Full disclosure: the subject of today’s newsletter comes at the request of a number of investors, advisors and startup consultants whom we know.
We all know the old tech adage: if you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money. Some entrepreneurs genuinely do want advice, especially from a consultant, advisor or investor, which is when they reach out and ask that question that is the #1 deal killer for d) all of the aforementioned:
“Do you mind if I pick your brain?”
While many Millenials believe it’s all right to ask, truth be told, it’s a huge red flag, especially to the seasoned professionals whose advice you’re seeking. It’s right up there with, “May I take you out for a coffee?” which is the same request, by any other name and nice try.
Consultants/investors/advisors understand that you need advice/introductions, and those are the people who have been there, done that ad nauseam – and which is why it is part and parcel of what they do for a living.
And therein lies the rub: it’s what they do for a living.
Unbeknownst to most entrepreneurs, consultants, investors and advisors all get a free ride when it comes to paying for things like rent/mortgages, food and groceries, clothing, education, child care, transportation and all of the other various and sundries that entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens have to concern themselves with – or at least, that’s the way it works in that parallel dimension which, unfortunately, none of us in this dimension have access to. Quelle dommage!
Trust us, investors, advisors and consultants, we understand: we personally get emails every now and then from entrepreneurs who are unable to attend our investor breakfasts, the reason invariably being that ‘they start too early,’ but – would we mind introducing us to the investor, as that founder has been wanting to get an introduction to him/her for quite some time?
Set your alarm – there’s one right there on your phone – and make the effort. The investors go out of their way to make themselves available to you that early in the morning: is your time/sleep more valuable than theirs? Or ours?
We do know that many an entrepreneur start with a freemium model and that’s your choice – it’s important to get traction and buy-in early on. Investors, consultants and advisors also have a freemium model: it’s called those internships and entry level/low paying jobs they took early in their careers in order to get the experience/gravitas to put them where they are today. They’ve earned their positions/statuses: they’ve earned some sort of compensation from you, for the time and expertise you’re asking of them. It’s ‘only an hour or so of their time,’ but what are they giving up/neglecting to help you, presumably for free?
(And do make sure to do your homework first: don’t ask a fintech specialist for advice on robotics.)
Consultants, advisors and mentors – investors, too – often get requests for ‘introductions.’ After all, how long does it take to send a few emails or texts, never mind that it took years of hard work and long hours for those consultants/advisors/mentors to get where they are, which is in a position to help you get you to where you need to be.
Here’s an idea: instead of telling those people that you’d like to ‘pick their brains,’ begin by telling them who you are, what you do, what you’d like to accomplish, and what you feel that person can offer in particular (which is why you’re reaching out) – and what you can offer in exchange for their time and expertise, and possibly, ongoing advisory/mentorship. As Veronica Guzman said at our last Investor Breakfast, “put together your team of advisors. Very important. Those are the people who’ll spearhead your strategic partnership, et al.” And they give you gravitas: as you’re moving up the food chain, the people you need to/would like to get to, will see that you have buy-in from advisors, which potentially can be as important as getting buy-in from customers.
Note to self: if you’ve reached out to that consultant, advisor or investor, by default, you’ve already ‘picked,’ re chosen, his or her brain: now somehow compensate him or her for his or her time, experience, expertise and/or value add and why is the phrase a red flag? Rule of thumb, from an advisor’s or mentor’s perspective: if people are greedy with your time, they’re not likely to give back any time soon, re, show their appreciation, for whatever part the advisor or investor happened to play. You know who picks brains? Vultures. Next. Make sure to respect their help, their ideas, their expertise and their time. And don’t ask them to expend their social capital when they barely know you.
We all need help from time to time, and there’s nothing wrong with reaching out and asking for it. Comes with the territory. Just remember that it’s a give and take.
And to choose your investors, advisors, mentors, consultants – and most importantly, your words – wisely. Onward and forward.