Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Panhandling

I met with a company last week that’s on to something. What, I’m not sure – the company is headed in a half-dozen potentially viable directions – though I’m confident they’ll give it a good run.

The pre-revenue, bootstrapped company is being pulled to a fro. Do this, go there, change that; advice -- mostly sage -- percolates in droves. Included therein is direction to write an executive summary and business plan. For whom and why?, I asked. (Well, for investors and because we were told that’s what we need to do to raise money, they replied.) Such are the erroneous rules of the game.

My advice was contrarian and, I’m sure, confusing: Cease the game of trying to appease potential investors. Halt any efforts to write an exec summary or bplan, or build a five-year P&L (by now I’m leading my sermon atop a chair in the coffee shop). Invest your energy in two areas: Luring users (it’s a Web 2.0 co) and generating revenue. Assume you will not raise any outside money. Build it – a monetizable community of engaged users – and they (investors; if you desire) will come. Worst case: You have a self-sustainable business (or, if it doesn’t work, you have not failed on someone else’s dime). My helium exhausted, I sedated into my seat.

Building on the “someone else’s dime” (or OPM: other people’s money), I was reminded of the dissonance between an entrepreneur’s perception and the reality of employing outside capital. I have spent a lot of time on both sides of the dime: either starting or helping companies that require outside capital, or investing directly (or indirectly through funds) in such companies.

Raising capital – in the right situation and from the right investors – is a great thing; the positives outweigh the negatives, and the relative degree of potential success is heightened. Think mass x velocity = momentum, or the running a marathon solo vs. running it with a team analogy.

It’s imperative, though, that entrepreneurs panhandle with open eyes: The accountability, responsibility, and expectations (to your investors) can be daunting, and the organization, governance and decision-making (at the board level and elsewhere) is, well, different. It’s not entrepreneurship in its true sense: It is the formal, professional and fiscally prudent management of resources as a fiduciary. It’s the difference between being a kid and a grownup, which reminds me of one of my idols, Peter Pan (speaking, I’m sure, on behalf of most entrepreneurs; Peter was anything but a panhandler):

I won't grow up,
I don't want to wear a tie.
And a serious expression
In the middle of July.
And if it means I must prepare
To shoulder burdens with a worried air,
I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me.
It’s easy to handle a pan and there are plentiful passersby who may chip in a dime. The true challenge is deciding whether you need to play (and are up to playing) with other people’s money.

1 comment:

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