Tuesday, July 9, 2013

When a VC “Doesn’t Get It”

Prior to becoming a VC, I pitched startup ideas to VCs (and others).  I’ve had my share of rude, entitled VCs who, I felt, gave me short shrift.

But from the other side of the table, I see if not as a problem with the VC but as a problem of the entrepreneur’s conception of and contact with the VC (s)he is pitching to.

What do I mean?

I just finished an email exchange with an entrepreneur who had cold-called our offices and asked to speak to someone, anyone, about his idea.  To this guy, the relationship with him was irrelevant, and all that mattered, or ought to matter, to me was the quality of his idea and his proofs that the idea resonated with potential customers.

Actually, it’s just the opposite.  With a  very early-stage idea, the character of the entrepreneur matters much much more than the quality of the idea, if only for the simple reason that most ideas that succeed as businesses do so by changing course in reaction to circumstances (what we now call “pivoting”), and the entrepreneur needs to be someone with the vision, fortitude, and, yes, the character, to know when to hold and when to fold.

When the connection is a cold call or a cold email, we know nothing about this entrepreneur’s character.  So I have a general rule that if an entrepreneur is not introduced to me by someone I don’t go further with a project.

What does mean for entrepreneurs who don’t know any VCs?  It means you have to get to know us, through accountants, lawyers, other entrepreneurs, startup helpers such as incubators, accelerators, and the like.  You could also start in a cold contact by introducing yourself and saying something about your background.

This entrepreneur responded to my rejection by saying that VCs didn’t get it, he would never understand us.  I would ask him what he would say if a person unknown to him called him up on the phone and asked him to invest $1M in his idea, how would he react?  He would probably (I would guess) want to know the person he was dealing with a bit better before proceeding with him.  And if he had enough people calling him, he probably wouldn’t have time to get to know everyone who called in.

I wish it were a different world, where there was enough time and bandwidth for everybody.  But lacking that, knowing what your potential investor is thinking will help you figure out how to approach him or her.

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