Being a good steward of capital is the only metric that matters.
As an early stage investor, I have only one meaningful metric: a good steward of capital.
We do lots of due diligence, dig through endless agreements, check references, review contracts, and look at countless details. But in the end, we are trying to assess whether an entrepreneur will be a good steward of capital.
Being a good steward of capital means making good decisions. But what makes a decision ‘good’?
It starts and ends with doing what you say you will do.
I have had poor experiences with several entrepreneurs over the last few weeks.
One CEO scheduled a meeting with us, but wound up taking a video call from his car. As he drove, his connection would come in and out, and he was only partially paying attention.
Another CEO scheduled a video call, separately confirmed the time, and showed up 20 minutes late. This CEO said he was sorry, but it was the second time he was knowingly late.
Both of these meetings were about providing capital for their companies. They were asking me to invest.
They were asking me to trust them with capital.
And neither bothered showing up when they said they would.
Time is your most valuable asset. If you cannot manage time well, how can you manage money?
Showing up is more than dialing it in.
How you present yourself in a meeting says a lot about what you think about yourself and what you think about the other person.
For every video call I do from home, I always take a shower, comb my hair, and put on nice clothes.
I do this to show respect to the other person, and that I value their time as much as my own. It also helps me to sit up straight and have a good attention span to focus on the other person.
The first CEO who took a car ride during our video call could not even be bothered to pull over where there was a good signal. Eventually, his call was dropped and one of his subordinates on the phone had to take over and cover for him. He did not even bother to try to reconnect.
To show up for a meeting means to be prepared.
I set aside time to prepare for every call, especially first time calls with entrepreneurs. And many times, those entrepreneurs have done the same.
I will get copies of an entrepreneur’s patents and often download the entire prosecution history from the USPTO. I will know, for example, if they have changed patent attorneys mid-stream or if their patents have terminal disclaimers on them.
Typically, I ask for patent numbers before our first call. Armed with just one patent number, I can find out lots of interesting information – including whether they might be a good candidate for an IP-backed loan. This dramatically changes how the first conversation will go.
Many times, entrepreneurs will tell me that they have watched my videos or read my blog posts ahead of time. Some may have even read my book. I am always flattered – and I always go out of my way to help these people.
The key to watching my videos, reading blog posts, or other preparation is that the entrepreneur has heard my voice and knows what to expect. We are already down the road to friendship and cooperation before we even pick up the phone.
Showing up for a meeting means give it your full attention.
My personal technique is to take copious notes during a meeting. Especially when I am tired and at the end of a long day, taking notes helps me focus on what the other person is saying.
It is very easy to drop the video feed and surf the internet while someone is talking. Looking into someone’s eyes in a video call is not nearly as effective as being in person, but it communicates a lot.
My computer system has two large monitors with a camera between them. If I get going looking at something on one screen and then another, it looks like I am looking all over and not paying attention. I try to avoid this by having all my preparation on one screen.
Showing up is just common courtesy.
It is easy to fall into a trap where we see the computer screen but forget that there are real people on the other end of our conversation. Sometimes we forget that our appearance and our behavior is being watched, especially when we have the video camera running.
My advice: treat every interaction through the computer just like you would an in-person, face-to-face meeting. Dress appropriately, prepare yourself, and treat the other person with the common courtesy that you would expect.