I’m always shocked by emails that I call “I have a dream, but I’m not willing to sacrifice anything for it.” They usually come from people over the age of 40, who often have a pretty good idea, but they aren’t willing to give up anything from their living standard.
They mostly don’t need anything to start their dreamed-of project, except courage. Absolutely nothing, or at worst a twenty grand or so to code an app, which is something they should have saved up, considering their age.
Instead of gathering their courage and undertaking a bit of risk, they come to us and say: “I need a ton of money to hire this many people, so I can get rich and live the life I’ve dreamed of. I do not want to live the corporate life anymore! But of course, I need a paycheck, because I have bills to pay…. now I make $300,000 a year, but I’m willing to go down to $250,000!”
These people usually have an amazing presentation, which they mastered in the corporations where they have worked and where they haven’t been happy (as they all say). Basically, they think we’re here to give them the money. And we often feel the contempt when we reject them, because …. isn’t it unfair that others got money from us and they did not?
In the end, despite the negativity, I love even this part of my work. I gain even more respect for those who were able to build something amazing. Who sacrifice what it takes to make it. Who give up their free time and invest massive energy, while taking on all the risks of starting a business. Those are the ones we welcome with open arms.
One of frequent worries of almost all founders is, how to spend marketing bucks. Where are those proven channels and methods, that will get them the customers and revenues? And I always tell them: Do a thorough checkup of what you have now, what works, and scratch those that do not bring measurable results in the first place.
Let’s start with Google Analytics and sort the visitors sources by number of conversions and analyze them, one by one. Are your AdWords campaigns optimized for value for money? What about the blog you are writing, is it really bringing you the converting customers or is it just an ego-play? Do you really need to visit those 10 conferences in a year? What is your value proposition and how it ranks amongst your competitors? Why are your leaflets on the gloss paper – is that necessary for conversions? And do you need printed leaflets at all? Those are hard questions I ask, and quite often we find lots of money that can be invested elsewhere.
Sometimes it is really just the right question, that was not asked by anyone for some time, that makes a lot of difference.
Marketing is a living thing, it cannot be “set up” and left for good. Especially in the online world it is necessary to analyze, optimize and look for new ways almost constantly. At the same time, marketing also has its own rules and someone with wealth of experience can help you avoid death alleys. We at Reflex do it for free, but it is well worth even paying for if you don’t have the resources yourself.
Once upon a time :), we had an investment. Excellent sector. A bright founder. Let’s call him Karel, who said: “We’re just 6 months from a big investment and we need to bridge the period.” After reaching a deal with Karel, we invested on a convertible loan. The loan had a period of two years, just for case more time would be needed.
6 months went by and there was no big investment. Unfortunately, even the business began to flounder, mostly because Karel couldn’t focus and was constantly “pivoting” (he was into buzzwords of sorts). After a year, without a warning, Karel came and said “the investor is just around the corner” and asked for another loan. He claimed it was a crisis and he needed that overnight to pay salaries! OK, we helped. In order to not complicate his discussions with the investor with another cap table change, we gave the money to him personally and he was to put it into the firm through a personal loan. At least, that was the deal. We didn’t check because we trusted each other. Then his investor talks fell apart, again. Shit happens. After a couple of months, we happened to look at the balance sheet in the reporting. “Hey Karel, where’s the personal loan?” “Well, I decided that’d better for morale when cashflow was tight and so I haven’t put it in yet, but I’d put it in tomorrow, OK?” Hmmmm. Well, OK. Everyone can make a mistake, but we’ll keep our eye on you next time.
The personal loan repayment date arrived. Not a word. “So Karel, should we extend the loan?” we proactively approached him and did it for him. That happened three times. Karel never once contacted us first. Three months before the scheduled repayment of the “big” convertible note, we said: “The convertible loan comes due soon, Karel. You’re probably not going to find a big investor. What do we do?” “Well, we can either extend it or convert it, right?” OK, we can convert it, but for how much? Two weeks prior Karel took on board a small investor using a valuation of $2.5 million, but that’s not the rate he gave us: “I’ll allow you to convert only at a valuation of $6 million, because at 2.5 you’d dilute me too much.” We couldn’t believe our ears. For two years we supported him and we’re going to be three-times worse off than a new investor? “Sorry Karel, but that doesn’t seem fair to us and we don’t want to extend the convertible loan anymore. Do you have another idea?” He didn’t and he stopped communicating.
Three months went by, as did the due dates for both loans. No contact. We’re the ones with the problem, right? So we asked for repayment. He paid and we appreciate that. It’s clear that it wasn’t an easy situation for him. Karel is not a bad person. He bet everything on the company. He’s trying and we wish him success. But we do not want to participate on the project anymore, because we lost trust.
I wouldn’t have written this down, if I didn’t hear Karel calling us “founder unfriendly” recently. I think he should bite his tongue. Karel is the single investment in the entire history of Reflex where we had our convertible loan repaid. And we have a plenty of those, even after due. If there’s a will, there is always a way.