Q: Mr. Strauss- I am currently working on creating the next best thing in the online dating community and I am in need of a co-founder who can help me. The goal is to get hundreds of thousands of users. Online dating sites generate nearly $50 million a month, so I figure with the right wingman, this can go a long way. As of now, it is just me working on this project. I have ideas that will blow us through the roof compared to the competition. If this is something you are interested in, please don’t hesitate. Thank you,
A. If you want to know how to not approach a potential investor, partner, or business associate, I direct you to the e-mail above.
1. Do not, ever, approach a potential business partner with just an idea. Thomas Edison said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I could not agree more.
Ideas are a dime a dozen. Great ideas even are a dime a dozen.
Who does not get struck with a great idea now and then? And who has not said, upon seeing some super new product, “I thought of that two years ago!” But did you invent it two years ago? Nope, and that’s the point.
A few years ago I wrote a really fun book (if I do say so myself) called The Big Idea. In it, I shared the back stories of entrepreneurial inventors who not only came up with big ideas (Post-Its, Velcro, the Xerox Machine), but who risked it all to see that idea come to fruition. Without exception, it took years to see that dream become reality. (By the way, if you would like to hear some of these stories, I have condensed them into a lively podcast series of Startup Stories. You can find them here.)
Bottom line – if you haven’t taken the idea seriously enough to put in the time and money to manifest at least some of it, why would you expect anyone else to?
2. Don’t talk about the size of the market. If you ever watch Shark Tank, you know this is the pet peeve of the sharks, Mark Cuban in particular.
Any decent idea will be part of an industry of sufficient size such that it generates millions of dollars a year in revenue.
That’s called the economy.
I would venture to say that just about the only entrepreneur in the past generation who couldn’t make a similar claim was Jeff Bezos, and that’s only because he invented e-commerce.
3. Don’t offer pie-in-the-sky projections: Saying that all one needs to tap into this “$50 million a month” money machine is “the right wingman” is naiveté to the 10th degree. What I told Timothy when I wrote him back, and what I will tell you, is that business partners want to know what you are bringing to the party, aside from your big idea.
Epiphanies don’t pay the bills.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin had a genius idea for a better search engine while students at Stanford. They figured that if they could catalogue and index the web pages (circa 1996) that had the best and most links coming into them, results using their search engine would be more accurate. They worked on that algorithm quite a bit before showing it to angel investor Andy Bechtolsheim. So impressed was Bechtolsheim that he wrote a check on the spot out to “Google Inc.,” (although, fun side note, because Brin and Page had yet to incorporate, they were unable to cash the check for three weeks.)
4. Not knowing to whom you are pitching: Generally speaking, people get involved in businesses in which they have some interest. Want an investor to say no? Pitch an idea outside his or her wheelhouse.
5. Offer no experience: For it to be successful, a partnership has to offer each partner something the other does not have, and again I will say, your big unfulfilled idea rarely is enough to hold up your end of the bargain.
Bottom line: If you want to bring in a partner, remember the famous words from Jerry Maguire:
“You had me at hello”? Ha, no.
“You complete me.” A great partner fills your gaps, and vice versa.