I recently went to TiEcon, and I was invited to participate in the Entrepreneur-Bazaar. This is basically speed-dating with entrepreneurs. I have done this kind of thing before, with Right Hand Partners, among others, and I find it a relatively useful way to see a lot of opportunities in a short time. And, just like Malcolm Gladwell says in Blink, I usually make up my mind in the first few minutes anyway.
Of course, sometimes they are not very well qualified, and I often see many ideas that aren’t fully fleshed out, but I also have a short period of time to give feedback in person, which is much more satisfying than reading a business plan and tossing it out while muttering to myself. And, I’d like to think, helpful to the entrepreneurs too. It can be very hard, giving constructive feedback to an enthusiastic and earnest entrepreneur who thinks he will change the world – sort of like telling a mother her baby is ugly. And sometimes I chicken out, and give some platitude like “my partners just didn’t like it”. But usually I try to give honest feedback, both positive and negative, because I don’t want people to waste their lives working at something based on a false impression that I think it’s a good idea. Not that I would have that much influence, but I don’t even want to contribute to that.
One interesting thing I learned from Blink is that people often can’t explain why they came to an on-the-spot conclusion about something, and if pressed, will often make up reasons that aren’t really true. I try hard to be conscious about why I am passing up an investment opportunity, and to be genuine in my feedback. I am also always trying to refine my “filter” with actual feedback, so I try to research what happens to deals that I didn’t like (and even the ones I like), and take an honest look at if my opinions had any basis in reality. Of course, most deals don’t get funded, so I’ll never know.
For entrepreneurs, there is one piece of advice I suggest you take away from this post: ask for feedback, and try hard to listen to it. If you don’t ask, or even insist, you probably won’t get real feedback. And if you start objecting to the feedback you get, or trying to “answer” it, you won’t get much more. I always have much more respect for entrepreneurs who are willing to listen open-minded to constructive feedback.