basis. I have a checklist that I use which is my own little system and it helps me to give a
consistent critique to each presenter. However, whilst reading The Lean Start-up and the new
Edition of Guy Kawasaki's book The Art of the Start 2.0 I realised that there is a better way
forward...and that is to exclude certain things in the first place!
For the sake of investors who are tired of hearing the same old lies and for the sake of entrepreneurs who hurt their cases by telling them, here are the top ten lies of entrepreneurs.
Study them so you can at least tell new lies.
1. "Our projection is conservative." Your projection is conservative, but you claim you'll be doing £100 million by year three. In fact, the company is going to be the fastest-growing company in the history of mankind.
The truth is, you have no clue what your sales will be, and I fantasise about the day an entrepreneur tells me, "Our projection is a number we're picking out of the air. We're trying to make them high enough to interest you, but low enough so that we don't look like idiots. We really will have no clue until we ship the product and see how it's accepted." At least that entrepreneur is honest.
2. "Experts say our market will be fifty billion in five years."
Don't cite numbers like this and expect to impress investors. No one ever comes in and says, "We 're in a crappy little market." Everyone says the same thing. It's much better to catalyse fantasy.
3. "Amazon is signing our contract next week." Traction is good. It makes you fundable. But until a contract is signed, it's not signed. If the investor asks about the contract the following week, and it still isn't signed, you've got a credibility problem. In five years I've never seen a contract signed on time. Talk about Amazon and your big deals after they're done.
4. "Key employees will join us as soon as we get funded." Let me get this straight: You're two guys in a garage, you're trying to raise a few hundred thousand, your product is twelve months from completion, and you're telling me that these well-known people are going to resign their £150,000-per-year, plus bonus, plus shares-option jobs to join your company?
When investors contact these key employees who are supposedly set to join a company, the response is often, "I vaguely remember meeting the CEO at a cocktail party." If you're going to tell this lie, make sure that these potential employees are locked and loaded and ready to join.
5. "Several investors are already in due diligence." That is, "If you don't hurry, someone else will invest in us, and you won't have the chance." This works well in times of irrational exuberance, but during other times it is a laughable tactic. The reality, and what the listener is thinking, is, You've pitched a few other investors, and they haven't gotten around to rejecting you yet.
The odds are that the investors know one another better than you know them. They can call up their friends and find out how interested another firm is in your deal. To pull this lie off, you'd better be either a great bluffer or smokin' hot, or you won't have a chance against the investor network.
6. "Microsoft is too old, big, dumb, and slow to be a threat." Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, Facebook... Pick a successful company. Many entrepreneurs think that by making such a statement, they are (a) convincing the investor of their moxie, (b) proving that they can defeat an entrenched competitor, and (c) establishing a competitive advantage.
In reality all they are showing is how näive they are about what it takes to build a successful business. There's a reason why people such as Larry Ellison can keep the San Jose airport open late for his private jet while you and I are munching peanuts on Easyjet. And it's not because his company is old, big, dumb, and slow.
It's scary enough to investors that you are competing with an established company. Don't seal your coffin by showing how clueless you are by denigrating such competition. Instead, explain how you can avoid the competition by serving different segments or fly under the competition's radar. If nothing else, acknowledge that you're undertaking a high-risk and difficult venture, to at least indicate that you're aware of the magnitude of the challenge.
7. "Patents make our business defensible." Patents do not make a business defensible. They might provide a temporary competitive advantage particularly in material science, medical devices, and biotech companies--but that's about it.
By all means, lodge patents if you can, but don't depend on them for much more than impressing your parents unless you have the time (years) and money (millions) to go to court.
When talking to investors, the optimal number of times to mention that your technology is patentable is one. Zero is bad because it implies you don't have anything proprietary. More than one mention means that you're inexperienced.
8. "All we have to do is get one percent of the market." This is what US venture capitalists call the Chinese Hat Lie. That is, "If just one percent of the people in China buy our hats, we will be more successful than any company in the history of mankind."
There are problems with this line of reasoning: First, it's not that easy to get even 1 percent of the people in China to buy your hat. Second, few entrepreneurs are truly going after a market as large as all the people in China. Third, the company that came in before you said something similar about another market, and so will the company after you. Fourth, a company that is shooting for only 1 percent market share isn't that interesting.
9. "We have first-mover advantage." There are at least two problems with this lie: First, it may not be true. How can you know that no one else is doing what you're doing? As a rule of thumb, if you're doing something good, five other startups are doing the same thing. If you're doing something great, ten are.
Second, first-mover advantage isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Being a fast second might be better--let someone else pioneer the concept and learn from their mistakes--then leapfrog them.
10."We have a world-class, proven team." The acceptable definition of "world-class" and "proven" in this context is that the founders created enormous wealth for investors in a previous company, or they held positions in highly respected, large companies.
Riding the tornado of a successful company in a minor role, working for McKinsey as a consultant, or putting in a couple of years at an investment bank doesn't count as a proven entrepreneurial background.
Excerpted from The Art Of The Start 2.0: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Guy Kawasaki, 2004, 2015.