Good morning, All,
Five years before he won the Nobel Prize for literature, William Faulkner, who was also a quite prolific writer of Hollywood screenplays, happened to be on the golf course one day with Howard Hawks (award winning director) and Clark Gable (Hollywood heartthrob, A list star of his time). Although ordinarily rather taciturn, that day, Faulkner happened to have engaged in a quite lively discussion with Hawks about a film they were collaborating on, for which Hawks wanted Faulkner to work on the screenplay, based on a book by Ernest Hemingway. Side note: there was a legendary rivalry between Hemingway and Faulkner, and Faulkner once bet Hemingway that he could take his least popular book and turn it into a his most successful film. He did: To Have and Have Not, novel by Ernest Hemingway; screenplay by Faulkner, Hemingway and Hawks; directed by Howard Hawks.
Back to the golf course: after listening to the conversation for a while, Gable turned to Faulkner and said, “You’re a writer, Mr. Faulkner?” and without missing a beat, Faulkner answered, “Yes, Mr. Gable, and what do you do?”
The lead actor role went to Humphrey Bogart. Which might have had nothing to do with events on the golf course that day, but in any case, always good to be prepared and to know who’s in the room.
We host breakfasts once or twice a month. There is one investor and 30 to 40 entrepreneurs. We keep them small so that everyone has a chance to speak with the investor, delve into what he or she is looking for, ask questions and briefly pitch their startup, whether for advice or to gauge possible interest, and we’ve noticed something: most people don’t know how to effectively pitch their startup.
Note to self: all of the networking in the world will do you no good unless you can communicate what your company does and what your differentiators are, clearly and concisely. You won an award? Don’t keep it a secret. You already sold one company, or were on the founding team of a company that was acquired? Mention it. You’ve just won your category at a prestigious pitch event? Don’t bury the lead. As Wiley Cerilli said at one of our breakfasts: everyone has a superpower. What’s yours?
Want to know what an investor looks for in a pitch? Brian Cohen said he wants to know that the founder is in control. Demonstrate that when you pitch. Everything counts, and this is the first impression you make, so it’s not just what you present, but how you present. We know that you’re passionate and it’s important to practice what you preach, but make sure that you practice what you pitch, too.
And don’t give away the store. By that we mean that investors want to get their money back at some point – and then some. They’re called ‘investors’ because they’re making ‘investment,’ presumably to get a payoff. We know that there is a big desire out there to do good, but remember: be good to your investors, too: they were good to you and they’re investors, not charitable organizations. There is a difference. Cohen said that what he wants to hear, essentially, is “I want to build a business, make a lot of money, and solve a problem. Passion will blind you.” Passion may be what drives you initially, but it doesn’t pay the bills – or the staff you need to hire to execute on your plan. Here’s Ben Horowitz’s Career Advice for Recent Graduates, entitled ‘Don’t Follow Your Passion. The Kalifornia Kool-Aid aside, it’s entertaining. His numbers are off, and it didn’t take hours to learn how to use the Columbia library. Literally was there, done that. But when you’re addressing a graduating class at Columbia, we once again defer to Hemingway, and isn’t it pretty to think so. Horowitz did pass on Airbnb, btw, and another reason to get to know investors, whether they invest in you initially or not. Do well, and you certainly have their ear the next time around and since you’ve already established something of a relationship, they’re easier to approach.
Half the battle is showing up; the other part is speaking up. We are ardent supporters of entrepreneurs, or as Cohen put it, “Never work for anyone: it’s the closest thing to slavery.” Keep that in mind, if you’re feeling nervous when it’s your turn to pitch, and just go for it. Remember: onward and forward.