The tall guys lope out onto the court and warm up a bit.
It starts out a lot like the “bad” day I wrote about some time ago. I call a venture capital analyst on whom I had performed a Lazarus job (his firm had said no but I revived him through copious applications of enthusiasm, progress news and boyish charm). It starts off well, until my now finely tuned “BUT Detector” begins gently purring, then softly wailing.
Note – a “BUT Detector” is a vital tool to the entrepreneur. This device allows you to sit placidly through extended outpourings of flattery in the full knowledge that the word “BUT” is coming.
Example: “We are completely overwhelmed that with only the meager resources of an average kitchen drawer and using funds limited to the change recovered from the back of the couch, you have been able to achieve a repeatable form of cold fusion AND the cure to cancer, BUT we are not going to invest because…”
The “I think you have a good idea and one of the very best plans I have ever read, but we can’t invest in you because we have already invested in 3 B2B vertical markets” is enough to brighten my day. Especially since the guy seems very keen on what we are doing and wants to keep in touch and has even invites me to come into the office some time to “chew the fat”. Believes in marketplaces enough to be taking representatives from two of their 3 marketplace companies to the NetMarketmakers conference in California. Honestly, I do understand – they want to give other VCs the chance to share the opportunities. OK, that’s fair. Hmmm.
Then I call the analyst for a German VC who had spent 5 (count ’em, FIVE) hours in our office mostly talking at ME about all sorts of things but not really learning about me, the company or what we are doing. He has read the plan, says he spent most of the intervening week thinking about nothing else. “Really excellent plan – one of the best I’ve ever encountered”, he declares.
The BUT Detector shrieks like the referee’s whistle.
“But we can’t invest in you because (a) you don’t have they key board members on side and (b) our fund is running out of money”. That is a little like asking the prettiest girl in school out on a date and having her reply that she would LOVE to go with you, but unfortunately (and despite clearly being at the peak of good health), she has a terminal disease and expects to be dead by Friday night, though if she should survive, perhaps another time. A serious conversation killer.
There I am, staring upwards through the hoop as the slam-dunk comes through.
I do, however, have to say that from start to less-than-perfect end, the “but we are not going to investment” decision process took just under two weeks. If only everyone would decide so quickly, I could save a mess of space in the “In Progress” section of my file drawer.
I bury myself in work and it was soon 9 pm. Time to go home. But first, I try again the phone number for a guy I hope to contact. He is the founder and former president of a mega trans-European logistics company. He and two members of his board walked out of their company a couple of weeks ago. One of them is referred to in the press as “an industry golden-boy”.
I push my heart back down my throat (hard to talk with it in my mouth) and dial.
Mr. Former President answers. I make the ‘this is a thumbnail sketch of what we are doing, is this the sort of thing that might be of interest to you?’ opening, and he replies, “It might be, but I expect I am too expensive for you”. With a newly developing sense of cavalier sureness, I pose the question, “Would I be correct in thinking that in your previous position, you justified your doubtless substantial salary on the value you brought to the company?” He replies in the affirmative. I continue, “So why should it be any different with this company?” He is suddenly more interested. I talk. He talks. He agrees that it would be a good idea to explore this one further.
He is coming in to meet with us on Thursday. Who knows – we might just be about to pull in the “deep industry knowledge” and street cred we need to get funded. Maybe parachute in a whole team of golden boys!
Suddenly, I am looking downward through the hoop as the ball goes through.
The crowd is going wild – the noise is deafening. Of course it could just be the “BUT Detector” learning to make a new sound, but just for now, it sounds pretty fine.
* I wrote this in late 1999, when I was fundraising and CEO-hunting for a logistics start-up, Translogistica. Ultimately, Mr Former President didn’t join us, but he introduced us to the “Golden Boy”, who almost-but-didn’t-quite join us but did actually parachute in a team of golden boys and girl who became employees 2,3 and 4 (I was employee number 1).