The Power of Commitments & Deadlines

(twentieth in a series)

By Frank Demmler

If you’re like me, and regretfully, a number of you are, you always have more things to do than time to get them done.  Like me, I’m guessing that deadlines (urgency, in Stephen Covey’s vernacular) drive what you do way too often as compared to priorities (importance).

For example, I’m writing this article Sunday afternoon because I know Steve Czetli is patiently (?) waiting for it so he can publish Monday’s issue of TechyVent.  I should have done it earlier, because this is important to me, but things kept on interfering, so now I sit here in urgency mode.

Enough about me, let’s talk about you.

What’s Important?

I hope that some of you have benefited from these weekly columns.  I hope that many of you feel that you’ve learned something, and that somewhere along the line, you may have had an “Ah, ha!” moment, as in, “Ah, ha! Now I get it!”

Further, I’m going to assume [One of my two least favorite words in entrepreneurial settings; the other one being, “interest.”] that raising money for your venture is IMPORTANT to you.  If that “assumption” is accurate, then my question to you is, “What have you taken from this series of articles and applied to your business and fund raising efforts?”

If you’re like many of the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with, the answer is probably, “It’s in my To Do stack and I’ll work on it when I can get to it.  After all, I’ve got a business to run here.”

Sound familiar?  As they say, “When you’re up to you’re a__ in alligators, it’s hard to remember that you’re in there to drain the swamp.”

For many of you, though, resolving your fund raising strategy and implementing it is critical to your ability to “drain the swamp.”

You may not need, or want, outside capital, and that’s fine and probably the right decision for many of you. Have you considered the implications of organic growth and the constraints of growing without external capital? Have you considered the alternatives, including raising outside capital and made an informed and intentional decision that you are going to go it alone? If so, good for you.

If you haven’t done that analysis and come to that conclusion, then you need to go through that exercise and make a commitment to it.

If, on the other hand, you know that you will need access to some outside capital, then you’ve got to make that a priority and act upon it.  If not, you’re running at a cliff (running out of cash), and you’re going to go running right over the edge!

I know, I know.  You’re thinking that this sounds good in theory, but it’s next-to-impossible to make happen in practice. Not so, dear reader, and I will share my solution to this conundrum with you.

Your Mentors & Advisors

Throughout this series, I have closed almost every column with the advice that you need to surround yourself with people who will help you level the playing field when you are trying to raise money. Well, if you do the job right, and engage these individuals with the respect and consideration they deserve, they can play an essential role in helping you to get the right things done on time.

While the full scope of a constructive relationship with such individuals is the topic for a complete column, in the context of today’s discussion, suffice it to say that you need to communicate with your advisors with a certain amount of frequency and occasional direct personal interaction.

If so, they are likely to see the “big picture” even better than you, who’s “up to his a__ in alligators.” They can bring a perspective to your situation that can help you identify and prioritize the important issues that need to be addressed.  The can help you determine the activities that must be completed.

NOW COMES THE IMPORTANT PART, you need to make a commitment to them that you will get certain tasks done by a certain date!  It’s that simple. If you are going to be a successful entrepreneur, your integrity must be above reproach.  You have an inner compass (stealing metaphors from Covey, again) that won’t let you go back on your word.  If you make a commitment, you will keep that it.

How this applies to fund raising

Deadlines for investor presentations can be extraordinarily beneficial for entrepreneurs. Such deadlines create urgency.  They force you to resolve some of those fuzzy issues that are floating around in your head.  They make you consider what your audience wants to hear, how to present it, and to prepare responses to their anticipated questions.

This is a very real phenomenon.  At the Enterprise Corporation of Pittsburgh, we had a program called the Private Investor Group [the acronym was an intention inside joke].  Virtually every month, Tom Canfield and I would help an entrepreneurial venture prepare to make a presentation to a group of private investors.

By virtue of having to get prepared for the presentation, it’s my estimate that the entrepreneurs gained orders of magnitude of sophistication and appreciation during the six weeks leading up to the presentation.

Over the last two years of the Enterprise Corporation, 17 out of 22 presenters were able to raise funds, many as a direct result of the presentation and its preparation. This success is not a coincidence!

If you have an opportunity to present to a group of investors in virtually any venue, do it!  You may not raise money as a direct result, but you will significantly raise the probability that you will raise money eventually.

Commitments and deadlines will contribute significantly to your fund raising prospects.

Note: InnovationWorks sponsors the successors to these efforts, Southwestern Pennsylvania Angel Network (SPAN), for its portfolio companies, and co-sponsors LifeSPAN that focuses on entrepreneurial ventures in the life sciences arena with the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse. Go to the InnovationWorks website for more information, or contact Matt Harbaugh, Director of External Finance at InnovationWorks.

Advice to entrepreneurs

1.     Make important things urgent, so you can assure that you will get them done.

2.     Make commitments to your advisors and mentors, and live up to them.

3.     If you’re given the opportunity to pitch your deal, DO IT!

4.     Build a network of mentors, advisors, professionals, and entrepreneurs who have “been there and done that.”

Frank Demmler (fd0n@andrew.cmu.edu) is Adjunct Teaching Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University. (http://web.gsia.cmu.edu/display_faculty.aspx?id=168)