Be concise, not precise.
Fundraising talk is hard. It’s a special combination of lingo, body language, and force of personality. The above advice is from one of the speakers at AngelPad. You can’t get wordy with investors early on, no matter how complex or nuanced the business, because if you get tuned out quickly you don’t recover. End of meeting. Despite the analogy being beaten to death, but it bears repeating: talking to investors is like hitting on girls. Since the investors (girls) hear over thousands of pitches (pick up lines) every year, they’ve developed shortcuts to quickly weed people out. It’s a matter of efficiency and some evolutionary thing I can’t explain.
Understanding the situation, many entrepreneurs still feel frustrated. Investors, professionals and angels, are generally intelligent people. So it’s not that they are unable to discern subtle differences. They just can’t afford to sit down for 30 minutes to pick out the gems from your verbal diarrhea. The key is selling the idea in the shortest amount of time. From there, if you pique interest, the investor will naturally ask the questions that get down to the nitty gritty. He/she may even figure out what you’re really doing.
The other problem is what I call the pigeon hole dilemma. Investors and media love to draw “X for Y” comparisons, like AirBnb for pets, or Match.com for basketball players. Again, it’s a quick shortcut that condenses your business into a neat soundbite. You probably hate it. Even though often inaccurate, it’s powerful because the person doesn’t have to spend much time processing your idea. Our AngelPad friend Brett (of Source Ninja fame) says it doesn’t matter how or what you say, you WILL get pigeon holed until you create that awesome billion dollar category of your own. You’re not XYZ until you’re XYZ.
This may all sound a little nutty for those not in the business. As for me, I’m in full acceptance phase. Time is valuable and if you can’t practice your pitch enough to capture attention of people who are writing you checks for huge sums of money, then how can you succeed building a valuable business out of scratch? One that requires projecting your vision and passion to bring on customers, employees, and partners? It’s a tricky song and dance, but one’s gotta learn it. Remember not to blow chunks.
Allow me to tap into consulting lingo and introduce the two P’s of AngelPad: pizzas and pivots. We do a lot of both, perhaps obsessively so.
One of the differences to previous classes here is the mentors’ deliberate push to validate and fine tune, more relentlessly than other cohorts. The main reason for us in the same space is to engage each other, not to hide behind monitors and code in silence. The network effect has been a powerful way for us to talk to potential customers we otherwise might not have the opportunity to. Internally, we discuss and challenge each other’s assumptions frequently and openly, resulting in either fine tuning or in some rare cases, complete abandonment of ideas. The latter usually brought upon by determining lack of demand, indirect way to tackle problem, or simply too small of a market to scale. Either way, a lot of pivoting.
The other P is pizza. I can’t recall the last time I had so much pizza. Thomas loves keeping things simple, so he orders pizza from the same local joint for meeting days, the most consistent one being our weekly Tuesday meetings. I quite like the structure of these informal all hands. We kick off with several product demos, where we see what other teams are doing and provide feedback. Then Thomas leads an active discussion about some topic while we chow down on pizza and beer (Tecate and PBR in case you’re wondering). While the meal being totally un-paleo, the content is lean and rich.
While we work in uncertainty, as every startup should, we can rely on the constant 2P’s here at AngelPad.
Last week I mentioned getting challenged on assumption validation. What better way to begin than with Steve Blank‘s favorite saying:
Get out of the building.
Smart people have a tendency to make assumptions about too many important variables, such as how customers will react to their products, how big the market can be, how to sell, etc. But the really smart people know better than to not test these assumptions in the real world. There simply isn’t a good way to do that short of leaving the office and talking to real customers who you’re trying to solve problems for.
At AngelPad, the mentors push very hard for us to do things systematically. Gokul likes to tell us the story of one of his favorite AngelPad company founders. The guy would start or end every sentence with “my customer said.” He essentially talked completely in customer demands and left out any personal assumptions. While I believe that is indeed the holy grail, it doesn’t work for every type of product. For instance consumer apps such as games or websites.
Investors obviously prefer the solution to hair-on-fire problems; they’re less excited about what they call vitamins instead of cancer cures. Solving an acute pain is the surest way to build a revenue generating business, thus greatly reducing investment risk. That said, without these vitamins, Twitter or Instagram wouldn’t exist today. The mentors are smart enough to recognize that, as evidenced by our diverse group of founders building companies spanning the spectrum of product ideas.
I’m announcing a new weekly series on this blog covering my startup UbiSocio. Since launching last year, the hardest aspect writing about it is sharing details when the state of the company or product isn’t ready for the public. However, with the honor of joining the AngelPad program started last week, I think it’ll be valuable to share our experiences and chronicle the 10 week journey.
For the uninitiated, the tech startup world has seen numerous accelerator programs from all over world in recent years. They generally entail mentorship, some funding, and a goal to help companies develop their businesses, where the next step is usually a larger round of funding to scale. In the SF Bay Area, AngelPad is one of the premier programs that emphasizes a close group of companies per cohort, and high levels of interaction with the mentors. The founder Thomas Korte is a high energy, big vision kind of guy. I’ll cover all the mentors in subsequent weeks as I get to know them better. So far they’ve been an impressive group that doesn’t shy away from challenging all of us.
One thing I’ve been very happy with so far is the camaraderie between the companies. My experience at INSEAD being such a great one, I was looking for an environment where the cohorts are actively engaged. Working in a common space out here in San Francisco results in shared meals and random discussions that produce tight relationships. The program’s structured feedback and agenda has given us common ground to commiserate.
Next week I’ll share more of the assumption validation and pivots that AngelPad has pushed hard on us.