All I Want To Hear You Say
Tell it like it is. And be honest; we can take it.
“You’re too early.”
This is the venture capital (VC) equivalent of “no” to a fundraising pitch. But worse. Much, much worse... This rejection is loaded up with frustrating ambiguity, but balanced out by a complete absence of actionable specifics.
And it is a coward’s way out.
While no one likes to be told their idea sucks, the assembled team is a bunch of yahoos or that their impending failure will become a thing of legend, early-stage startup founders need to hear the truth. Or, at the very least, the target investor’s version of it.
When “You’re too early” (henceforth, abbreviated as “YTE”) is uttered, the disappointment can suck the air right out of the room. For the investor, this is the end of the conversation. You have been dismissed. But for the founder, the pile of unanswered questions has to be hastily swept away to make it to the door and out of the building with a modicum of dignity still intact.
I get that the answer cannot always be “yes”. VCs will hear a hundred (or more) pitches for every one check they stroke. Not quite lottery odds, but certainly not an experience tilted in the entrepreneur’s favor.
A YTE affords an investor the ability to let the founder down gently. Or, if we are being intellectually honest, to say “no” but leave the illusion of an open door so that if things begin to really take off, the investor can sneak in at the eleventh hour, throw money on the table and ride it to fruition.
And, of course, claim that they saw it coming all along.
With the absence of a why in the YTE, the founder often is led to believe that the passage of time, a tweaked (or completed) product or some other <take-a-wild-guess-and-insert-it-here> will change the dialogue and outcome. Beep, beep; back up the money truck. But sometimes, it perpetuates an ill-fated journey doomed from the beginning. Without direct feedback, bad ideas will remain a going concern. And the futility marches on.
(Cue a gentle, ocean breeze and add the cries of sea gulls. It’s metaphor time.)
Sailboats have a long, flat blade extending deep into the water from the underside of the vessel. It keeps the boat on a steady course and holds the ballast (you know, the part that keeps you from flipping over). So, all-in-all, a pretty important part of the whole experience.
At times, entrepreneurship can feel a lot like sailing a boat without this calming force. Remove the keel (or the ballast it holds) and no matter how much you fight it, things will go off course. Or worse, you wind up capsized and taking an unplanned swim.
While YTE might not be as sinister as an investor actually sawing off such an integral part of your boat, the lack of information – or the false sense of viability it creates – results in the same outcome: washed up on the shore.
Stranded. And unfunded.
Maybe you find a volleyball to befriend and the ensuing movie gets nominated for an Oscar, but more likely, you become the bleached bones on the sand found by the next founder to share your unfortunate fate.
Investors can keep the YTE crutch. That’s fine; it’s hard to change old habits, I know. But simply continue the sentence. Follow through on the swing. Add a few modifiers, action items and milestones. Or drop a truth bomb and admit that you just plain hate it.
We can take it. And more than anything, we want to know.
Better for the founder to bring the boat safely into harbor, make the necessary modifications and set sail once again on a corrected course. Or, when the circumstances warrant, to permanently hang up that nautical-themed pashmina afghan and find something new.
With a little more information and direct, honest feedback, we can work to keep the shorelines clean and the waterways clear.
And enable everyone to trade up from that rinky-dink starter boat to the luxury yacht.
All I Want To Hear You Say by Sea Girls
While there is nothing particularly remarkable about the music, the lyrics and story told in this song are what push it over the hill to make this one a winner. The band unpacks the story of a girl lost, pulled away by the lure of fame with gems like: “I knew it was only just a matter of time / you were caught in the headlights of your dream / now we live in different worlds / ‘cause I’m still working shifts /while you’re putting on pearls”. That’s good stuff. Oh, and it’s not lost on me that a song by Sea Girls headlines a post relying heavily on a nautical metaphor. Pure poetry.