Being an entrepreneur is one of the hardest jobs there is. OK, so it’s not high altitude forest-fire fighting, (unless you’re starting a fire jumping service!).
Every entrepreneur knows, though, that in the quest to make a difference for customers, you face challenges and daunting uncertainties. And lots of opportunity for self-doubt.
If you’re lucky enough to get past the new idea stage, and start to get some real (paying) customers, the challenges and worries change. But, of course, they don’t go away.
And then there’s the whole matter of raising money. Most of the money available comes with “advice.” Not all advice is created equal, and not all advice givers make good investors.
One of the hardest challenges has to be sorting out advice based on…something.
I like experience-based advice, coming from someone or somewhere that has the proof of experience to back them up. That’s step one.
Step two is someone who mostly asks questions about facts and assumptions, who causes you to think, and to ask yourself questions.
In my mind, it’s sort of like taking a class. The best learning is when you teach yourself, perhaps with some guidance.
But, of course, that takes a time commitment on the part of both people and goes against a 30-second “pitch” world. Both have to feel the time is worth the effort to build a bond that will yield real results, and not just in the startup.
Step three, I suppose, is when there is enough trust built up to be honest about their reactions to each other, to ask about intentions, and to find ways to build believability and trust.
Step four gets to be when both parties get along together well enough to bring each other into their trusted networks of friends and colleagues who can add real value. And without a quid pro quo.
I had an entrepreneur tell me recently that they assumed that any conversation they had with investors was just because the investor wanted the “deal” and so everything they said had to be guarded and examined.
I don’t really know how to sort that one out. There are people who invest in startups who only want a return. Clearly they’re out there.
But at least for me, the real “deal” is the relationship that creates learning – in both directions – for the sake of making a difference to someone who I respect enough to go through the process and who I trust enough to know they’ll put up with my foibles and errors too.
So maybe ask these questions:
1. Why am I meeting this person or having this conversation?
2. What specific experience do they have that is relevant to my situation?
3. Does this conversation feel right? Is it back and forth, question and answer, deeper levels of detail, or a lot of “you should”?
4. What reaction do I get when I ask for other companies that the advice-giver has worked with, invested in or both?
5. What lessons learned do they have from exits? How many have they had? What’s good and bad?
6. Who are their friends?
See what happens.