Business related websites are full of advice and notifications and admonitions about how to be successful and what to do in this disruptive world. To my eye, there is not much content that explores the concept of giving thanks or how to treat others. Business site topics range from artificial intelligence to how to manage a meeting; from block chain implications to tips on resumes. An entire body of work exists that details all the things not to do, as in, “5 Ways to Kill a Good Interview!!!” All good and helpful, and I am proud to be an influencer who provides such content. We know from the advice sites how to be a team player and that our colleagues are critical in helping us be more successful, or not.
But wait; there is a cadre of people and actions that are rarely discussed. In a de facto way, they are dismissed in all the advice but they can make or break our day. In the work world, they are often underappreciated.
People who show up, do their jobs, and are a part of our lives constantly surround us, and yet we often don’t see them. We interact with them every day and they make life just a little bit better for us. We might nod to them while we are talking on the phone. We might glance up at them while we are hitting the REPLY button. These are the people who never really pop up as an unsung hero. The unsung hero spots are often reserved for teachers and first responders who certainly deserve it. But there are other people who help us or make our day and we often take them for granted. They too, are unsung heroes but are not ones that we typically thank for being a part of our workplace lives.
They are all around us. They are in the parking lots taking your keys. They are in your office fixing your lights. They push the elevator buttons for us. They provide security. They may or may not be on social media but their attention is not on LinkedIn pieces on how to better network. When the debate about raising the minimum wage rages, these are the people who will be see a bump in pay – or not. These are the people who are working incredibly hard and can make our day by showing the slight gesture of a kindness.
So as the school year begins, there is a particular group that I would like to call out for our attention – the cafeteria workers. You know who I am talking about. Like the cable guy, the cafeteria ladies (and men) bear a designation that conjures up a unique image. We love them because they know our names, they give us food, and they almost always have a smile. They are efficient and they enjoy and are proud of their work. They love their work and can bring a little sunshine into a day with an oatmeal raisin cookie. Although cafeteria workers are a metaphor for underappreciated workers, they are flag bearers for that group of people who make our day.
At a time when debates are raging about critical topics at work, I hope we can all take a moment out of our day to say thank you. So, thank you cafeteria workers and night custodians and all those who work hard to make everyone’s work just a little better. You all should have more recognition.
You made the pitch on a Monday to a venture capital firm and you believe you nailed it. Woohoo and hot damn! They laughed at the one joke. They asked good questions about the market size and the patent potential. No one fell asleep and at the end the group was effusive in showing appreciation. This could be it.
A day or two later you receive an email that the venture group decided to pass on your company but thanks and good luck. Ugh. Depression and back to using the credit cards. What happened? Was it presentation skills? Is it a bad idea? Should you go to work at Best Buy? What!? You may never know.
The relationship between entrepreneurs and investors is complicated. Investors are desperate to find good deals. Ideas with the possibility of a big return are really difficult to find. The most difficult part of being an investor is finding the next big thing. Entrepreneurs are desperate for the investment. The credit cards are at the limit and every start up is on the verge of greatness, if only that next round of money comes in. Two desperate parties looking for the same thing – returns. So why is there such a dance after the presentations? Why don’t the VCs give feedback? There are several reasons.
- No one wants to hear “your baby is ugly”. That’s right, your baby, in the form of your idea or your company might be ugly and you are unwilling to accept it. We love entrepreneurs because they are passionate and committed and idealistic. Saying it’s not a good idea or you don’t have the right team will only elicit a rejoinder of protest and angst that no investor wants to deal with.
- No one wants to tell you “your baby is ugly”. It’s no fun to deliver bad news or deal with the protests. The more engagement there is in delivering the negative decision, the more difficult the meeting is. It is just more efficient to send an email.
- Hope springs eternal. If there is a glimmer of hope from the investor, the entrepreneur tends to be too optimistic that there is still money to be had. So investors don’t give feedback because it is heard as, “if you fix this and that then we might fund you.” That is not the case. Almost always, once the decision is made, it is final.
Other reasons could be part of the decision too. Maybe the investors are too heavy in a particular vertical. Maybe the investors are running out of money but want to keep seeing pitches. In both cases, you won’t hear that as a reason.
The solution? Don’t wait for feedback and don’t get mad. Just move on. That investment could be waiting around the next corner. When it comes to investor feedback, it could be like that last break up when you heard, “It’s not you, it’s me.” There is no good way to say I don’t love you.
Any investor or venture capitalist quickly learns what to look for as he or she considers making an investment. After one sees a batch of deals, pattern recognition takes over. Investors are looking for big returns and want to hear about ideas but also want to know that the entrepreneur is not naive when it comes to what it will take for success.
Certain triggers will make for an immediate reaction, and not in a good way. In the spirit of cheering for entrepreneurs, here are a few pointers – both what to do and what not to do.
On the “what to do” side I have only one piece of advice: GET ATTENTION. Over the course of my investing career, I have heard phrases like the following:
“Our technology will detect autism in children at an early age.”
“Our technology will disrupt the college choice process.”
“As PayPal is to payments, we are to passport control.”
It doesn’t matter whether or not the money was invested; these entrepreneurs had big ideas and had my attention. The rest was due diligence.
The “not what to do” bucket is a big one but here are a few obvious mistakes that entrepreneurs are prone to make:
- Telling me what I already know. I know the Internet changed the world. I know that big data is big. Don’t start there, start with what I don’t know.
- Pronouncing there is no competition for your idea or technology. It is never true; there is always competition. To say otherwise shows a naive entrepreneur. Go back and do research to identify the competition.
- Proclaiming that your idea will go against Google, Apple, Facebook or many others and make a dent in their growth. It’s too late; don’t say what you will do to those big successful companies with billions in assets. Even if that is your intent, it is not credible.
- Failing to answer the question, “What Is It?” Investors don’t need suspense. By page two or three any investor should know what your idea or product is and understand the space in the world it occupies. Is it software, a drone, an app, a flying car? Just blurt it out early.
- Confusing an Advisory Board with people who will build the company. Having famous people on your advisory board makes for a good PowerPoint but investors know that most advisors don’t help with day-to-day operations. The team that is running the company is more important than eye candy advisors.
Entrepreneurs complain that if they talk to ten different people, they will receive ten different pieces of advice about an investor pitch. My advice is to listen to all ten but make sure you are comfortable with your end product.
Oh yeah, did I mention that listening to feedback is a big part of being a successful entrepreneur?