Look to the future

The future - This way friend!

Man have I been traveling a lot the last few months. Sure it’s tiring, but the energy from meeting awesome people around the world definitely makes up the difference.

I recently met two of the coolest Japanese guys ever, Masa and Taka, who invest in European startups for an enormous corporate called Recruit (1). We were in Copenhagen together last week eating dinner when Masa gave me an insightful quote:

Masa’s insight was the majority of conversations focus on things that have happened. When first meeting someone it’s ‘where are you from?’, ‘what do you do?,’  ‘where do you live?’ After a rapport is built the conversation turns to ‘what’s new?’, ‘how’s the significant other?’, ‘still hate your job?’

Rarely does the question ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ come up. These future looking conversations are surely the most insightful and way more fun than dwelling on the past. But for some reason they’re difficult to bring up, even with close friends.

Looking back at my conversations with entrepreneurs, even these are more about fact gathering than forward looking. ’Who’s on your team?’ ‘How big is your market?’ ‘What’s your traction?’ All valid questions, but for investments that won’t pay off for 7-9 years shouldn’t I be focusing more on an entrepreneur’s vision for the future?

So, with the remaining 5 weeks of 2015 I’ll strive to have 50% of my conversations about the future. If all goes well, hopefully this past/future ratio will become a norm. Want to join in on my little test? Let me know 🙂

(1) 28k people company, just IPOd to raise $1b – most will be for investments

Product first, Business fast

How would I describe myself if raising a funding round? Here’s a typical boilerplate:

“MBA with 5 years of startup operational experience and investment roles with leading accelerator and family office.”

(I know, super lame)

I’ve recently spoken to many-an-entrepreneur with similar credentials. They came from a nifty operations/consulting/banking role, then did an MBA, and are now raising money for the next big thing.

Heck, it’s the “perfect” marriage of hands-on experience with strategic knowledge. But how does an investor view this background? Personally, I only think of one thing: Do they love building products?

Because that’s what tech companies do – they build products. And the best tech company founders I’ve seen are obsessed with their product. They love customer feedback, they’re freaks about metrics, they love lean.Watch Full Movie Streaming Online and Download

Yeah, biz dev/partnerships/managing are all important, but at the end of the day even with awesome relationships if users don’t like your product, you’re screwed.

So, how about this?

“Product-obsessed operations expert, turned investor”

(Still too lame)

Some say their co-founder is an awesome dev. Others plan on hiring a rockstar CTO post-raise. In my opinion, a startup CEO should own their product from day 1. If they don’t, who will?

If this same product-obsessed CEO happens to have a Harvard MBA and came from Goldman/Deloitte/Citi… great! Just don’t let that be the first thing you lead with. It makes you sound like a banker who doesn’t know shit about building a tech product.

So, what’s a super-bright Harvard MBA from Deloitte to do? I call it:

Product First, Business Fast (1)

That’s right, lead strong with your absolute love of product. Make an investor believe all you think of is how to build the world’s best website/app/whatever. On top of that, show how you’ve been honing your product skills – even if it’s just side projects.

If you’re really ballsy, don’t even bring up your sweet MBA/experience. At some point investors will realize you’re better than most when it comes to fundraising, managing, etc. So why even bring it up?

With this in mind, if I were pitching to investors here’s the preferred boilerplate:

“Startup operations junky with a passion for building products and working with entrepreneurs”

All of the above if factually true… I love building products and working with entrepreneurs. Even if it leaves out the MBA and investor roles, who cares – isn’t an initial pitch supposed to spur interest? It’s not like submitting a visa application.

As long as you have a rationale and some backing for the description, I suggest focusing initial investor discussions on your love for building products. Bring up academic record and business credentials later – as a nice surprise after you’ve sold them on an amazing product vision.

(1) Yes, of course this is a take from Mobile First Web Second, Web Second Mobile First,

Complements really do matter

16 entrepreneurs have pitched me in the last 30 hours. 11 of these were f2f and 5 were part of an angel event. It was overload. My head still feels like a form of eggnog that’s just about to harden to start thinking rationally again.

Of all these pitches, only one made me smile as I was brushing my teeth just now. In fact, only one made me smile at all.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Instead of rushing into the pitch, this entrepreneur sat down and casually said: “your Linkedin profile really made me smile”. This was followed by something like “it’s great when they show some personality”.

I can appreciate her sentiment, as most Linkedin profile are a combination of corporate BS and spelling mistakes. But really, my profile made her smile? Check it out – it’s scraping the bottom for humor – http://www.linkedin.com/in/atshannon1

But I guess that’s not the point.

I guess the point is this person made me smile while I was brushing my teeth. And along with this smile came a happy memory. And this happy memory is now associated with a person… and a conversation… and a business.

All from one complement.

Not only did this entrepreneur demonstrate she checked me out prior to the conversation (bright idea), she succeeded in being the 1 out of 16 I am certain to remember. I’m also be very inclined to reply quickly to her followups, connect her with other investors, and in general lend a hand however I can.

I’m not saying everyone should have the goal of flattering their local VC. But I am saying a small but unique differentiator can go a long way. Whether it be a way of speaking, a crazy shirt, or a complement – bringing something unique to the table is always the way to go.