Andy Nulman, Co-founder & President of Airborne Mobile.
Please visit his blog by clicking here.
Although I have spent many hours in meetings with, and accepted impressive sums of money from, VCs, I must admit that I am kind of a “fish out of water” in your world. Other than the perfunctory pitch sessions where I feel like I’m on autopilot or trial, the words I’ve exchanged with VCs over the years have been essentially limited to “Thank you” and “We will be EBITDA positive by next quarter.”
You see, I’m the “creative guy.” The “idea man.” The necessary evil for the return on your investment. I used to think that my type was about as relevant to you guys as a sea squid is to a hot air balloon, but after seeing Dr. Richard Bruno (a Venture Partner at iNovia Capital) speak at a VC conference a year or so ago, I realized just how very important I am. Not only to the end result…but to the process of getting there.
Of particular interest in Dr. Bruno’s dissertation was his “Bizplans-to-Bucks” timeline, in which he takes entrepreneurs down this startling path of reality:
1,000 Business Plans Are Written
150 Are Moderately Credible
50 Are Interesting To Read
20 Undergo Due Diligence
5 Get Funded
1 Makes Money
The big shock here is not that only 1 in 1000 makes money; the big shock is the qualifier of “Interesting To Read” as a crucial VC criteria.
Many times, as entrepreneurs try to appeal to their corporate audience, their brilliant ideas are sanded down and neutered by VC-speak. In trying to suck up to their hoped-for lifeline, they take an exciting project and render it lame, dull and, worst-of-all, unsellable.
I have a theory that goes “Everyone’s a Kid in Disneyland.” What I mean by it is that no matter how important or powerful you are, when you’re amongst flying Dumbos, giant Mickey Mouses, Space Mountains and Towers of Terror, you are stripped of all conceit and are a mere soda-sipping, popcorn-munching regular folk. Applied to the boardroom, Venture Capitalists are not robots; they are (for the most part) human beings like you and I, and as susceptible to the right excitement, creativity and sell job as the next guy.
Thus, entrepreneurs shouldn’t worry about adding some colour, some life, some pizzazz to their pitches. To put it into financial terms, it does not diminish the return; it compounds the interest.
And as Dr. Bruno points out, it may be the difference between being considered for funding…or ending up in the recycling bin.
Taking this into account, I have a little personal anecdote.
When Garner Bornstein and I put together our first business plan for Airborne Mobile (then known as Airborne Entertainment), in one of the pitch slides, I wrote that he and I were professionals with “pristine reputations.”
“Pristine?” he said. “You don’t use the word ‘pristine’ in a VC pitch! They’ll laugh us out of their offices!”
I gave in on about 14 other points in the presentation, as Garner was way better versed in the way of VCs than I, but I held my ground tough on “pristine.”
Cut to presentation day, and the VCs are sitting like statues as we plowed through our very grey presentation. Essentially, this was a one-way conversation tinged with gallons of flop-sweat.
Then came the fateful slide.
“Pristine!” Suddenly, one of the mannequins came to life. “Now there’s a word you don’t see too often!”
All of a sudden, the guys were animated and discussing the meaning of “pristine.” This led to questions about our past, and to hypothetical situations and projections of the business-to-be.
I looked over at Garner, who had a huge smile on his face, and gave me what soon came to be known as his trademark “life is strange” shoulder shrug. We were back in the game…
So we became one of the 20.
Then one of the five.
And best yet, we became the One.
So go crazy, you entrepreneurs. All you’ve got to lose is someone else’s money.