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Published on April 10, 2021

Suneel Gupta’s 3 Secrets to Being “Backable”

Essential advice from AirBNB to Uber for startup founders and investors


Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

There is no shortage of online guidance for budding startup founders. Advice often includes time management hacks, personal branding gimmicks, and formatting tips for pitch decks. I’ve personally dabbled as an angel investor in a few startups launched by friends with limited success, and since then have been approached by many others looking for funding.

A few weeks ago, I attended a webinar by Suneel Gupta at the 2021 SXSW tech conference that addressed this issue from both sides: the startup founder and the investor evaluating them. Suneel Gupta rises above the crowd in his search for the entrepreneur’s “secret sauce” in his book Backable: The Surprising Truth Behind What Makes People Take a Chance on You (affiliate link).

After a string of failed startups, Gupta launched nutrition coaching app Rise in 2014. Just two years later, his venture was acquired by One Medical for $20 million. In Backable, he shares insights gleaned from both personal experience and in depth interviews with other founders, investors, filmmakers, and notable TV personalities including his brother, CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Business case studies featured in the book include AirBnB, Uber, Groupon, and Ikea.

Below, I’ll share three key takeaway lessons for every entrepreneur seeking support, either financial or moral, to grow their idea.

pitch deck

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

“Convince yourself first”

Perhaps the most important step in every founder’s journey is at the ideation stage. Share an idea too early and you risk sounding hesitant and unprepared. Ideas should only be shared after a founder has personally concluded that they believe in it and plan to move forward. Once they have convinced themselves, that conviction will shine through as they interact with others. AirBnB’s founders, for example, started with an idea of renting out an air mattress on their living room floor in San Francisco, then tested and refined their concept by timing their launch during a tech conference. The experience, plus this simple pitch deck, led them to their first round of investors soon thereafter.


Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

“Flip outsiders into insiders”

Every investor will have questions and concerns, and every investment has risk. Startup founders should acknowledge these concerns up front to establish trust. After all, nothing is more suspicious than a pitch that guarantees a sure thing! Once credibility is established, Gupta recommends the presenter switch the presentation to “huddle mode” as soon as possible. The presenter can ask his audience to interact with the product and advise on how to improve it. By working together through a business challenge, potential investors can begin to share the vision and energy of the startup team.


Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

“Play exhibition matches”

By now we’ve all heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hour rule, and practice does indeed make perfect (or at least better). Founders should take every opportunity they can to practice their investor pitches in front of friends, family, neighbors, and team members. These practice sessions can be sloppy, the goal is to work out any kinks in relaxed settings to deliver a refined pitch when the stakes are high.

"Long term success comes from short term embarrassment."
-Suneel Gupta

Backable concludes with a helpful synopsis of key points raised in each chapter and transcripts of several of his key interviews. His ultimate conclusion is that startup success is not just a product of charisma and talent. It is often a result of practices that signal conviction and authenticity. To be backable, these are the approaches that should be replicated.

Parting note: For more on entrepreneurship and investing, see our article on the top films to stream on personal finance.

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