As an entrepreneur, I’ve been exposed to hundreds of angel investors and VCs from around the country, few of whom realize that entrepreneurs are evaluating them as much as they are assessing us.
We’ve all seen the lists investors create outlining the lies they tell us. "I liked your company, but my partners didn't,” or "Show us some traction, and we'll invest." It’s time for us to poke a bit of fun at the investor community and let them know what’s really running through an entrepreneur’s head during those financing pitches.
Before you get bent of out shape, know that there are many investors who I respect tremendously. They don’t conduct themselves in the ways I list below and have been genuine assets to my entrepreneurial efforts. Those investors are stark contrasts to VCs who inspired this list.
1. People who give “strategic” feedback within 15 minutes aren't worth listening to. Sketching on a whiteboard 10 minutes into a pitch while explaining how building a native app doubled a portfolio company’s traffic -- and why we should drop everything to do the same -- makes you look strategically incompetent. The most strategically sound people I know take their time to listen, gather and process information before offering feedback.
2. Stop trying to convince us that you’re brilliant. Responding “Yep, got it,” to every sentence of a pitch tells us that you don’t have a clue but are trying very hard to appear as though you do.
Look, we don’t expect you to know everything about our industry, so no need to fake it. We’re at your office because you have a checkbook. We also hope you have some brains, but that’s just a bonus.
3. Stop overselling the credibility you earned via osmosis. We want to see that you have real substance. We don’t care that another partner at your firm pulled the trigger on a Facebook investment or that you joined Twitter’s team once it was a rocketship with a multi-billion valuation. None of that signals that you, personally, are the right investor for us to work with.
Demonstrate you’re the real deal by thinking through our market critically and collaboratively, ideally through a conversation that challenges the way we think and ultimately educates us.
Related: When to Say No to Venture Capital
4. Don’t name drop. You will instantaneously lose all credibility. Finding an obscure reason to name drop “Jack” (e.g. Jack Dorsey) doesn’t impress us. In fact, it simply demonstrates that you aren’t confident in your own substance and are trying to mask it by playing off others’ accomplishments.
5. We don’t believe your “value add” pitch anymore than you do. Unless your words move mountains in our industry and you are completely in sync with our market, stop selling an entrepreneur on the “incredible value” you add to their company. The best thing most investors can do is to give operational teams space, let them execute and provide introductions and feedback when asked.
6. Stop saying “we” when you aren’t in the trenches. Last time I checked, you aren’t the one fixing bugs at 3 a.m., taking customer service calls at 5 a.m., sleeping at the office to finish a major release or dealing with a broken coffee maker.
Public investors don’t walk around saying “we” simply because they own a few shares in Apple. In the same spirit, we ask that you please don’t walk around saying “we” in reference to your portfolio companies.
7. It’s offensive to call yourself an entrepreneur if you have never birthed a startup. Joining Facebook as its 25th employee does not qualify you as an entrepreneur. Neither does launching a new product under Google’s roof, though it does make you an "intrapreneur.''
Entrepreneurs have tremendous respect and appreciation for early startup employees, operators and intrapreneurs alike but don’t discount how incredibly difficult it is to create a company out of absolutely nothing.
8. We don’t care what solutions worked for you in the ‘90s or ‘00s. The game has changed dramatically. We respect that you’ve worked with great companies. Perhaps you even built one or two. You still need to remember that the game changes quickly and so does its solutions.
We employ numerous 20-somethings who likely understand the market today better than you do. The smartest investors know the best solutions are yet to be invented. They help you think critically through today’s market conditions to get there.
9. Looping in your secretary to schedule meetings makes you look ancient, Grandpa. You walk around with a world of information in your palm, yet you require an assistant for a digital calendar entry my 5-year-old nephew could create. Come on, you’re better than that. It probably takes you more time to communicate the meeting information to your assistant than it does to just schedule it yourself. Besides, aren’t you hoping to earn the respect of entrepreneurs who, typically, don’t have secretaries?
10. It’s utterly disrespectful that you show up late to meetings. Look, we get that you’re busy. So are we. Learn to manage your schedule better. Only take meetings that you can attend. We don’t care why you’re late. All we’ll remember is that you wasted our time.
11. Don’t answer phone calls, texts or emails during a meeting. You’re not that busy or important. If you schedule a meeting, come ready to pay attention. If you can’t commit to that, don’t schedule the meeting. Being busy is not an excuse. I guarantee that the CEO of a startup gets as many calls, texts and emails as you do.
Related: 4 Common Venture Capital Myths