Tag Archives: Bill Gates

#STARTUPPROTIP — Inevitability

Last month, I had the good fortune to host a group students from Duke University who had come out to SF & Silicon Valley for their spring break to get exposed to the startup world here.  We ended up at The Counter on California Avenue in Palo Alto, and the folks there at the Counter really took great care of us (topic for another post).

During our time together, one of the students asked me “What exactly are you looking for in the people or the teams you invest in?”  This student then followed it up saying he wanted to understand how what he’d need to do to break-through and gain the attention of an investor despite being just a student.

Now before I go off on my thoughts on this, I’d say that “being just a student” isn’t an obstacle to investment, at least from what I consider the best venture investors.  Benchmark Capital’s Bill Gurley’s recent post, Why Youth Has An Advantage in Innovation & Why You Want To Be A Learn-It-All, illustrates why it’d be a sucker’s bet for venture investors to look past an investment opportunity purely based on the youth of the founder.

Net: if you’re a student and you want to start a company and need to raise money, my view is that you have the same challenges that every other founder faces—you’ve got to build something people want and you’ve got to blast through whichever walls are in your way.

So with the being just a student thing set aside, then to the heart of this guys question, namely, what am I looking for?   If there were 1 single word that I’d site as the thing I’m looking for with the people that I invest in, it’d be this….

Inevitability.

Inevitability means that no obstacle will be too large.  Inevitability means you have a vision of where the world can go that you see, and that you’re the unstoppable force to get the world to buy in to that world.  Inevitability is about focusing on not stopping until you get any number of commitments that are needed—the code written, the product shipped, the customer sold, the investor closed.  Inevitability.

When I think about the many CEOs we are actively working with at BlueRun Ventures, we see different personalities.   Some are very technical, some business driven, some both.  Some are extroverted, others are introverted.  Whatever, there really isn’t a template in my view, different folks thrive at running different types of companies.

But a common thread that I definitely see is a push that drives for inevitability.

So don’t worry about whether you’re still a college student or whether you’re even in college.  (Believe me, having a college degree does not correlate to startup success, just ask Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Michael Dell.)   But do worry about how much inevitability you are driving in your business effort.

 

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StartupProTip: Don’t Punch Your Customer

I was speaking to an exec at one of our portfolio companies recently. We were talking about selling, and he recounted an experience where he’d seen a sales person basically tell a prospect, “I have very close relationships with [your 2 main competitors.” Came out like a punch in the nose to the account, a strange way to start a conversation!

We talk a lot in this industry about how we need to listen to customers, walk in the shoes of users, etc. In the context of selling, this takes a whole deeper level of focus and attention to detail. Having the insight to realize that your customer might spend his/her days fighting a key competitor is important, and your role as a sales person is to help the customer in front of you achieve her goals: which could well include putting her competitor out of business.

Anyway, this story reminded me of an experience early in my Microsoft experience. I worked on the team that launched Windows 2000. This launch targeted businesses and IT—we were coming out with a desktop OS as well as an entire line up of Windows Server offerings. One of my responsibilities was to get customer testimonials and case studies teed up for Bill Gates’ keynote at our launch. This included producing videos, which we did of ADP, NASDAQ, Continental, CSFB and the ESPN X-games (a fun filming experience!).

I also had to find a high profile CIO that we could invite onstage with Bill to talk briefly about plans to migrate and deploy Windows 2000. I built a target hit list of companies to approach, and after some discussions, we landed on General Motors’ CIO, Ralph Segunda, as the on-stage testimonial to have with Bill Gates.

Landing this took some work. In addition to several conference calls, I flew to Detroit at least twice to sell the idea in to the GM PR and tech teams. We got their commitment to have the GM CIO on stage, and then I shifted in to nailing the logistics of getting him to and from San Francisco for the event that we were holding at the Moscone Center.

As I recall, the GM team flew to SFO via a corporate plane, and I had to nail all other elements of their visit. I wanted this to be perfect and I took the initiatve to just pull out all the stops, make sure everything was done with military precision.

I called Boston Coach and had a set of Town Cars ready on the tarmac to bring them to the hotel.

I got them rooms at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, so that the accommodations were top notch.

I ordered gift baskets. I hand-wrote thank you notes for each of the gift baskets. I was waiting at the Ritz for their arrival, so that everything was perfect….

They arrived at the Ritz precisely on time, and the team walked in. My VIP and most of the GM entourage kind of brushed by me with ashen, grumpy looks on their faces: something was wrong, very wrong. I blanched and wracked my brain as to what might have been a problem. I finally peeled off one fo the GM folks from the group, a guy I’d built a good relationship with.

Says me, “Hey, is everything alright? It looks like there’s a problem.”

Guy pulls me aside, whispers, “You picked us up in a fleet of LINCOLNS.”

Lightbulb.

Of course.

I’d basically punched a team of GM execs in the face with that, wouldn’t have occurred to me in a year to have covered that angle.

Happily, the Ritz Carlton concierge was able to find us a town car service that only ran GM Cadillacs.  Visit saved.

Don’t punch your customer.

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