This week, I attended The Europas, the premier awards ceremony for Europe's hottest tech startups. Entertaining though the ceremony was, it was the event that ran alongside it - PathFounders - that I found really useful. And of this side event, it was the "Self Hackathon" with Patrycja Slawuta, neuroscientist turned entrepreneur, that I found most useful of all.
The idea of "hacking" is a relatively new one. Most people nowadays will have heard of "life hacks" - relatively straight forward things you do to make your life easier, such as using vinegar to clean a greasy windscreen wiper, or cutting a slit into a cardboard tube to create a speaker for your mobile phone. But few will have heard of the "self hack" - the changes you make to your own head, heart and body to effectively "upgrade" yourself: to learn new life skills, unlearn bad habits, and induce healthy levels of self-awareness, confidence and self-esteem in yourself.
This Self Hackathon took the form of about 60 minutes of presentation and 30 minutes of exercises. More information about "self hacking" is available on Patrycja's website, but for now (and before moving onto our second of "5 Tips For Not Going Bust In Year One") I would like to share just two of the exercises with you.
Ask yourself, what do you need to give yourself permission to do or be? Is there a way in which you hold yourself back, berate yourself, shame yourself on a daily basis? If there is, think: is this necessary? Can you give yourself permission to "do" or "be" a little bit more?
After a bit of a shaky start, it surprised me how many things I wanted permission to do: to dream many dreams, to focus on what I'm good at (handling crises), to work on one good idea and then move on. To be wrong repeatedly before I am right. To always be learning, and to not have to apologise for it. I became aware of how often I berate myself or hold myself back because I feel that I am not allowed to do these things. And I have decided to stop it or, at the very least, to not constantly feel ashamed for doing or being these things.
So: what would you like permission to do?
Ask yourself, if you wanted someone to make you feel better, to soothe you, what would they say? What do you like to hear from your parents, or your friends, or your partner when you're experiencing a moment of doubt and are looking for reassurance?
It could be anything - "You are beautiful", "You inspire me", "You are doing a great job". Whatever it is, try saying it to yourself from time to time. Tell the people who matter to you, so that they can soothe you as you want to be soothed. There's no shame in that. Forewarned is forearmed.
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely and disheartening game, and yet it still came as something of a surprise to me to discover that the words I wanted to hear from people are, "I believe in you. You will change the world."
So: what must we say to you to soothe you?
And now we'll move on to the main subject of this blog: the second tip of "5 Tips For Not Going Bust In Year One" - waiting for the right offer.
TIP 2 - WAIT FOR THE RIGHT OFFER
Getting your first round of funding can feel like an insurmountable obstacle. Many people will reject you because you've not perfected your pitch, because your business plan doesn't stack up, because you're not the right company for their investment portfolio. So much so that when you do get a "yes", it can be difficult to resist signing the paperwork immediately.
But, you must not sign the paperwork immediately.
If someone likes your value proposition (and "someone" could be a business angel, a venture capital firm, a member of a syndicate, etc), it means just that: your proposition has value. So straight away you know three things: (1) you have room to negotiate with that person in the what-funds-for-what-equity space, (2) you have leverage approaching other potential sources of funding - "I have been offered X by Y", and (3) if that person liked it, the chances are someone else will like it too.
When you're made an offer, tell the person who has made the offer that you are going to take a week to consider it. Then go away and do two things: (1) if you haven't researched them already, research them - you wouldn't marry a person without getting to know them first; the same principle applies for an investor you are metaphorically (and only metaphorically) about to bed for the next 10 years; and (2) approach as many people who have the same basic profile as the person who's said yes with the news that you've been made an offer. Give away only high-level details regarding the offer, and ask those people to meet you to discuss your product further. Whatever discussions you want to have them will be had much better face-to-face. No one will invest in you without meeting you first, and yes - they are investing in YOU as much as your product.
Only accept the offer if you're sure it is the right offer and the person making the offer is the right person. Questions you should be asking yourself include: Has this person invested in anything before? What sort of investments have they made (types of companies, industry verticals, etc)? What stage do they usually invest at (Seed, Series A, etc)? Does this person have a valid portfolio of investments? Have I heard of any of them? How likely are they to contribute in a positive way to my product? Has this investor had any successful exits? What do people who have worked with this investor before say about them?
Lastly, do NOT choose an investor who seems really keen on you and your product if there is even the smallest suspicion in the back of your mind that he or she might like you, and by that I mean, be planning to bed you in a very literal sense of the word. It could be tempting to think, "great, I can use this; of course nothing's going to happen", but you can't, and even if nothing does happen, it will come back to bite you. For example, if you allow your investor to think that romance is on the horizon, and it isn't, they may struggle not to allow the disappointment to affect their daily dealings with you. They may even discover that their keenness had nothing to do with your product and everything to do with you, and then you really will have a problem.
Be patient. Be savvy. Listen to your gut. You and your product are different things, and both must be liked on their own terms in order for the investment to be valid.
Wait for the right offer.
Coming up next week: TIP 3 - DON'T BELIEVE YOUR SALES PITCHES.