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When he’s not obstacle course racing, surfing, biking, or trail running, Craig Cooper—former co-host of the CNBC outdoor investment show “Adventure Capitalists”— is looking for the next best company to invest in. Next week, he’s joining the outdoor industry to judge startup ideas for The Pitch @ Wayfinder, a platform for candidates to present their prototype products for a chance to win a cash prize, a two-month membership to the Wayfinder coworking space, and more than $7,500 in marketing, PR, and consulting services. (It’s very similar to Camber Outdoors’ Pitchfest on Day 0 in that it’s an extension Wayfinder’s dedication to start-ups in the industry.)
Amid his busy schedule, we caught up with Cooper for some insider tips on what makes a solid business proposal.
What do you look for in a pitch?
I look to see, are they defining a new market? If they’re not, how much are they disrupting an existing market and what’s their capacity to do that? With this sector and what was brought to the forefront on Adventure Capitalists was that there are a lot of products that you want to have in your garage or home but there are very few that make it through the investment funnel. That’s a challenge, particularly in the outdoor sector. We’re hot and heavy for new gear, but when you refine it down to the actual business model and you can create a sustainable brand or business, then that’s a completely different discussion and not many companies make it through that filter.
What are some examples of brands that stand out?
We’re all looking for the next GoPro. That was an industry-defining piece of technology, or media company, as they like to call themselves. That’s not to say that everything has to be at that level. You can define yourself through a brand or technology or some other means by disrupting an existing industry. At the top of my mind, I’m thinking of Stance Socks—”the uncommon thread”—and Allbirds—”the world’s most comfortable shoes” The great thing about the venture capital business is it’s hard to define what to invest in, but you know it when you see it. The deals that I like to see are the ones I walk away from saying, why didn’t I think of that.
What’s the best advice you can pass on to budding entrepreneurs?
I think you need to find your passion and calling. I know it sounds cliche. But ultimately everybody has a good idea at some point in their life that has significance of being a business opportunity. The opportunity for you is, how committed are you to act on that and execute that? I tweet about this all the time: There’s no harder job than being an entrepreneur. It’s soul sucking. You’re told no 99 percent of the time. Everyone is trying to compete against you or destroy your business, so everyday is a fire fight. There is absolutely no down time. But if you’re willing to commit to it, there’s a chance you’ll be successful and become the guy that everybody is going to be reading about.