dollar company or have a trillion-dollar market opportunity doesn’t signal ambition as much as it means a lack of due diligence.

And while Bonatsos likes hearing from far-flung founders, General Catalyst and Bonatsos may not be the best partners for super early-stage foreign companies or those who want to stay local. Bonatsos likes helping founders, and those who want to stay local would be best served by someone who has local knowledge of the market, he said.

Still, he believes attitude is more important than background.

“I genuinely believe that talent is universal while opportunity is not,” Bonatsos said. “If you have an aptitude for learning and you treat every single decision and every single moment as a learning opportunity, you can become somebody really great in anything.”

Originally published at on September 26, 2015.