Posted Friday, September 5th, 2008 at 3:53 pm under other, tech.

Pond scum

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.

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  • http://twitter.com/artforhumans Paul McLean

    This is absolutely refreshing & delightfully subversive + realistic. As an artist, having observed for decades the ways in which people engage with media in quasi-controlled environments, I think the description above applies to most creative expression involving an audience or viewer or respondent of whatever sort…

  • http://twitter.com/artforhumans Paul McLean

    This is absolutely refreshing & delightfully subversive + realistic. As an artist, having observed for decades the ways in which people engage with media in quasi-controlled environments, I think the description above applies to most creative expression involving an audience or viewer or respondent of whatever sort…

  • Pingback: fluidinfo » Blog Archive » Brief history of an idea

  • http://www.cheekyboots.com?feed=rss2 Emma McCreary

    Yup. Only I don’t want to embrace being pond scum. I want to be the kids with sticks.

    Except if I had a stick, I’d be better than that. Maybe. =)

  • Emma McCreary

    Yup. Only I don’t want to embrace being pond scum. I want to be the kids with sticks.

    Except if I had a stick, I’d be better than that. Maybe. =)

  • John Sellens

    “Venture capitalists don’t have the longest attention spans in the world.”

    Kleiner Perkins partner Ted Schlein, formerly in charge of
    Java-themed investments, on his firm’s move to create an old-school leveraged buyout fund, The Industry Standard, 10 April 2000

  • John Sellens

    “Venture capitalists don’t have the longest attention spans in the world.”

    Kleiner Perkins partner Ted Schlein, formerly in charge of
    Java-themed investments, on his firm’s move to create an old-school leveraged buyout fund, The Industry Standard, 10 April 2000

  • http://bradleypallen.org Bradley P. Allen

    How about a trade, Terry? I’ll let you have my investors if I can have your invite to Foo Camp. ;-)

  • http://bradleypallen.org/ Bradley P. Allen

    How about a trade, Terry? I’ll let you have my investors if I can have your invite to Foo Camp. ;-)

  • http://jon.es terry

    Hi Neal.

    To answer fully would take too much time, and would be infinitely better done over beer.

    Telling the story well might be part of it. But the story itself is hard to tell, and very hard to summarize quickly (though I am getting better). See http://www.fluidinfo.com/terry/2007/12/01/pushing-back-on-the-elevator-pitch/ for a few more comments on elevator pitches.

    Getting face time has not been a problem at all. That’s due to several things, the most important being having Esther Dyson as an investor.

    Demonstrating progress has been hard. I have a blog post in me on that (and on many other aspects of this process). That’s partly because the project is very ambitious and would take lots of time to build even if I weren’t periodically out trying to raise money.

    Finally, I think the interest has probably always been genuine. The simple truth is that VCs and other investors are just overrun with proposals to consider, meetings to take, etc., and that’s before you factor in the work they have to do on their existing investments or the work they need to do interacting with their investors and raising new funds. It’s a busy busy world, and you’re one of very many. Even when you get a meeting you’re facing odds of roughly 100-1 of being funded, all other things being equal (which of course they’re not).

    I’ll say more in other posts, I hope. Blogging isn’t high on the priority list right now. Humor always is, though :-)

  • http://jon.es/ terry

    Hi Neal.

    To answer fully would take too much time, and would be infinitely better done over beer.

    Telling the story well might be part of it. But the story itself is hard to tell, and very hard to summarize quickly (though I am getting better). See http://www.fluidinfo.com/terry/2007/12/01/pushing-back-on-the-elevator-pitch/ for a few more comments on elevator pitches.

    Getting face time has not been a problem at all. That’s due to several things, the most important being having Esther Dyson as an investor.

    Demonstrating progress has been hard. I have a blog post in me on that (and on many other aspects of this process). That’s partly because the project is very ambitious and would take lots of time to build even if I weren’t periodically out trying to raise money.

    Finally, I think the interest has probably always been genuine. The simple truth is that VCs and other investors are just overrun with proposals to consider, meetings to take, etc., and that’s before you factor in the work they have to do on their existing investments or the work they need to do interacting with their investors and raising new funds. It’s a busy busy world, and you’re one of very many. Even when you get a meeting you’re facing odds of roughly 100-1 of being funded, all other things being equal (which of course they’re not).

    I’ll say more in other posts, I hope. Blogging isn’t high on the priority list right now. Humor always is, though :-)

  • http://kickstand.typepad.com Jordan Mitchell

    Funny analogy. Carrying it forward, what’s important is being the little treasure that totally stands out in the scummy little pond, like the snapping turtle that you tell your friends about, remember the next day and want to go back and see again. Then later, just when you forget about the turtle, other friends tell you about it and you remember how cool it was.

  • http://kickstand.typepad.com/ Jordan Mitchell

    Funny analogy. Carrying it forward, what’s important is being the little treasure that totally stands out in the scummy little pond, like the snapping turtle that you tell your friends about, remember the next day and want to go back and see again. Then later, just when you forget about the turtle, other friends tell you about it and you remember how cool it was.

  • http://aicoder.blogspot.com Neal Richter

    Funny guy! So what do you think the biggest issues for you with fund raising? Telling the story well? Getting face time? Demonstrating progress? Or just finding people who aren’t full of false interest?

  • http://aicoder.blogspot.com/ Neal Richter

    Funny guy! So what do you think the biggest issues for you with fund raising? Telling the story well? Getting face time? Demonstrating progress? Or just finding people who aren’t full of false interest?