The Four Questions for Successful Investments and Disrupting the Market



Sep 25, 20234 min read


The Four Questions for Successful Investments and Disrupting the Market


Investing in new ventures and disrupting established markets are both challenging endeavors. To navigate these landscapes successfully, it is essential to ask the right questions and make informed decisions. Altos Ventures, a renowned venture capital firm, poses four crucial questions to determine the potential of an investment. Similarly, Genius, a platform initially focused on music annotation, expanded its horizons by disrupting the website annotation space. This article explores the commonalities between Altos Ventures' investment approach and Genius' expansion strategy, highlighting the significance of cash generation, competitive advantages, relationships, and liquidity in achieving success.

1. Does the company generate cash?

One of Altos Ventures' primary concerns is cash generation. They believe in identifying companies that exhibit capital efficiency and a clear path towards positive cash flow. This criterion helps separate the best companies from the pack, particularly during challenging times. Likewise, successful startups aiming to disrupt markets must prioritize cash generation. High burn rates can be detrimental during economic downturns, making it imperative for startups to showcase capital efficiency and financial sustainability.

2. What is the moat (or competitive advantage)?

Altos Ventures emphasizes the importance of a company's moat or competitive advantage. This could include network effects, intellectual property, distribution channels, brand recognition, or other unique strengths. However, they acknowledge that the most significant moats often emerge unexpectedly. Similarly, startups looking to disrupt established markets must identify their competitive advantages and leverage them effectively. While some advantages may be apparent during the early stages, others may be discovered and nurtured along the way.

3. How do we feel about the relationship?

Altos Ventures recognizes the value of relationships and the significance of trust and communication between stakeholders. They believe that a great relationship with the founders and other stakeholders provides valuable insights into a company's progress. This aspect holds true even during later stages of investment. Similarly, startups aiming to disrupt markets must build strong relationships with their customers, partners, and investors. These relationships can provide a deeper understanding of market dynamics and help navigate challenges effectively.

4. How much liquidity do you need? How much liquidity do you want?

Altos Ventures considers the liquidity needs and desires of key individuals within a successful company. They believe that providing adequate liquidity can reduce financial stress and allow key individuals to focus on the long-term success of the business. However, when the desire for liquidity exceeds a certain level, it may indicate a shift in priorities. This question prompts a reassessment of the entrepreneur's commitment and passion for the venture. Similarly, disruptive startups must evaluate their liquidity needs and align them with their long-term goals. Understanding the balance between financial gains and the desire to make a difference is crucial for sustained success.

Genius: Disrupting the Market Through Website Annotation

Genius, originally known for its music annotation platform, sought to expand its reach by disrupting the website annotation space. By allowing users to add "" to any URL, Genius enabled fully annotatable versions of web pages. However, this expansion came with copyright concerns, as some websites objected to their content being pulled into the Genius platform. Despite these challenges, Genius assured that their platform would not cannibalize traffic or advertising revenues of the original sources.

Genius started in a niche market, focusing solely on music annotation. This allowed the platform to be underestimated by established media and avoid direct competition. Similarly, startups aiming to disrupt markets can benefit from starting in a niche and gradually expanding their offerings. By focusing on a specific area, startups can gain traction, build credibility, and generate interest before venturing into broader markets.

Actionable Advice:

1. Prioritize cash generation and capital efficiency to ensure financial sustainability, especially during challenging times. This will set your venture apart from competitors and attract potential investors.

2. Identify and nurture your competitive advantages or moats. These unique strengths will fortify your position in the market and create barriers for potential competitors.

3. Build and maintain strong relationships with stakeholders, including customers, partners, and investors. These relationships will provide valuable insights and support during different stages of your venture's growth.


Altos Ventures' four questions for successful investments align with the strategies employed by disruptive startups like Genius. By focusing on cash generation, competitive advantages, relationships, and liquidity needs, both investors and entrepreneurs can make informed decisions and pursue long-term success. Navigating the investment landscape and disrupting established markets require careful consideration of these factors, ensuring sustainable growth and positive impact.

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