Lines Not Dots

When you first meet someone interesting, you usually start slow, talking about yourselves and getting to know each other. We don’t normally start discussing how awesome we are, and hit someone up for a favor… unless you’re an asshole. So why do we do that with investors?

This past week I was at Web Summit in Dublin. There were 10,000 people there. 600 startups (one of them was FlowsBy). Very very few investors. So when the startuppers did see a purple investor badge, they panicked and started running after them. I watched as Dave McClure got off the stage, and was immediately pounced upon by at least 30 people. They were shoving papers in his face, wildly trying to put a business card in his pocket, and pretty much screaming pitches at him. It was like a scene from animal planet. Dave looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but there.

I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want the person you are trying to get money from to feel like they have to run away from you as soon as they meet you.

The last night at Web Summit, I actually ran into Dave at a small party. Well more like he kind of fell backwards into me and we started talking. We chatted about the conference and random things. I told him I saw the gang of people descend on him when he left the stage. When I asked if that pretty much came with the territory, he sighed and said “Yeah… but I have no patience for that at all.”

As startuppers, we tend to think of investors as “higher beings”. They can make us successful, or make us fail. We give them hero status, look at them in awe, and by doing this, forget that they are actually human beings who need to be treated like so. We need to start having normal conversations with them, and stop asking for things right off the bat.

One of our first presentations at Techpeaks was from Evan Nisselson. He quoted a line from a post by Mark Suster on investing:

Investors invest in lines, not dots. – Mark Suster

Evan’s advice was to talk to people, get to know them, and build a relationship before asking for something in return. In this way, you’ll be remembered AND you’ll also get to know the person. I don’t think any of us want to do business with someone we don’t know, or with whom we can’t have a normal conversation.

There were tons of awesome people at that party – Robert Scoble, Elon Musk, CEOs, Investors, Founders. I got the chance to talk to all of them for hours (yeah even Elon!), but I never pitched anyone. When we talked about what we did I would tell them about FlowsBy. Some people wanted to hear more so we chatted and I received some great advice and feedback. But no one was there to hear me pitch. They weren’t there to hear anyone pitch. They were there to have fun, relax, and party their asses off. And we did. Until 6am.

The next time we run into each other, I’ll ask them how they are doing, and how’s life. There’s a better chance they will remember the person they had great time talking to and partying with at the only place open in Dublin that one night than the hundreds of people who pitched them at Web Summit as they passed by. That’s because we started to form a relationship. We took the time to get to know each other, even for a few minutes or hours.

So I challenge all startuppers out there, to fight the urge to pitch to every investor you just meet. You have to actively work to build relationships with people. Relationships last, even when companies don’t.