We complain that we met n number of people, but did not get many good feedback/advice. The question we often don’t ask ourselves — were we looking for advice in the first place?
I think there is something wrong going on on both sides of the table. (Sorry, Mark Suster, couldn’t help myself from using the name) There is enough blame to be passed around, so today I am gonna do just that.
Entrepreneurship is hard. Fund-raising is a necessary evil. And that’s probably harder. Finding an advisor/mentor, and making sure that you are able to get the best off of him/her is hard as well. It’s all hard.
Now that we have established what didn’t necessarily need to be said out loud, let us keep that away and get back to the matter at hand.
Since the time I decided to work on my current venture to the point where we were processing 1,000+ orders every month, I must have met 8–10 investors — people who invest in different capacities, ranging from angels to seed investors to general partners of well established institutional investors. I wasn’t necessarily looking to raise money in every single one of these meetings, some of them were just that. Meetings. Why? We will come to that.
If you have had such meetings of your own, you would know that you don’t get good feedback all the time.
If an investor is going to pass up on you, you’ll be encountering one of these scenarios:
- get no reply. (Yes, it is not very frequent, but it happens more often than you would expect it to.)
- get a templated response
- get a detailed mail outlining their thoughts on your business, what is it that they think you are doing right, what is it about your business/MO that they are concerned with (or scared about), and why they are choosing to pass up on it right now.
As rare as it may have felt in your experience, this last point — it does happen. And when it does, I want you to save this contact in your list and make sure you stay in regular touch with these guys. Not because of the fact that they may be open to investing in you in future, but because they made the effort and took the time out to give you a real advice.
WHY DO WE GET NO REPLIES?
No. It is not your fault why they didn’t reply. Even a templated response would have been fine, but not responding at all — particularly after having a meeting or a call is downright discourteous. Even if you had your head up your ass and were full of gas more than a Hindenburg, if they had the meeting — a simple response takes less than 2 mins. Saying no is fine, being impolite isn’t.
This. I have always wondered about it. Why be courteous just for the sake of being courteous? What are they scared of? Are they scared of hurting our sensibilities?
Come on. If entrepreneurs had real sense, most of us would still be in that cushy job we were in to, or could have gotten into; not eating dinner out of take-out boxes. There obviously was something you didn’t like, just speak up. Maybe the space wasn’t the right fit for you. Slightly unlikely, since you would have thought of that even before meeting us up, but still a strong possibility. Maybe my execution approach is wrong. Maybe my unit economics is all fucked up. Or my CAC (customer acquisition cost) is too high.
No matter what the reason was, don’t you think it would be more helpful to me — as an entrepreneur — if you just spoke your mind? It might help me make the right adjustments. Adjustments, the absence of which might be detrimental to my business. Just help a brother out here, will you?
THE DETAILED RESPONSE
These are the ones worth their weight in gold. For obvious reasons. The only downside? It may hurt my sensibilities and feelings! :-p (Yes I see the irony; keep reading.)
But if it does, then shouldn’t that mean I am not cut out for this job? If I can’t take an honest and valid criticism, then what the hell am I doing here?
I would be the last person to achieve a product market fit, because I will always be of the thought — This is the product. And we will make it fit! #FAIL
Circling back to me. I met with these investors and VCs, not for their money, but to pick on their brains. See how they felt about the business. What is it that made them insecure, what parts of it were exciting for them, what do they think would be our biggest challenge — and did I miss any of that when I was thinking of these same questions!
You stay too close to something for a real long time, and you start seeing the same thing — over and over again! That is the reason why we need a fresh set of eyes. That is why I abhor the term — “stealth startup”.
If you are not a R&D company doing groundbreaking research, there is no fucking point of going all ninja about your business. Explain your business, and different facets of it. To anyone who is willing to listen. To anyone who would give you the time of the day. It is not for them, it is for yourself.
The beauty of talking to an investor? They come across multiple businesses on a weekly basis. So they are going to look at things from multiple perspectives. They have seen challenges that other startups are facing — so they can ask you the real tough questions, and God willing — give you good advice as well.
So, a request to all VCs and investors out there
Go on. Have at it. Don’t hold back. Make my day!
Ah! My folks, my brethren. Hadn’t forgotten about you.
Now when I say entrepreneurs, I am talking about everyone — Seasoned, newcomers and upcoming alike.
Let this be the first question I ask you all.
What the fuck is wrong with you?
I see questions after questions on Quora on how to connect with investors, where to find investors to raise money, how much equity should you dilute, oh and my personal favorite — How should Indians respond to Snapchat’s CEO calling India a poor country. And not one question, not a single one, trying to find the answers behind the real questions and challenges that undoubtedly haunt for business.
I see you asking “Why did XYZ fail?”, “What is the strategy behind ABC giving this high a discount”. You will find a lot of answers for these questions, there is no doubt in my mind about that. After all, as the great philosopher Taylor Swift will say:
Criticising someone is easy, appeals to the dark side inside of all of us. It is easier when the other person (or business) is down, beaten, has made a fool of himself (itself) for the whole world to see. So anyone — with or without the stripes to back them up — can just pile on the garbage that will be flung on the individual/business.
Don’t you think a better way to put that question forward would have been — “XYZ is bleeding because of their costs of delivery. Does anyone have any insights or data about that? Also, if you were in their place, how would you have approached this problem?”
If you are turning to the world of well seasoned, highly qualified experts on matters about your business, why not ask better questions? Why not ask INTELLIGENT questions. Believe me, you may get less responses, but they will surely be of better quality.
- There are a ton of people who can share real life stories of how they overcame some challenges — whether same or similar. We all have a story to tell, and it doesn’t cost us a dime to share these stories with anyone. And we would be more than happy to do so if we feel it may help someone out.
- Intelligence questions illicit and attract intelligent responses. Because the person who can answer the question — he can see that your head is in the game. It doesn’t feel like a waste to put in that effort and time in answering that question for you now.
Get outside your comfort zone. Stop seeking validation. You don’t want a pat on the back from anyone — not even yourself. You need a kick in the nuts! Get on with the program and start fuelling your business with advice, feedback and suggestions that could potentially help it out.
Don’t meet people because you think there is some benefit they can add to your business. A potential recruit, an investor, a rich dude who likes to sign cheques snorting coke. Meet people because they are different than you and I. Meet them because they are not as close to the business as you are, and so the chances of them being myopic about it is far less. Meet people because they are the leading experts in their fields and they were gracious enough to give you 5 mins of their day. But most of all, meet people to identify those sneaky little problems with your business.
And if you are not going to listen to me, at least listen to the Bible.
Ask and thou shalt receive
Did Jesus actually say that? Never mind. Here are the actual verses from the bible (the english version anyway).
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?
For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Have fun! Let’s chat. Humans, bots — really doesn’t make much difference to me.