Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, April 24, 2023
by Neil Senturia
What would you like?
Now, I want you to think about that question. It is a trick question that I use in all my negotiations because it forces the other side to respond and say something concrete, to have to make a choice. Do you want chocolate ice cream or a cannoli?
Here is a story. I have a little software company and through various machinations, I end up on a Zoom call with a purported big shot. He knows everybody (so he says) and he is directly in our sweet spot, and we talk for one hour and 15 minutes.
We describe our platform and our offering. He says that the idea is terrific, and he gives me a list of all the people I need to know — and he says that he knows all these people. I am all in, and I ask him if he would help us. I open the door — what would work for you?
No answer. He bobs. He weaves. He tells me more things that I need and that he can do. At the 50-minute mark, I reach out again and say we want you. I roll over and pant and tell him the company needs you, and again, what would work for you? No answer, a head fake and a dodge.
He raises some concerns about our ability to scale and exit (gimme a break, I need to enter before I can exit). Then he finished by telling me how busy he is. OK, I get it. You are very important. Or more accurately, you know very important people. After all, there is a difference.
We finish the call. I decide right then and there that I am not going to work with him. At a minimum, I needed to hear something like, “Let me think about it and I will get back to you.” It’s not like I offered him 31 flavors. Just tell me pistachio or rocky road.
He could have said, I want 30 percent of the company and a Lambo, and then at least I would have a basis to consider his value. But to say nothing — not good. Lastly, without being overly biased, he is a consultant, not an operator. The consultant type seems to just have different DNA.
I like asking people how can I make them happy. That doesn’t mean I can meet their needs, but at least I can get a baseline reading that indicates they are breathing.
Now, another story — a tale of how easy it is to get confused. We get referred to someone who waves his arms and again tells us that he knows everybody and gives the impression that he has money and wants to use our software and maybe even invest in the company.
Pause here — how many entrepreneurs have had that experience? Feel free to send me an email.
He says he wants to come visit right away. We change our plans. He sends a junior nobody (cross-country) a day before the meeting and then doesn’t come out himself at all, instead doing a 45-minute Zoom call where he confesses that he has no money, and was only hoping that we had money for him, and leaves the poor junior partner stooge standing on the beach waving at the pelicans.
Did you think we were so dumb that we wouldn’t figure out your game? Why do people act badly?
When you are trying to raise money or find a strategic partner, when you need something, it is easy to go blind. You want to believe. You want it so badly that you run the risk of lying to yourself. You do an ill-advised pretzel dance.
Sure, you have to kiss a lot of frogs, but I don’t want my young entrepreneurs to be blatantly deceived.
Here is the confession. I fall for it myself. It is so easy to see it in others and so difficult to see it yourself when you are in the midst of a snowstorm. But, if you are too tough, too untrusting, too stingy with your story, then you run the risk of saying no too soon and missing the winning, partner or investor.
Rule No. 757: If it were easy …