“…he was creating deeper relationship with the few that cared, instead of surface relationships with many that didn’t.”
The struggling entrepreneur who faces a ruthless and aggressive venture capitalist.
“That’s the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard”, that was Derek’s voice. In his usual blunt aggressive tone. He cut Rick off mid-sentence, sucking the air out of his lungs with his scathing response.
Derek was the tie and suit wearing owner of a sizeable venture capital firm. Rick was in his office seeking investment for his idea. But as the man that budding entrepreneurs look up to as a demigod, someone who holds the key to making their dreams a reality, Derek never missed an opportunity to showcase his superiority.
He sat behind his polished Australian blackwood table, two assistants at his side, both nervously shuffling papers back and forth.
“Let me repeat it for you”, Derek said in a patronising voice, leaning forward and resting his weight on his elbows. He tapped his pen on the desk and just stared at Rick.
He was letting silence do its job of added torture. He revelled in the psychological warfare.
“You,” he pointed at Rick. “Want me”, he pointed at himself. “To give you money?” Sounding like a parent would when potty training their child.
“And you want this money so you can take out your first 50 customers to lunch and surprise them with a gift they’ll love? That is your marketing strategy to take this business to scale?”
Rick stood there is silence. He realised that even though Derek had posed a question, he didn’t do so with the expectation of getting an answer in return. So Rick stood hunched over, lips pursed, and dropped his gaze to the floor.
“Your product may have potential”, Derek added, “but you’re not made for entrepreneurship mate. Go find a job. You need to have the brain to come up with growth strategies that can be scaled, not horse shit like taking people out for lunch, chit chatting about your product, and wasting hours of your time.”
“The game is about productivity and efficiency. Time is money. Scale scale scale.”
Rick didn’t agree. But he wasn’t going to say that. He bit his tongue and stayed quiet.
“Get out please,” Derek waved his hand towards the door as one of his assistants scampered towards Rick, giving him a dry comforting smile as if to say sorry on behalf of their boss.
And he was shown out.
Rick promised himself that some day he would prove Derek wrong.
Having virtually maxed out his credit cards and having borrowed money from whoever he could convince that he would one day be in a position to pay them back — Rick had now finished lunch with his 38th customer.
A significant chunk through the 50 he had intended.
Each new customer, he had sent them an email as soon as they signed up, and offered them lunch at a restaurant of their choosing and an opportunity to help personally improve the product they’d just started using.
And, prior to meeting each person for lunch, Rick scoured their social media to find the most relevant gift he could buy as a means of saying thanks.
He went the extra mile with each person.
A signed book from their favourite author, a bottle of wine missing from their collection, a ride in the vintage car of their dreams, and a coffee machine for their new home were a few from his list.
He believed that these early customers would be his greatest evangelists, even though the unwarranted advice he got from everyone was that he was an idiot for spending all this money.
Rick believed the money and time he spent at this stage would not only result in a better product, but would give his business the greatest likelihood of long term success. He was creating deeper relationships with the few that cared, instead of surface relationships with many that didn’t. He believed in depth over breadth.
But, right now he was running out of money to keep going. Every venture capitalist he approached, he was laughed out of the room.
So he stopped knocking on their doors all together. He wasn’t going to take their approach.
He knew it would jeopardise his business.
Rick now got a full time job. There wasn’t any other choice. He had expended all the money he had.
He couldn’t make minimum payment on his credit cards, he was struggling for rent, and was spending virtually every waking hour doing odd jobs to buy himself extra time to keep improving his product and taking his customers out for lunch.
He had already taken out 50 customers and the feedback he got was invaluable. Without it, his product wouldn’t be where it is today.
And at that moment Derek’s words “this is the stupidest shit ever” rung through his ears. He felt the frustration of being in this position where he was proving Derek right. Anger grew rapidly inside, he clenched his fists to keep it contained.
Rick was at his wit’s end. By following this unconventional approach, he was in serious debt, with nothing to show.
“You’re doing the right thing”, a voice inside him spoke. Channeling the anger into motivation. He pictured himself rising up from his own ashes like the Phoenix. Engulfed in flames, flying higher and higher up, far into the sky. Derek a small helpless being, looking on in awe.
He sat there staring into space in his dark studio apartment, listening to the hum of the city on the roads below him, the brightness of his laptop screen glared into his face. His mind was elsewhere. He was looking for some direction.
Moments later he pulled the screen of his laptop down and the room went dark.
It had been 1 month since he had started his new job.
He committed to spending no more time working on the product. That would be pure procrastination. It was as good as it needed to be right now. His business would only succeed if the market at large wanted what he had invented.
So, the money he made at his job, he used it all to take his new customers out. He did dinners now, after work, instead of lunch. He devoted energy to relationships, setting the early foundations upon which he would erect his building, working to his own recipe. Ignoring others.
As he packed up to go home that day, clearing the bits of mess that accumulated on his desk.
His phone vibrated. It was a call from an unknown number.
He answered the call, and immediately his jaw dropped. Nerves flooded his body. He was lost for words.
Normally he prepared himself for these kinds of moments with lots of pep talk, pre-written scripts, and got himself in the right state before jumping in. But right now he said enough to stumble through the call in order to agree on a time to meet. Collapsing into his chair right after, and letting out a huge sigh of relief.
The other end of the call was the marketing director of a multi-national tech business in his industry. He had personally called to ask Rick for a meeting to discuss a partnership. The referral had come as a result of two early customers Rick had taken out to lunch. Both had raved on about his product and their fondness of Rick as a person, opening the door to one of the greatest opportunities he could have ever imagined.
Letting it sink in for a moment, Rick then sprung up from his chair and punched the air in excitement. Knowing no one else was around, he began throwing his arms wildly in all directions, dancing like a maniac.
This could be his day.
The partnership was a dream come true. The corporation had added an ideal complement to its existing product which gave them a huge edge over competitors.
Rick, meanwhile, had seen his customer numbers go up and up, a growth curve that looked like the end of a skate ramp.
Today he sat in his new office, looking around at what he had achieved, and the awards and recognition that lined his walls.
As he prepared for a meeting with investors to fund the further development of his product. Rick thumbed through the the stapled sheets of paper that listed the investors that had requested to meet with him.
The name of the person from the first firm caught his eye. The edge of his mouth rose slightly into a half smile. He asked for him to be sent in.
As the door opened, he saw the familiar face walk in. The matching dark blue tie and suit, right-to-left parted hair, and his black bovine leather compendium under his arm.
It was Derek.
A big smile on his face as he shook hands with Rick, introducing himself as if they had never met. There was no sign of his usual arrogance, and an overt niceness on display now that the power had shifted. Derek knew he had much more to lose in this transaction. So bright greetings, compliments, and a chirpy attitude had replaced the viciousness he had experienced last time.
The Phoenix had risen and its claws were pressed firmly into the chest of its prey.
As Derek took a seat, Rick leaned forward, resting his weight on his elbows. He tapped his pen on the desk, and let the silence draw out while staring at Derek. He knew it was making him uncomfortable, he knew that Derek now realised that Rick remembered their first meeting. So he let it be a little longer.
It was this exact moment Rick wanted to cherish.
“So tell me Derek, why do you want to invest in the stupidest shit ever?”
It is by doing the unscalable that you achieve scale.
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