I met a cofounder-team last week at the Microsoft BizSpark event. They were fairly young, and were working on their first startup, after 5+ years of working in a large corporate environment. They were both a year into their startup and were looking to raise funds (seed round). They were focused on the consumer Internet space (are now considering pivoting to B2B instead) and have been building a version of their webservice.
They definitely caught me at a “not so opportune time”. Actually, a friend pulled me in adhoc after a bad call (bugs in our software, customers complaining, etc. you get the point) to introduce me to them and ask me for feedback.
The next 30 min was painful for us all is the best way to say it. After the 5th time of me asking what problem they were trying to solve and if that was a real problem, I think I had a breakdown.
I tore into them for the next 15 min with both my friend and another individual sitting next to them. I claimed they had no idea what problem they were trying to solve, who their target audience was, what their product actually did that any of 20 other startups did not do already and why I would not use the product even though it was meant for folks like me.
They were patient, gave me a hearing, but I you could cut the tension with a knife. I felt awful 2 hours later. I had forgotten the cardinal sin I kept repeating to others they should avoid doing.
If you cant give constructive feedback, you are a moron, not an investor. If an “investor” does not help you with a next step, he is a moron. Period.
I had become a moron. The very thing I had detested in many other investors (not all, there are several exceptions).
You know the type. They kill every idea and suck your soul dry. They dont think your idea is good, they dont think you can pull it of, they dont believe you have what it takes.
I used to believe this was necessary tough love. It is absolute B.S.
What I did was inexcusable. It bordered on killing the spirit of another individual, which no person has the right to do. Even if they are an investor.
So, what should you as an entrepreneur do when you meet this type of investor?
First off, try some mind-relaxation techniques.
Second, give them the benefit of doubt. You probably got them on a bad day/week/month.
Third, ask the question:
“How would you go about trying to solve this”?
Put the ball on their court to give you a SINGLE next step that they (the smarter ones) would take to get you further along on your path.
One last point. Being an investor, you meet many smart, talented individuals daily and its difficult to not do some form of “pattern matching”. So, if anyone tears into your idea, remember at that back of your mind, you are likely doing something (either right or wrong) and its worth doing some more digging.
The worst feedback to get when you are pitching your idea/product/startup is no feedback.
P.S. I did meet the team this week and offered some (my version of the story) constructive ideas they could possibly work on, and was trying to help as much as I could. That does not make me feel better about what I did last week, but its good karma to erase the bad.