The phrase "fake it until you make it" is almost an accepted truth in Silicon Valley. If you're launching a startup and raising money from investors, you should act like you're the next Facebook, right?
But Nicola Corzine, the executive director of the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco, a nonprofit that offers free classes and mentoring for startup founders, doesn't think anyone should be faking it.
Corzine launched the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in September 2015, but she is also a seasoned seed investor who was the deal manager for the Band of Angels. The Band of Angels is Silicon Valley's oldest seed funding group and Corzine, as partner and deal manager, evaluated almost 8,000 deals totaling close to $30 million in seed funding for almost 100 startups. Corzine says she would never invest in an entrepreneur who isn't honest with her about where the company is now and its potential.
The best advice Corzine says she received came from Band of Angels founder Hans Severiens.
"He's looked upon lovingly as the grandfather of all angel investors and Hans pulled me aside on my very first day working there and said, 'Remember: At the end of the day, we invest in people. We do not invest in businesses,'" she says.
Corzine said Severiens looks for entrepreneurs with credibility and ones who will be honest about the problems and obstacles they are having. Blind confidence is not what investors are looking for, Corzine says. Be honest, not delusional.
"This goes against everything entrepreneurs are taught. They are taught from day one that they should be a subject matter expert above all else. You should fake it no matter what, because investors need to be told that you're a billion-dollar company in the making. You're the unicorn that is going to get away unless they invest today," she says.
She believes the social folkway of faking it is detrimental to entrepreneurs.
"I think in doing that, we in many ways set up entrepreneurs for failure. We ask them to prevail a myth that is actually a reason we don't invest," she says.
Corzine says entrepreneurs should instead say something like this: "This is the pain point that I am solving for my customer because I intimately know this customer and know the very essence of their pain points, I've spent years focused on getting to know this and I built something that solves that problem, that changes the paradigm and shifts the dialogue in their favor," she says. "I know it's a huge market and I am looking for your capital to expand upon that offering and really bring in your expertise."
Corzine says seed investors want an entrepreneur who is looking for guidance and has credibility. In turn, entrepreneurs should look for seed investors who are experts who can pull them forward.
Another point she says entrepreneurs need to realize about taking seed money is that seed investors are with you for a really, really long time.
"Due diligence is a two-way street and you want to make sure you've done your homework on these investors who will join you on this journey. They are owners of your company, they are owners of your strategy," she says.
As for Corzine's second most important piece of advice? Nothing happens over night.
"It goes without saying, but you need to recognize that [founding and running a company] is a marathon, not a sprint. A lot of entrepreneurs, for better or worse, hear the success stories and think that they're overnight success stories or hope the luck befalls them," she says. "It's not easily described the painful, lonely journeys entrepreneurs take in order to make it. It isn't waking up one morning and suddenly the pieces have all fallen in place. It's a series of mechanical thoughtful and some parts luck in bringing this formulaic approach to bring success."