Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Days Become Weeks Become Months

Last Friday I had a great conversation with Fred Wilson about what I'm working on and where I am in the process. I'm not pitching him, but I've known him for 10 years and he has always been generous with his time and insights.

I've been a guest blogger at his blog AVC, and am a regular contributor there because writing helps me think through issues and ideas, and I often don't have time to decide the issue of the day. So commenting has been a way to do that, and the community there is really interesting (a post for another time).

When you're not pitching an investor, the conversation is different. The relationship goes from eager, nervous entrepreneur and skeptical VC, to two people looking at a set of issues together. The latter is far more productive and sometimes produces great results. 

We plan to launch the Jawaya Beta (closed) next week. Fred asked me why I've started raising the round now, instead of waiting until we have a user base, metrics, etc, saying that as a backable founder it should be cake after that. 

Well, yes and no. 

I haven't completely adjusted to the speed of capital flowing these days. I'm old school, I guess. I know there are deals getting done in 2 months, and some in 2 weeks. But that's never, ever been the case for me and wasn't standard until just recently. Fundraising is a process of relationships and milestones, and to me it's a 4 to 6-month process. 

Remember 2008? Bear Stearns early in the year, then Lehman, then the whole thing comes a-tumblin down? 

I do.

I remember Limited Partners freaking out, putting all kinds of very vocal and threatening pressure on venture partners. I remember everyone running for the hills. I remember Sequoia announcing the end of the party, and that every startup should cut 40% of staff . 

And I remember cutting 100% of my staff for CircleDog on one day. It wasn't the economy that led to running out of money, but it was what led to the follow-on round creating a huge sense of loss among limited partners to vc firms, and the LPs were scared and wanted to do something. Anything. 

"Yes Frank, do anything", said Hawkeye. 

That wasn't long ago. 

So now that capital is flowing like the Mighty Mississippi after endless rain, such that the Angel world has called in the Army Corps of Engineers to blow the levees so it flows even faster, people wonder why I'm starting 'early'.

Well, good question. I am and I'm not. 

The one thing I've learned--many times over--is that days become weeks become months. Sure, if you don't make the call today, you can make it tomorrow. 

But the appointment you wanted for next Monday was taken by someone else who did make the call, and the investor is headed off on vacation the next day, so now that meeting won't happen for 2 weeks instead of 6 days from now. 

Days become weeks become months. 

You can apply this to anything--exercise. Reading. Sales. 

What increases sales? More sales in a defined period. How do you get more sales per month? Get more potential customers to make decisions faster. The more decisions they make in a shorter period of time, the faster they'll get to the buying decision. Your sales will go up.

While you can't rush their decision-making process, you can remove the white-space in between and compress it. 

So my answer to Fred was this: I've known you 10 years, so we have a relationship, and Jerry knows me very well, so it's not as though I'm an unknown entity. I walk in, and we have a conversation. 

But a lot of potential investors don't know me. They know the byline--this guy's done well a number of times and has some new thing, can you take a meeting? They don't write checks to people with a bio and an idea. 

The relationship has to start sometime. The earlier it starts, the more prepared they'll be when you do pitch them. 

So I've been meeting informally with VCs and Angels, telling them I'm not pitching, which takes the pressure off both of us--I have no expectations, and they don't expect I"m going to push for the next step. 

But at least two things happen: we get to know each other a bit, and I get some good insights on what else has passed through their doors, along with some solid reactions to the product. Some of those reactions are feature suggestions, several of which are going to make it into the product. 

In fact, through these conversations, I've developed an admiration for a number of the investors, and are starting to think about what my board should look like, and the kind of partner I want my investors to be. 

In a week or so we'll launch. Two weeks after that, I'll have early metrics and will be meeting with 10 investors over the following several weeks. Every day I delay in making those meetings increases my risk of not getting those meetings. So today, in between coding and everything else, I'll be making calls and setting up meetings. 

Because days become weeks become months, and your competitors, well, let's just say you don't have any time to waste. 

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