Entrepreneurs tend to be hyper-focused and able to make quick decisions. That makes dealing with doofuses especially challenging.
The best entrepreneurs are masters of cutting to the chase. They’re very focused, but more important, they’re efficient. They don’t really have any other choice. Scarce resources, limited time, and a shrinking bank account do a whole lot for one’s concentration. Entrepreneurs have to be on-purpose, and on-point, all the time. In this environment, patience isn’t exactly a virtue. And tolerance for time-wasting doofuses is rare.
It’s true that some of the most effective CEOs I have known can seem arrogant, asocial and abrupt (and that’s when they’re in a good mood). But from their perspectives, they’re just aggressively optimizing their time and constantly assigning new priorities. They aren’t being rude or dismissive; they’re just attentive to whatever is most important at that particular moment.
But eventually, we all have to deal with the doofuses of the world. Often, these people are not only necessary evils; they’re generally part of the whole package that comes with your decision to accept third-party financing.
If you take their money, you get to take all the baggage that comes right along with it, and you’re supposed to smile at the prospect. But every entrepreneur needs to figure out how to deal with these people, because they’re here to stay. It’s not easy, but a few pointers can help.
Remember who you’re dealing with. When it comes to investors, you often start out talking to a guy who could buy a small country and end up working with someone who can’t approve a pizza without checking with personnel. The trick is to get the rules of engagement straight at the outset.
Remember that most of these folks basically have never begun or run anything.
Often, these folks are consumed with form over substance. They worry much more about font sizes and folders than about the actual business. It’s all about presentations and the process, not real prospects and progress. Their absolute worst nightmare is to ever be the bearer of changes, surprises or any bad news. They know what happens to the messenger.
These folks don’t usually have day jobs.
As far as I can tell, their main occupation is to justify their own positions. They can turn the simple scheduling of meetings into marathons of telephone and email tag. And too many of them think the meetings themselves are the end, not a means to an end. Everything they touch is over-analyzed; repeatedly chewed over; and ultimately cleared with the dog in the lobby. It’s a painful, time-wasting process.
I’m not kidding about the pizza
Often, these people have absolutely no authority to do anything, other than hire outside consultants on your dime. My guess is that the only way that you can ever lose your job at one of these investment firms is by saying “yes” to something. No one ever lost his or her job by saying “no.”
So, what can you do to keep things moving forward for the business in spite of these people?
(1) At the beginning, run a simple test. Respond to their requests simply and quickly. That’ll let you know if anyone is actually acting on any of it.
(2) If that doesn’t work, take the opposite tack: Take your time in responding. This will save you time in the long run, because, often, they never follow up.
(3) You can protect at least some of your team’s time by insisting on being the funnel for all their interactions with your team.
(4) Here’s the one thing you can’t do: You can’t try to go around these gatekeepers in order to try to get to the real decision makers. Everyone on their side believes their plans, processes and procedures actually make sense and work. No one, including the emperor, wants to ever hear otherwise.
HOWARD A. TULLMAN is the CEO of 1871 – Where Digital Startups Get Their Start and the General Managing Partner of G2T3V, LLC and of Chicago High Tech Investment Partners. He is a member of the Chicago NEXT & Cultural Affairs Councils and the Illinois Innovation & Arts Councils; an adjunct professor at Kellogg; and an advisor to many start-ups. He is the former Chairman and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy. Over the last 45 years, he has successfully founded more than a dozen high-tech companies. @tullman @tullman