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I know you’re a startup. I know it feels like you’re often just begging for crumbs. But stop. Please, for the love of all that’s holy, stop. It’s not the best version of you, your company, your idea, your team, anything…
— I know that capital is running short.
— I know that your team is fracturing due to high pressure plus low compensation.
— I know that your initial investors are low on patience.
— I know that your product is just about ready, but features are taking just a little longer than expected.
— I know that one deal, one investment, and one new feature are all that’s standing in the way of a more sustainable path.
— I know you think your situation is unique. It’s not. It’s just startup life. Everyone who has ever done anything early stage has faced these situations. It always feels dire. Sometimes it actually is; regardless, begging is a mistake.
What’s worse, you often don’t realize you’re begging. You’re begging the investor to invest, the customer to buy, the recruit to join the team, and a thousand others to just give your young company a break. You are begging not literally with hat in hand, but that’s how it FEELS to your audience.
You’re begging for two reasons:
One is Intellectual
One is Emotional
An investor meeting with you is not doing you a favor. It’s an exchange. They are looking for investment opportunities. You have one.
A potential big customer agreeing to a meeting is not an act of charity. They have a need, and you may have a solution.
Remember that the person across from you is a rational adult. They are spending time with you for a reason. They believe they can enhance their company, look good for their boss, earn their bonus, receive a promotion, uncover an investment opportunity, etc. Some of these meetings will result in a deal; most won’t. Both have value for you.
This is simply two people trying to determine fit. And the result is binary — either the outcome is an example to follow or a lesson to be learned. Change your lens, and you’ll see that failure is not a possible outcome.
The startup experience is lonely. It’s stormy. It’s bumpy. It’s unpredictable. But here’s the thing. If you show up in the world as if you’re aboard a plane experiencing a bit too much turbulence, NO ONE WILL WANT TO WORK WITH YOU.
Play a little game — watch a video with the sound muted (go ahead, I’ll wait). See if you can identify the various emotions of the actors. Surprisingly easy, right?
That’s how quickly your audience reads you… no matter the words coming out of your mouth.
The startup hustle is constant, and each opportunity to sell, pitch, and recruit feels climactic. But you’re at your best when centered and present. You’re at your best when you don’t unconsciously project that the situation is life and death.
Here’s a clue to determine what type of impression you’re making. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, then it’s more than likely you’re bringing less than your best.
Are you feeling good?
Have you slept?
Have you taken 10 minutes to get yourself organized and to quiet your racing mind?
What to do if you’ve answered “no?” Take a walk. Scream at the top of your lungs (in your car). Listen to music. Do some push-ups. Watch a funny video. Call a friend. Whatever it takes to awaken your inner Buddha. Basically, more of this:
…and less of this:
No one wants to work with crazy, stressed, panicked, desperate, or needy people. Yes, we all feel that way at times. But showing it rarely helps.