9 months ago
The Unsettling Fact VC-Backed Entrepreneurs Don't Want You to Know
What they'll do is scarier.
My acquaintance recently joined a VC-funded startup. Money, equity, and upside possibilities were nice, but he had a nagging dread.
They just secured a $40M round and are hiring like crazy to prepare for their IPO in two years. All signals pointed to this startup's (a B2B IT business in a stable industry) success, and its equity-holding workers wouldn't pass that up.
Five months after starting the work, my friend struggled with leaving. We might overlook the awful culture and long hours at the proper price. This price plus the company's fate and survival abilities sent my friend departing in an unpleasant unplanned resignation before jumping on yet another sinking ship.
This affects founders. This affects VC-backed companies (and all businesses). This affects anyone starting, buying, or running a business.
Here's the under-the-table approach that's draining VC capital, leaving staff terrified (or jobless), founders rattled, and investors upset. How to recognize, solve, and avoid it
The unsettling reality behind door #1
You can't raise money off just your looks, right? If "looks" means your founding team's expertise, then maybe. In my friend's case, the founding team's strong qualifications and track records won over investors before talking figures.
They're hardly the only startup to raise money without a profitable customer acquisition strategy. Another firm raised money for an expensive sleep product because it's eco-friendly. They were off to the races with a few keywords and key players.
Both companies, along with numerous others, elected to invest on product development first. Company A employed all the tech, then courted half their market (they’re a tech marketplace that connects two parties). Company B spent millions on R&D to create a palatable product, then flooded the world with marketing.
My friend is on Company B's financial team, and he's seen where they've gone wrong. It's terrible.
Company A (tech market): Growing? Not quite. To achieve the ambitious expansion they (and their investors) demand, they've poured much of their little capital into salespeople: Cold-calling commission and salary salesmen. Is it working? Considering attrition and companies' dwindling capital, I don't think so.
Company B (green sleep) has been hiring, digital marketing, and opening new stores like crazy. Growing expenses should result in growing revenues and a favorable return on investment; if you grow too rapidly, you may neglect to check that ROI.
Once Company A cut headcount and Company B declared “going concerned”, my friend realized both startups had the same ailment and didn't recognize it.
I shouldn't have to ask a friend to verify a company's cash reserves and profitability to spot a financial problem. It happened anyhow.
The frightening part isn't that investors were willing to invest millions without product-market fit, CAC, or LTV estimates. That's alarming, but not as scary as the fact that startups aren't understanding the problem until VC rounds have dried up.
When they question consultants if their company will be around in 6 months. It’s a red flag. How will they stretch $20M through a 2-year recession with a $3M/month burn rate and no profitability? Alarms go off.
Who's in danger?
In a word, everyone who raised money without a profitable client acquisition strategy or enough resources to ride out dry spells.
Money mismanagement and poor priorities affect every industry (like sinking all your capital into your product, team, or tech, at the expense of probing what customer acquisition really takes and looks like).
This isn't about tech, real estate, or recession-proof luxury products. Fast, cheap, easy money flows into flashy-looking teams with buzzwords, trending industries, and attractive credentials.
If these companies can't show progress or get a profitable CAC, they can't raise more money. They die if they can't raise more money (or slash headcount and find shoestring budget solutions until they solve the real problem).
The kiss of death (and how to avoid it)
If you're running a startup and think raising VC is the answer, pause and evaluate. Do you need the money now?
I'm not saying VC is terrible or has no role. Founders have used it as a Band-Aid for larger, pervasive problems. Venture cash isn't a crutch for recruiting consumers profitably; it's rocket fuel to get you what and who you need.
Pay-to-play isn't a way to throw money at the wall and hope for a return. Pay-to-play works until you run out of money, and if you haven't mastered client acquisition, your cash will diminish quickly.
How can you avoid this bottomless pit? Tips:
Understand your burn rate
Keep an eye on your growth or profitability.
Analyze each and every marketing channel and initiative.
Make lucrative customer acquisition strategies and satisfied customers your top two priorities. not brand-new products. not stellar hires. avoid the fundraising rollercoaster to save time. If you succeed in these two tasks, investors will approach you with their thirsty offers rather than the other way around, and your cash reserves won't diminish as a result.
Not as much as your grandfather
My family friend always justified expensive, impractical expenditures by saying it was only monopoly money. In business, startups, and especially with money from investors expecting a return, that's not true.
More founders could understand that there isn't always another round if they viewed VC money as their own limited pool. When the well runs dry, you must refill it or save the day.
Venture financing isn't your grandpa's money. A discerning investor has entrusted you with dry powder in the hope that you'll use it wisely, strategically, and thoughtfully. Use it well.
9 months ago
6 Causes Your Sales Pitch Is Unintentionally Repulsing Customers
Skip this if you don't want to discover why your lively, no-brainer pitch isn't making $10k a month.
You don't want to be repulsive as an entrepreneur or anyone else. Making friends, influencing people, and converting strangers into customers will be difficult if your words evoke disgust, distrust, or disrespect. You may be one of many entrepreneurs who do this obliviously and involuntarily.
I've had to master selling my skills to recruiters (to land 6-figure jobs on Wall Street), selling companies to buyers in M&A transactions, and selling my own companies' products to strangers-turned-customers. I probably committed every cardinal sin of sales repulsion before realizing it was me or my poor salesmanship strategy.
If you're launching a new business, frustrated by low conversion rates, or just curious if you're repelling customers, read on to identify (and avoid) the 6 fatal errors that can kill any sales pitch.
1. The first indication
So many people fumble before they even speak because they assume their role is to convince the buyer. In other words, they expect to pressure, arm-twist, and combat objections until they convert the buyer. Actuality, the approach stinks of disgust, and emotionally-aware buyers would feel "gross" immediately.
