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Finding Alignment
05.06.11

 

I want to write a little about people and startups. As I've gotten to know more and more startups -- I've begun to run into an interesting phenomenon -- startups that I don't like. Let me explain. I obviously meet tons and tons of startups that I do like and spend time with them either on a formal or informal basis. I also meet startups that clearly want some form of compliance from me -- introductions or investment is the typical.
 
Now, like any other nascent relationship -- things can be pretty good when things are superficial. But what happens when some form of compliance does not materialize? Here's an example. A startup I know was pitching a venture capital firm that I know. This startup's CEO emailed me asking for thoughts on his idea and thoughts on how best to pitch the firm. I was happy to provide both. However, based on his email back and earlier interactions I had with him, I had a suspicion that he really didn't care about my thoughts but asked for them as a perfunctory way to get my compliance in terms of either a good word to the VC firm or information about the firm. When he didn't hear back from the VC firm about their decision -- he followed up with me and I offered to follow up with the firm which he said would be great. The decision was negative, I relayed it and I never heard from the startup again -- not even a thank you for following up on it for him. Interesting right? It's almost completely unnecessarily burning a bridge.
 
Here's another example. I had a call with a startup interested in having me make an investment. I liked the idea a lot but decided against investing mainly because I'm not willing to commit a large enough money to invest in a large, diversified portfolio of startups. I explained my reasons, said I really liked the startup and what they're doing, and said it would be great to stay in touch, etc. In my opinion, it was a really nice note opening the door for some form of relationship. What I had left unsaid was that, at that moment, I was willing to make introductions on behalf of this startup to a significant number of angel investors and venture capital firms. I had actually written the original email offering this -- but then I thought better of it and changed it where I didn't offer it. Why? There was something nagging about my conversation with this startup and I wanted to get a little more data before I would do something like that. Guess what? I get an email back, "Thanks for your time. Best of luck." So okay -- here's a startup that gets an answer they don't like and they're willing to close that relationship door immediately. I'm glad I got that data point.
 
Things like this do bother me on some level. But on a greater level, I think they're really important and I view this as "finding alignment." I think there are people in this world that hold shared values with you -- in terms of not only how they treat other people but also how they view other people and their worth. My data points (and perhaps I'm being overly sensitive here) -- is that those data points view me as completely transactional -- what can you do for me right now? Oh, you can't do anything for me right now? Goodbye. But I'm really glad to get those data points because then I know there's no alignment. I have a different value set from them and it's ok that I don't have a relationship with them. This doesn't preclude them one bit from having a really successful startup or company. (well, maybe a little -- since I do think that behavior/attitude hurts you in the long run.) But they could still be really successful -- and that's ok. I'd rather work with people I have shared values with.

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