Getting to "yes" in a world of "no"…


OK, let’s imagine you just happen to bump into someone on the street you know slightly, and they ask the drainingly obvious question: how’s your startup going? What should you say?

Just as with newlyweds being asked how’s married life?, there’s a huge temptation to stay bang on script by giving a TechCrunch-style answer, with every notable keyword stressed in just the right way:-

  • “It’s going brilliantly”
  • “We had a great meeting with customers last week”
  • “The prototype’s looking fantastic”
  • “We’re starting to get mentions in the press”
  • etc

All of which may well be true, but reeling such stuff out doesn’t move your thinking beyond startup clichés. You see, the way you talk about your company in general helps shape your instincts when presenting with investors (and, indeed, with suppliers, clients, customers, and end users) in particular. So, think of every random conversation not as a rehearsal for drafting your next breathlessly progressivist Wired-style press release, but as an opportunity to better connect with the people connected to you who would like to support you.

I think that if you want to cultivate long-term, rewarding, sustainable relationships with these people, you need to write your own script. If you stopped to think about it, your startup probably has twenty or thirty angles on what it’s doing (and its own unique struggle to move forward) that other people would find pretty fascinating. Few people are genuinely exposed to the realities of entrepreneurship, preferring instead to loosely fantasize about ‘working for themselves‘ (hint: however you’re employed, you always work for other people, specifically your customers), so even the simplest insight into what you’re doing can be quite an eye-opener.

For example, my own startup (Nanodome)’s list of twenty or thirty such things would include:

  • lessons to learn from James Dyson’s mistakes
  • what’s so cool about Henry vacuum cleaners
  • why Taiwanese engineers are so great
  • why Coalition entrepreneurship rhetoric annoys me so much
  • the politics of global electronics
  • what it feels like working in a financial vacuum
  • the wobbly future of security cameras
  • business schools and the missing decades
  • Silicon Roundabout roustabouts
  • why OpenCoffee rocks, etc.

All of which is simply stuff on my mind every day that affects how I do what I do, and that alters where I’m trying to get to: really, the locked doors, compromises, mismatches and ‘life hacks’ that you won’t find on the business pages.

Yet these things are the very ones you need  to teach yourself to talk about – the network of insights and angles that make you and your startup unique. Practise doing this, and very quickly you’ll find that presentations and pitches become a pleasure – people will approach you after your timeslot has finished to hear the rest of the story. Take pleasure and joy in communicating these, and you’ll find that everyone will find it much easier to “tune in” to your world. Throw away that startup PR script, write your own!

Besides, who’s to say that the person you meet in the street might not secretly be looking to invest in your company? You honestly never know!

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