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SELLING A BUSINESS

Evernote Founder Phil Libin's Rule for Success: No Tricks

Phil Libin, the founder of Evernote, once used sleight-of-hand to play up strengths and downplay weakness. He's found a better strategy for building strong relationships.

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Phil Libin is the serial entrepreneur who founded Evernote, a software application that helps people remember things, by syncing notes, photos, and appointments across devices. He spoke with Inc. editor Eric Schurenberg.
 

At one time, I thought if I ever wrote a business book, it might be called, All I Know About Business, I Learned Doing Magic. But I got over it. And I know this sounds funny, but I'm serious.

Rejecting the idea behind that "book" was a big evolution for me.

Let me explain: When I was younger, I was really into magic. I hung out in local magic shops. I made friends with magicians. Even today, my home office is lined with books on magic.

When I started launching companies, I realized that what I knew about magic could give me a real edge in certain business situations. Here's a simple example: One basic technique all magicians know is the false choice. You give your audience the impression that it decided something, but you control things so that in fact you decided.

When I was pitching investors on my second company, CoreStreet, my presentation had two parts: the product part and the business part. The product was strong, but the business side frankly wasn't that good. So, I'd present the product part first. I'd had it all staged for maximum effect, but the investors would always want to jump ahead to the business part. I hated that. It ruined my presentation.

So I gave them a false choice. I'd say, "There are two parts to this presentation, product and business. Which matters more to you?" If they said, "business," I'd say, "Good. I'll save that for last." If they said, "product," I'd say, "Good. Let's start there."

It worked precisely as planned. The only problem was, it was crap. I realized I don't want to trick the people I do business with.

Just about every business book ever written is about how to beat the other guy. And that's what I was doing: The investors thought they were in control of the presentation, but I was, really, so I won.

Well, I refuse to play the zero-sum game anymore. It's better to find a way to make everyone happy: no tricks, no gimmicks, no grabbing a short-term advantage at someone else's expense.

I've been practicing this "no-tricks" business style for five or six years now, and it's better. You build more durable relationships.

If I had that presentation to do today, I'd say: "There are two parts to this. To be honest, the business part is weaker, so I'd like to start with product, just to get you in a good mood."

And if I really wanted to be creative, I'd add: "You know, if this were 10 years ago, I'd pull this little douchebag trick..."

 

IMAGE: Bloomberg/Getty
Last updated: Jan 30, 2013




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