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The Startup Ecosystem Here Sucks. Sure…

Darius was previously the founding CEO of tenCube (acquired by McAfee). He is investor in Neoteny, JFDI, Crittercism, Astrid, LoveWithFood, Frenzoo, PlayMoolah, Stickery and DailyMus.es. He is currently planning world domination and looking for partners in crime.


optimist

Recently someone asked me: “What do you think is really lacking in Singapore’s ecosystem, except the obvious, like seed investment?”

ORLY? It’s kinda funny, since I just happened to be chatting with early stage investors who were complaining that there are not enough good companies to fund.

The truth is that there’s always money. Sure, startup money is harder to get in some places compared to others, but there is always money.


Are you a waiter or a doer?


You have heard it a thousand times, let me repeat the cliché again, because it’s true – investors don’t invest in ideas, they invest in people. The fact that an entrepreneur spends even a second talking about the ecosystem is the first signal that maybe they someone who waits for things to happen.

Too many startups daydream about becoming overnight paper millionaires, Silicon Valley style. Real entrepreneurs don’t romanticize, and they don’t wait – the state of the ecosystem doesn’t matter.

Sure the ecosystem has real influence in the speed and outcome of a venture, which is why many teams would still rather be in YCombinator or 500Startups. But real hustlers don’t waste energy thinking about things they can’t influence and instead focus on getting what they want in the fastest possible way – and that sure isn’t whining about the ecosystem.

Don’t give up just because investors rejected you. Investors are never completely closed to an investment opportunity even if they pass initially. The most impressive of entrepreneurs will go out and get shit done anyway and come back with kickass results even without funding. (If you can’t get shit done without money, you can’t be trusted with more money). The same business idea would look completely different when you start to get traction. Trust me; it is more fun when you get investors licking your boots to put in money. Don’t be a waiter, be a doer.


Product-Market Fit


Your startup is a product and your investors are buyers – they are buying an investment opportunity. This is why you shouldn’t be discouraged when you get rejected by an investor. Just like your product is not for everyone, your company is not for everyone. It doesn’t necessarily mean your startup sucks, it could just mean that the investor is not the right one for you.

But if all the investors in your envisioned target market reject you, you might want to rethink either what you are doing or where you should look for money. For example, raising money for an ice-hockey social network in India is kinda stupid – you might want to do cricket instead or move to Canada. True story.

(Pro tip: often investors, especially angel investors without LPs, invest for more than ROI reasons, it might be to support a social cause they believe in, or to get bragging rights. Don’t forget to capitalize on that).


Bite like a dog


okay-man

Raising money is a sales activity. There have been so many pitches I’ve listened to that when the investor said “No,” the startups just walk away defeated and said, “OK….”

Just like in sales, if your ideal customer doesn’t buy, you go after them until you figure out why. There should be only one of two outcomes in a sales engagement – you understand why your product-customer fit is wrong, or you turn it around and make a sale.

Far too many startups walk away from a failed pitch and lament, “Oh the investors don’t have the balls for this,” or some other rant. Well, that may be true, but it doesn’t help you, does it? Instead, your burning question should be: why aren’t they buying it and how do I fix it? If it involves biting the investor like a dog until you get an answer, one that you truly understand and can act upon, do it. Go ahead and pick up the phone, ask for a lunch meeting, whatever!

Pro tip: investors, especially in Asia, may be polite and reject you with some lameass excuse like “you are too early” – but don’t take that at face value, go get the real feedback. Rub their ego by asking them to coach you. Be sincere, be authentic, be persistent!

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