The other day, I watched a startup founder who was actively looking for funding cut a VC off mid-sentence and walk away.
I wish I could tell you it was because the entrepreneur was taking a stand on some sort of insulting valuation or harsh criticism (which, okay, are both things you should learn from as a startup, not take offense to, but it's at least a bit more understandable).
No, this particular founder walked away from a VC because they, quite literally, had no idea who that VC was.
Allow me to repeat that: A startup founder who had just announced their interest in securing a Series A round straight-up dismissed a powerful investor who was interested in their idea because they hadn't bothered to do their homework.
I know this because I not only saw the first interaction happen, but also overheard a later conversation where someone else pointed out the VC to the founder. I watched the founder's face go completely white as they sputtered that they hadn't realized — that they (apparently) didn't think — but that particular VC didn't look like an investor!
Here's a tip for any of you new entrepreneurs out there: Investors don't "look" any specific way. They don't run around in expensive suits waving fistfuls of money. Most of the time, they're keeping a pretty low profile, in fact. Absolutely anyone you meet could be a potential investor.
Also, how about we treat everyone with some basic respect and civility, and take the time to listen to them instead of deciding right away that they can't do anything "for" you and so they're not worth your time or conversation?
Good manners cost you nothing. But bad manners can cost you quite a lot.
Now, I happened to know who that particular investor was because I am a big data nerd and I like to research everything in great detail (as my readers well know). And while I don't expect every casual pitch-event attendee to be able to name every angel investor in the room, I do think an aspiring entrepreneur should spend some time learning about their landscape. They should know who their competitors are, who's in a media role, who's successful in their industry, who's making waves in their city's startup scene, and they should for damn sure know what their local investors look like.
I'm not saying you should go fan-girl all over people when you run into them; I'm just saying you should do your homework so you are always prepared. You never know when you might be in the right place at the right time — "elevator pitches" are a thing for a reason. Sometimes 30 seconds can make or break you, and having context on who you're talking to can allow you to tailor those 30 seconds in a way that matters.
And, honestly, if you can't be bothered to take the time to scope out local investment potential, then I am going to seriously doubt your commitment to your product or service. Maybe that sounds harsh. But attention to the details is just as important as having a grand vision in making your company successful.
I'm not a founder. I'm not someone with 30 years of experience in the startup world. So you can take my advice with a grain of salt. But I have been lucky enough to work for a company whose leadership values those details (hi, Kyle, Rob and Butler!), and I spend a lot of time observing, cataloguing and narrating the startup and entrepreneurship world. I've seen what a difference doing your research and being nice to people can make.
I'm going to get down off my soapbox now, but first, I challenge you, entrepreneurs: Take a good look at where you're spending your time and effort. If you've ever snubbed someone because you thought they couldn't "help" you, or you think the right investor will just happen along and throw money at your awesome idea, then you're doing it wrong.
Take a little time and do it right. It'll be worth it, I promise.