"Not the only fool" Theory for Startups

21st Sep 2012
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Let me start with a quote from William Shakespeare:
The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

Think about it for a second. Now you know why it is easy to find so many "wise" people around. There are lot of wise people in our startup world too.

Most investors think they are very wise. Much wiser than founders. Thats why you get boat loads of free advice. They know how a startup should be run, what kind of people should a startup hire, how much money one should raise, what should be the valuation, what should be the pricing, what a Minimum Viable Product should look like, etc. The investors know it all.

But when it comes to investing and putting in money, everybody becomes a fool. Not any ordinary fool though - a wise fool. A wise fool is someone who does not want to be the only fool at the table. Some observations:

  • Most VCs would happily syndicate on any deal unless it’s a pre-IPO kind of a deal. Pick up the history of companies funded to date and you would find more than one VC in any significant round. Looks like they dont believe in their own decisions.
  • Investment partners and Analysts do their research to find out if a similar idea has been funded previously by someone in some geography. At least then they know that some other fool invested money in a similar thing before and it did well.

-Government agencies (you know all the names) would never lead an investment round. They are happy to follow if you can find a lead investor. Yes, they need someone else to blame if it doesn't do well.

How to deal with these wise fools? There is no work around. Make their "research" easier: give them names along with the names of previous "fools". When raising money, start talking to multiple VCs simultaneously. The more interest you can gather, the easier it becomes to find a "lead" fool.

The same theory applies to founders as well. Most founders are wise enough to be working on the "safe" ideas. Ideas that have been hashed many times before by some fools who turned out to be wise. Not many dare to be the fool. But if we don't have these fools, we will never produce novel ideas and business models.

And, this theory doesn't just apply to investors and founders. It applies to customers too. The business of buying Facebook Likes and Twitter Fans is not just for fun. There is some serious human psychology in there. It is naturally easier to join a queue than to start a queue. You don't agree with me? Run an experiment by yourself: Go to a daily deal site immediately after they have posted a deal. You see "0 bought so far". Close the site and login few hours later to see "300 bought so far". Do you see any change in your willingness to click on the "Buy" button?

Concluding tip for Founders: Be the fool and look for fools. Once you have them, it is very easy to get wise fools on board.

About the Author :

Piyush Chaplot is VP-Finance & Investments at www.innosightventures.com and is based in Singapore. You can subscribe to his blog at www.piyushchaplot.com or follow him on twitter @piyushchaplot


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