Experiencing the start-up slam dunk from both sides of the hoop

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).


3 thoughts on “Experiencing the start-up slam dunk from both sides of the hoop

  1. Carl Adamson

    Hi Tom

    What a thoroughly entertaining and highly amusing read!

    Sitting in my office, passers-by in the corridor could hear me laughing out loud whilst reading this and other articles on your blog. I haven’t read them all yet but I definitely intend to. Perhaps, when there are less people around!

    It is quite apparent that the happy-go-lucky Tom of TDPG days had a great sense of humour, originating from his youth, back in the days of Noah and long before I had the pleasure of meeting and working with him. You should definitely be putting pen to paper at a global level!

    Well, how the devil are you old chap? I shall not take offense that you have completely ignored my LinkedIn invite. You were hopefully too busy writing your next tome for the Kindle, no doubt. Amazingly, the Kindle was a new-fangled technology when we were based at Warwick Street. Many thought that it was a mere fad. How wrong they were.

    Having run a number of businesses and recently gone through the process of forming an Agile start-up, I can relate to much of what you write.

    Keep up the good work!

    Best regards,

    1. tomwahnsiedler Post author

      Thanks Karl – glad you enjoyed it. But, erm, we are connected on LinkedIn. It must be the other Tom Wahnsiedler who has been ignoring you.

      1. Carl Adamson

        Hi Tom
        “…Thanks Karl – glad you enjoyed it. But, erm, we are connected on LinkedIn. It must be the other Tom Wahnsiedler who has been ignoring you”
        Or perhaps it’s the other Carl that you are already connected with on LinkedIn?
        But of course your highly secure and unbreakable “tablet device”, complete with Parker stylus, wouldn’t tell you that. It also wouldn’t tell you that I have had a heck of a job trying to connect with you on LinkedIn for one good reason. I have lost your email address and your privacy settings dictate that I have that key to the door before it will open.
        How on earth could I have lost your email address? Well it is quite simple really. At the time that you gave me your email address, way back when, I stored it on my faithful “tablet device” by carefully scratching the details across its surface with my trusty Parker Rollerball stylus. I hasten to point out that unlike the entry-level, spiral bound “tablet device” that you so recently scribed about, mine was the super deluxe model, which came with a state-of-the-art, high tech protective cover. It was a hard back bound A4 book, with secure, non-removable pages that could so easily have otherwise fallen out and ended up on CompuServe (I don’t think that Facebook had been invented then!). Or even worse, picked up off the floor of the train carriage and stuffed into the pockets of my competitors. So I put it to you as I am sure you will concede, that my “tablet device” was indeed far superior to yours!
        Well, after a number of house moves and starting a new business, I have been searching for my beloved old iHardPad and alas, it is nowhere to be found. In a light bulb moment, I have the answer. “No problem”, me thinks, “I’ll just refer to my Cloud backup”. Now there’s the rub.
        Although, through nostalgic eyes, the old “tablet devices” really did seem quite “awesome”, they are somewhat lacking in some of the more modern refinements. Yes, their robustness was flawless or should I say floor-less? For you could drop them on the floor of a fast-moving train, without them incurring even the slightest scratch. Indeed they went for years between recharges, and they fit quite nicely into a special sleeve in a rucksack. BUT, where’s the cloud backup? You know, that get-out-of-jail-free thingy that happens transparently, in the background, in preparation for its early demise when it slips from the fingers of that weary commuter, who whilst impressing co-travellers by commanding a global conglomerate from their lap, succumbs to exhaustion after a hard day at the office by slipping into a temporary state of reluctant unconsciousness.
        As it crashes to the floor, never to function again, bringing the said commuter back to a startling state of reality, all is not lost. A short trip to that big store in the morning, £600 lighter in the wallet, a quick synch with the Cloud and everything is back to normal again. It’s all there; games, high scores, crosswords, social apps, the emergency copy of Solitaire for those acute spells of total boredom in the Boardroom and finally, contact details, together with those all-important email addresses, a must-have for connecting with very “private” people on LinkedIn.
        Nothing has been lost, apart from a sense of pride, which is easily remedied by catching a later train for a few weeks until the laughter has dissipated amongst daily traveling companions. On the bright side, the high flying commuter can now show off the very latest tablet device. Of course co-travellers will require an eye upgrade to fully appreciate the brilliance of its luminosity. Oh my, they will be so impressed.
        So, with your email address now never to be recovered, a potentially great friendship has been deprecated by the shortcomings of my old “tablet device”. Should you feel so inclined as to hear more of my tales of woe, kindly send a LinkedIn invite to http://uk.linkedin.com/in/carladamson1/
        Best regards,
        Carl (with a ‘C’ – although you always spelt it with a ‘K’!)

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