The entrepreneurs are the heroes, not the investors

I pretty much loathed Shark Tank the minute I clapped eyes on it.

Turning some brave entrepreneur’s pitch into entertainment for the masses, delighting when they fumble their lines, with the well-heeled investors sitting next to piles of cash waiting to pile in. Leave me out.

Plus, as was not often known, very few of the so-called ‘deals’ actually went through on that show. Between the moment the programs were filmed and them going to air, often 5 or 6 months had gone by, and the requisite ‘due diligence’ had taken place, and the sharks had lost interest.

OK, understood, you have to do DD, but I know of ‘deals’ that happened on the show, went to air as if they were live – but had been knocked back months earlier. And yet, the same sharks were lauding the deals in the same week it aired, on their socials. As if they were heroes.

All a bit two-faced. The whole show was made to make the ‘talent’ (the sharks) look good. It was all about them. They were the fixtures. The plucky entrepreneurs, giving it ago, were there to be fed to the lions, chewed up and spat out as they pleased. All for our entertainment.

No, for me the heroes, the talent, were always those that were willing to give it a go. Take up a new business idea, and pitch it to the world. Warts and all. Sure, some ideas were a bit silly, not thought through, but it’s easy to pick holes in an early-stage pitch idea. By definition, it’s unproven. That’s the point.

How would you have reacted to the very first pitch for Google (we had loads of search engines, Yahoo had won), Facebook (social media was crowded, MySpace had won), Spotify, Netflix, and the rest?

I remember back in 1999 when we were setting out on our tech startup journey with aussiehome.com, we had a vision of a map-based property search, online, where anybody could see what properties were for sale or rent, anytime, from anywhere. Up til then, you had to wait for the weekend papers, and trawl around the home opens to get an idea of what was for sale or rent.

At the time, we were told we were clearly wrong…

‘Agh, you see, you’re not from around here, mate, where you come from people can’t drive around and see houses, the traffic is so bad. Here in Perth we can drive around easily. The internet’s not going work here.’

What the..?!!

Yep, it’s easy to knock a risk-taker.

I’ve attended more pitch events, been a judge at Startup Weekend, sat at various demo days and angel pitch events, and for me, always, the talent is on the stage, pitching. Good on you for giving it ago.

It’s a bit like standup. You’re exposed, in the spotlight, 5 minutes, and you’re laid bare for everyone to see. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

And yet, there they are during Q&A, the well-heeled, pouring scorn on the pitch, showing off to their mates. Does that make you feel better? More important? How small are you… really?

Those that sit in judgement, be careful. Is a 5-minute pitch the best way to judge a potential investment? You could have a smooth pitcher, with a poor business, come over really well. Likewise, a genius, with the next best thing, may come over poorly, a bit nervous, and be no good at Q&A.

Take them for a coffee, on neutral ground. Buy the blooming coffee, and sit back and listen. Ask probing questions, sure, but generally see how you can help them. Make introductions, open doors, give advice and feedback. Remember how you were helped along the way when you were first starting out. Do likewise.

It might not ‘make great TV’, but an hour spent with a startup founder, should be time well spent.

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If you’re a startup founder, please read this pitch advice. And if you want a coffee, I’d love to hear your story, and see if I can help – do please get in touch.

About the author

Charlie has spent more than 20 years in Perth’s tech and startup sector, firstly as a founder himself, through to exit, and more recently as a writer, advisor and investor. Originally from the UK, Charlie worked in Singapore before arriving in Perth in 1997 to do an MBA at UWA. Graduating as top student in 1999 he set up online real estate business aussiehome.com, running it for 10 years before selling to REIWA, whereupon Charlie ran reiwa.com. In 2013, he moved to Business News to lead their digital transformation as CEO, and then worked for the federal government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program, funding pre-revenue startups and innovative businesses. He now works in an advisory capacity for multiple tech and other businesses, is managing editor of Startup News and co-host of the Startup West podcast. He also writes a column for Business News on startups. Charlie sits on the advisory boards of WA Leaders, TEDxPerth, WAITTA, the Perth Symphony Orchestra, and the full board of Rise Network.

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