Instead of trying to persuade a customer to buy, ask questions that will lead them to do so on their own. When a customer discovers your product or service on their own, they need less outside persuasion. Why not position your offer in a way that leads customers to sell themselves on it?
2. A flawless performance
Are you memorizing a sales script, tweaking video testimonials, and expunging historical blemishes before hitting "publish" on your new campaign? If so, you may be hurting your conversion rate.
Perfection may be a step too far and cause prospects to mistrust your sincerity. Become a great conversationalist to boost your sales. Seriously. Being charismatic is hard without being genuine and showing a little vulnerability.
People like vulnerability, even if it dents your perfect facade. Show the customer's stuttering testimonial. Open up about your or your company's past mistakes (and how you've since improved). Make your sales pitch a two-way conversation. Let the customer talk about themselves to build rapport. Real people sell, not canned scripts and movie-trailer testimonials.
If marketing or sales calls feel like a performance, you may be doing something wrong or leaving money on the table.
3. Your greatest phobia
Three minutes into prospect talks, I'd start sweating. I was talking 100 miles per hour, covering as many bases as possible to avoid the ones I feared. I knew my then-offering was inadequate and my firm had fears I hadn't addressed. So I word-vomited facts, features, and everything else to avoid the customer's concerns.
Do my prospects know I'm insecure? Maybe not, but it added an unnecessary and unhelpful layer of paranoia that kept me stressed, rushed, and on edge instead of connecting with the prospect. Skirting around a company, product, or service's flaws or objections is a poor, temporary, lazy (and cowardly) decision.
How can you project confidence and trust if you're afraid? Before you make another sales call, face your shortcomings, weak points, and objections. Your company won't be everyone's cup of tea, but you should have answers to every question or objection. You should be your business's top spokesperson and defender.
4. The unintentional apologies
Have you ever begged for a sale? I'm going to say no, however you may be unknowingly emitting sorry, inferior, insecure energy.
Young founders, first-time entrepreneurs, and those with severe imposter syndrome may elevate their target customer. This is common when trying to get first customers for obvious reasons.
Since you're truly new at this, you naturally lack experience.
You don't have the self-confidence boost of thousands or hundreds of closed deals or satisfied client results to remind you that your good or service is worthwhile.
Getting those initial few clients seems like the most difficult task, as if doing so will decide the fate of your company as a whole (it probably won't, and you shouldn't actually place that much emphasis on any one transaction).
Customers can smell fear, insecurity, and anxiety just like they can smell B.S. If you believe your product or service improves clients' lives, selling it should feel like a benevolent act of service, not a sleazy money-grab. If you're a sincere entrepreneur, prospects will believe your proposition; if you're apprehensive, they'll notice.
Approach every sale as if you're fine with or without it. This has improved my salesmanship, marketing skills, and mental health. When you put pressure on yourself to close a sale or convince a difficult prospect "or else" (your company will fail, your rent will be late, your electricity will be cut), you emit desperation and lower the quality of your pitch. There's no point.
5. The endless promises
We've all read a million times how to answer or disprove prospects' arguments and add extra incentives to speed or secure the close. Some objections shouldn't be refuted. What if I told you not to offer certain incentives, bonuses, and promises? What if I told you to walk away from some prospects, even if it means losing your sales goal?
If you market to enough people, make enough sales calls, or grow enough companies, you'll encounter prospects who can't be satisfied. These prospects have endless questions, concerns, and requests for more, more, more that you'll never satisfy. These people are a distraction, a resource drain, and a test of your ability to cut losses before they erode your sanity and profit margin.
To appease or convert these insatiably needy, greedy Nellies into customers, you may agree with or acquiesce to every request and demand — even if you can't follow through. Once you overpromise and answer every hole they poke, their trust in you may wane quickly.
Telling a prospect what you can't do takes courage and integrity. If you're honest, upfront, and willing to admit when a product or service isn't right for the customer, you'll gain respect and positive customer experiences. Sometimes honesty is the most refreshing pitch and the deal-closer.
6. No matter what
Have you ever said, "I'll do anything to close this sale"? If so, you've probably already been disqualified. If a prospective customer haggles over a price, requests a discount, or continues to wear you down after you've made three concessions too many, you have a metal hook in your mouth, not them, and it may not end well. Why?
If you're so willing to cut a deal that you cut prices, comp services, extend payment plans, waive fees, etc., you betray your own confidence that your product or service was worth the stated price. They wonder if anyone is paying those prices, if you've ever had a customer (who wasn't a blood relative), and if you're legitimate or worth your rates.
Once a prospect senses that you'll do whatever it takes to get them to buy, their suspicions rise and they wonder why.
Why are you cutting pricing if something is wrong with you or your service?
Why are you so desperate for their sale?
Why aren't more customers waiting in line to pay your pricing, and if they aren't, what on earth are they doing there?
That's what a prospect thinks when you reveal your lack of conviction, desperation, and willingness to give up control. Some prospects will exploit it to drain you dry, while others will be too frightened to buy from you even if you paid them.
Walking down a two-way street. Be casual.
If we track each act of repulsion to an uneasiness, fear, misperception, or impulse, it's evident that these sales and marketing disasters were forced communications. Stiff, imbalanced, divisive, combative, bravado-filled, and desperate. They were unnatural and accepted a power struggle between two sparring, suspicious, unequal warriors, rather than a harmonious oneness of two natural, but opposite parties shaking hands.
Sales should be natural, harmonious. Sales should feel good for both parties, not like one party is having their arm twisted.
You may be doing sales wrong if it feels repulsive, icky, or degrading. If you're thinking cringe-worthy thoughts about yourself, your product, service, or sales pitch, imagine what you're projecting to prospects. Don't make it unpleasant, repulsive, or cringeworthy.