View from the FishBowl: Sorry…but your baby is ugly!
About the Author: William Fisher, a partner at Treetop Ventures in Omaha, is a regular guest contributor to Silicon Prairie News. In his series, View from the FishBowl, Fisher calls on his experience as a business executive and technology investor to lend his advice to entrepreneurs in the Silicon Prairie.
Fisher has served as a director for several prominent public companies and private firms, and he currently serves on the boards of Prism Technologies, Lodo Software and FTNI. To read his full bio, including a listing of companies he has been involved with, visit treetopventures.com.
Contact Fisher at email@example.com.
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Photo by Matt Haughey via Flickr
Grandma Fisher gave me a pretty good set of rules to live life by. All in all, her simple folksy logic has served me well over the years.
When it came to being nervous about giving a presentation or a really important meeting, her advice was simple and to the point. Just remember…they can't eat you! I really can't tell you why but I always thought about that beforehand and it calmed me down and allowed me to get through a lot of things over the years.
She also warned me that I would run into those in the world who thought they were better than me. They might think that because they were from money or their education at the prestigious schools would make them smarter than me. She had a classic line and I have used it a lot. Our schools have the same books! Simple point but there aren't two math books (one for the rich and one for the poor) nor are there two economics books that are used in college (when I went, it was Paul Samuelson who was the authority and his textbook was used at Harvard and Indiana State). It is somewhat prevalent in the investment world; lots of people I have met in investment firms like Goldman/Morgan/etc. only hire from a select set of schools. It’s the same for the large VC firms. Good people, for sure. However, superior? Sorry, I don't buy it. (Not the point I started out to make; however, it made me feel good to write it).
She taught me not to burn bridges; a classic learning that is still with me to this day. Simply put, it says that there are always two ways to handle any conflict and the best way is to take the high road and let the conflict be measured in strictly business terms and not let emotion enter into the picture. This is a hard lesson to effectively learn and one that I feel that many people could work on especially as it relates to selling an investor like me on their story/product/vision.
There are times when I find myself in a situation where I have to let the person presenting know that their baby is ugly. No matter the manners that Grandma taught me, there is never a good way to let someone know that their baby is ugly. Granted, there are people who are better at it than I am. Not sure why but long ago I settled into my way of handling these situations and I find I am not any good at any other method. I try to inject humor; I try to be direct; I try to let them know that it is only my opinion and that others may easily see the beauty in their creation. But, and here is the important part, I try not to get personal and just keep to the facts at hand. Some take it in the right spirit but often I find that I have offended them. Those who take it in the right way typically look for ways to understand my perspective and see if they can do things that make their baby more attractive (in the eyes of investors). Some, unfortunately, just decide that I don't get it and these are the people that either I never see again or I hear from someone else that they don't care for me. I have good friends who tell me that maybe I should figure out a way to avoid telling them their baby is ugly. They advise me to do what others do; come up with another reason why I am not interested. It doesn’t fit our portfolio; it is too early stage/too late stage/we are over-invested in this stage. This is clearly the easy way out; maybe it would be best if I just do it this way. That is what I will do…I will change.
Sorry, Grandma. Just kidding! I am not going to change. All I can do is just hope that people recognize that it isn't personal and all I am trying to do is help. Honest and direct feedback shouldn't be something that you have to apologize for.