“Action expresses priorities.” – Mahatma Gandhi
27th July 2012 · 0 Comments
Getting any entrepreneurial endeavor rolling is a matter of aligning your priorities with those of prospective investors, partners, and customers. Last week for me produced a prime example of that as I observed one company fly into Austin three people from two different states for a series of meetings over a 3-day span, and only one of those meetings occurred as planned. There were many miles driven and many travel plans rearranged trying to accommodate those changes, all at no small expense to the visitors. And, worst of all, the one meeting that was supposed to result in dollars being released turned out to have an entirely different agenda – yet another “pre-meeting.” Such is the lot of the startup in many cases, you have no choice but to smile and roll with the punches.
None of these no-notice schedule changes were ill intended. I often have to rearrange things as my own priorities change. Particularly when all parties are in the same city, it’s no big deal. But, when people have paid to transport themselves a few thousand miles, it quickly becomes a big deal. A startup with thin pockets and a thin staff has a hard time keeping its leadership deployed on standby in a remote location when there is much work to be done at home.
The title of this post really sums up the issue. You’re moving at light speed to get things done, but you ability to accomplish things hinges on an alignment of priorities with your counterparts. Verbalized priorities aren’t the same as actions based on them.
If you’re working with a strategic customer/partner, you may not have enough impact to “move the needle” at your current stage and will always be subject to being pre-empted. Or your primary sponsors in the organization likely report to someone who can overrule their own agendas with little warning. On the flip side, if you happen to have a solution to a problem that is near the top of that partner’s priority list, you can be amazed at how fast things can get done. That was the case for me in the 80’s when I showed an early multimedia system (pre-Internet) at a general IT trade show in DC; luck brought to my booth the EVP of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp who was looking for exactly what we had to complement the travel publications they owned at the time. That deal got done fast. The same was true earlier when IBM selected our Peachtree Software products to accompany the original launch of the PC in 1981. We were bundled with the Vector Graphic microcomputer they reverse engineered, and we were already a must-have on their shopping list. I’d like to take credit for “selling” those deals, but actually all I had to do was mop up the specifics because their priority lists aligned with mine.
The same is true with potential investors. Intermittent angels, those who have day jobs throwing off cash or perhaps are retired with accumulated wealth and are looking for the intellectual stimulation of being “back in the game” are examples of individuals who really have no priority to act on your deal. There you do have to be persuasive, and you do get credit for a sale if you bring one of those to the table. But, that’s a tough calling. You are always subject to family priorities and many other things well beyond your control. And, you just never know what to expect. I once many years ago got a very large investment from a gentleman who called the day after Thanksgiving and found me in the office. This was pre-mobility, and I was actually working to avoid my visiting mother-in-law, but I gave the impression of putting in the extra effort a startup requires. I don’t know what prompted that investor to call me that Friday (maybe his mother-in-law was around?), but he later told me would not have invested had I not answered the phone in my office that morning.
Steady investors, on the other hand, especially those who get paid to manage the funds of limited partners or who are leaders and influencers in active angel networks, do have a priority to put money to work. There your main obstacle is rising near the top of the deal flow and being given a good look. A general priority to invest early and often doesn’t necessarily translate into a priority to invest in your deal.
Apart from the bigger aspects of strategic customers and investors, there are also priority issues in the execution side of the business. If your widget must interact with others or depends, for example, on some collection of API’s, or requires components out of some other company’s supply chain, you need to make sure you’re on their priority lists at the right times and the right places. Part of the running about last week in the earlier mentioned company had to do with just this circumstance. In several cases the environments weren’t as specified for some test installations, and there were days lost waiting on truck rolls from vendors for whom this was just the next thing in the queue and of no singular importance.
So, it’s important to keep your perspective on the relativity of your priorities to those of the people with whom you are trying to do business. Frustration and the feeling of “pushing a rope” are part of the process, but just by hanging in, you’ll often find good things falling into your lap as well.
<Image of Ghandi having tea with Lord Mountbatten, 1947, from Wikipedia Commons>