Not yet a good bet

sprout

Yesterday, I wrote about my new goal to be more open on this blog. This means being more personal about my own strengths/weaknesses, delving deeper into my own psyche, and writing more about what I am actually doing on my enterpreneurial journey. It will make blogging more cathartic for myself, and should hopefully make a better read for you.

Here is an example of what I mean.

Earlier, I wrote about securing investment from others. The main idea behind that post was that in order to secure investment from others, you must seem like a good bet.  The problem is that you won’t always seem like a good investment. In those circumstances, the only thing you can do is bet on yourself. With time (and of course with working smart), you will eventually become a good bet.

If I look at that blog post, it sounds interesting in theory. The problem is that it is abstract. If you read between the lines, you will see what I was trying to get at. But, to make things easier, I could just come out and say it.

What I meant to say is:

I am not yet a good bet. But I hope that one day I will be.

Specifically, I speak in terms of startups. I am not yet a good bet for seed or angel funding. I know this because if I was looking at myself from an outside perspective, I wouldn’t invest.

In startups, a good investment seems like it has some sort of unfair advantage. There are several ways you could have an unfair advantage, and I don’t meet any of them. Here are what I can come up with:

  • Experience: Founders or early employees with a success under their belt have valuable experience. It gives them an unfair advantage compared to most, and it is no wonder why some of these people can raise on simply an idea. Guess what? I have no experience in startups. Zero points for me.
  • Team: You hear about team all the time. An experienced team is the best. If they aren’t experienced, a few super smart friends who have banded together may also be a good bet. It isn’t surprising that accelerators prefer teams. The bad news is that I am a inexperienced solo founder at the moment. Again, zero points.
  • Market insight: This is another form of experience. Even if I have no experience in startups, if I had deep knowledge about my niche, that would give me an unfair advantage; one that may be worth betting on. My area of expertise is in computer architecture, and now I am building a social media web app. Those aren’t the same thing: zero points.
  • Traction: If there is one thing that trumps everything else, it is traction. If doesn’t matter who you are. If you go to a VC with massive traction in a big market, you will be probably be a good bet. I have no traction.

Let’s check out my total score: zip.. zero.. zilch. This is why I am not yet a good bet.

So, I’m doing the one thing that I can do: investing in myself.

21 months ago, I quit an industry research job and jumped into the deep end. I picked up front-end and back-end web programming. I’ve dabbled in product design. I’ve built and scrapped three different products along the way. I’ve played with different consumer web apps and studyed them to figure out why they are great (or why they aren’t). I’ve spent a good amount of time on Hacker News, reddit, USV.com, etc. I’ve been blogging to develop my own thoughts. And, I’ve been slowly building a network of founders and operators. Through this time, I’ve been living off of savings, which obviously won’t last forever.

To be honest, I haven’t gotten far. But I still feel good about myself because I have learned a whole hell of a lot. I can feel the growth. Yes, there is a lot more to do, but progress matters.

I’m like a tiny sprout in the middle of the forest. Around me are the giant redwoods; the Googles and the Amazons. They dominate the forest, and are impossible to miss. Some are smaller, but still difficult to miss: the AirBnbs, Dropboxes, Pinterests, and Tumblrs. And even smaller, you see all the saplings. They aren’t huge, but they have grown a good bit, and show potential. These might be worth investing in.

But the sprouts? They are tiny. As an outside observer, there isn’t much you can do with all of the sprouts. You can’t really see them unless you look close. And if you look close, they are everywhere. Which one would you bet on?

As a sprout, the only thing you can do is (1) remember that everyone started as a sprout, and (2) give yourself the chance to grow.

So that is where I stand.

I am not yet a good bet. But with time, I think that one day I will be. Hopefully, it comes sooner than later. My savings won’t last forever.

Securing investment from others

An important part of building large scalable startups is securing investment money. The cash infusion is important because it allows you to grow much faster than you would normally be able to grow. In winner-take-all markets, this can be the difference between success and failure.

Securing investment isn’t just for startups.

When you get hired for a job, it essentially means that your job is making an investment in you. Your boss has decided to place a certain amount of money in your direction, with the expectation that the cash investment will pay off in the future.

You could make a loose analogy with relationships also. They say time is money right? Time can often be more valuable than money, since you can never get time back. When someone decided to spend time with you, they are investing their time with you. The expectation is that the time is well spent, and that there is some type of reward/benefit for them. Relationships don’t always work this way, but I would argue that a great two-way relationship does: both people invest their time in each other, and both people help each other grow.

Securing outside investment can be a scary thing. It isn’t your decision. Someone else makes the decision to invest in you.

In order for someone to invest in you, you much either (1) be a good investment, or (2) seem like a good investment.

Both strategies will work, except that (1) will produce long-term benefits for the investor, and (2) will most likely will never produce any type of benefit. What follows seems clear. You should shoot to be (1). Be a good investment. With (2), you are just duping people, and it will never work out for you in the long run.

How do you become a good investment?

You can hope for friends and family to invest because they care about you, but at the beginning, the only person to who can definitely invest in you is YOU. You may not have money, but you have your own time. And, with that time, you can choose where you place your attention, what you learn, and what you do.

When you have developed yourself enough (emotionally, physically, mentally, tactically, etc.), you will simply BE a good investment. And when you are a good investment, you just be yourself, tell the truth, and it should’t be hard to get outside investment.

What are you after? VC money? The job? That awesome girl or guy?

Become a good investment, and you will get what you deserve.