Archive for September, 2008

Pond scum

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Pond scumI had breakfast this morning at a bar in the Santa Caterina market in Barcelona with Jono Bennett. He’s a writer. We were reflecting on similarities in our struggles to do our own thing. An email about a potential Fluidinfo investor that I’d recently sent to a friend came to mind. I wrote:

I had a really good call with AAA. He told me he’s interested and wants to talk to BBB and CCC. I then got mail the next day from DDD (of the NYT) who told me he’d just had dinner with AAA and BBB and that they’d talked about my stuff. So something may happen there (i.e., I’ll never hear from them again).

The last comment, that I’d probably never hear from them again, was entirely tongue-in-cheek. I wrote it knowing it was a possibility, but not really thinking it would happen.

But it did.

Things like that seem to be part & parcel of the startup world as you attempt to get funded. I have often asked myself how can it be possible for things to be this way? How you can have people so excited, telling you and others you’re going to change the world, be worth billions, and then you never hear from them again? (Yes, of course you have to follow up, and I did. But that’s not the point: If you didn’t follow up you’d never hear from them.)

How can that be? In what sort of world is such a thing possible?

I came up with a highly flawed analogy. Despite its limited accuracy I find it amusing and can’t resist blogging it even if people will label me bitter (I’m not).

Kids with sticksFirst: startup founders are pond scum. Second: potential investors are a troupe of young kids wandering through the park with sticks.

The kids poke into the ponds, stirring up the scum. They’re looking for cool things, signs of life, perhaps even something to take home. They’re genuinely interested. They’re fascinated. The pond scum listen to their excited conversation and think the kids will surely be back tomorrow. But it’s summer, and the world is so very very big.

The pond scum are working on little projects like photosynthesis, enhancements to the Krebs cycle, or the creation of life itself. All the while they’re pondering how to make themselves irresistible, believing that someday the kids with the sticks will be back, that they’ll eventually be scooped up.

As Paul Graham recently wrote, fundraising is brutal. His #1 recommendation is to keep expectations low.

Kid with stickYep, you’re pond scum.

Get used to it.

Embrace it.