You’re negotiating your startup’s future and the person across from you fingers through a notebook while glancing occasionally at the slide deck that you have painstakingly put together for this meeting. He alternates his edginess between his iPhone and stylish pen while intermittently asking you to explain an occasional number or market assumption. When you finish, he leads with a couple of open-ended questions accompanied systematically by his own dry opinions about the industry you’re in or the technology you’re using before rapidly closing the encounter around his firm’s standard operating procedures and a light smile thanking you for your time and work.
He doesn’t care about you, it’s his exit that interests him.
Running a business is not fairy tale stuff but if you’re set on making a dent in the universe, better off choosing people who are built on the same karma that you are. There are more options open to entrepreneurs today than ever before and amongst them are people and firms from every walk of life that hover around collective ideas of what capitalism should be and what legacy they want to leave behind. Maybe that’s the question you need to ask yourself before contacting Angels or Venture Capital firms — who they really are, more than how much money and connections they have.
Too many good business ideas have been ignored and manipulated into something that the creator didn’t adhere too just to follow some common wisdom of investors set out to extract as much value as they can, in the shortest time possible. This is not systematic, but no one should ignore the motivations lying behind investing money, altruism is not common and especially not in the internet digital economy where quick turnarounds attract a certain breed of moneybags.
If your mindset is not aligned with that of your board of directors, sooner or later things will get tangled and complicated. Targeting the right investor from the start is probably the first and foremost step towards growing your company. There are heaps of articles, videos & podcasts about how and what to pitch, what term sheets should contain and how to read them and what investors are looking for, but surprisingly little on how to choose your running mate.
The best place to start is where these people express themselves outside their walled communities and sleekly polished marketing prose. Once you’ve found someone with who you seem attuned, try asking around to see if anyone knows the person and how he or she beats, ultimately you can reach out to a startup that has worked with them before. But never lose sight of the primary goal of this exercise —you’re looking for someone who’s going to be by your side for the next few years, who’s going to look out for you and protect your best interests and promote your thoughts as well as your idea. You need to find out what makes them tick, what inspires them and why they’re someone you can trust. Because this is your project, that presumably is the result of countless hours of hard work and sacrifices and is the basis of your well being and those around you. Bottom line, you should choose and not be chosen.
Think about this the next time someone is across the table from you; pick their brain, after all, a relationship is more than just about money.