Claiming false starts instead of pushing through slow starts
How you can use false starts to take ownership of your career narrative – rather than trying to push forward after a slow start
Lately I’ve been finding that a lot of the fundraising coaching I do with founders applies to other parts of entrepreneurial careers.
When I coach founders on fundraising, I show them how to cultivate momentum and interest from investors before they start fundraising, so once they start, they have strong momentum out of the gate and can close their round as quickly as possible (good deals can close within 4 weeks). This requires a lot of pre-work to craft a compelling narrative, build relationships with super-connectors and investors, and even getting a few checks in the bank – all before officially “starting” to fundraise.
A lot of founders have the same reaction when I walk them through this. They express concern because they’ve already started fundraising and are in conversation with investors, but haven’t done the sufficient pre-work to build pre-emptive momentum. They find themselves in a position where they’re in conversation with a few investors, but they’re unable to cultivate a sense of urgency without genuine momentum.
Essentially, they’re off to a slow start with their fundraise.
Their first instinct for course correction is a natural one – since they got off to a slow start, just try to speed up. They want to keep pushing on the investors who are stringing them along while adding new investors to the pipeline.
While this can sometimes work, it’s not the best course of action. The truth is that investors want to participate in deals that are both desirable and that they have an edge on their competitors to get into.
Desirable deals are are not available for long. Therefore if a founder is off to a slow start with their fundraise, the clock is ticking. The longer they’re in the market, their deal is going to be perceived as less desirable. If it was a good deal, wouldn’t people have invested sooner? Also, if it’s clear that the founder is pushing hard and talking to a lot of investors, then investors won’t feel like they have an opportunity to snatch up a rare, competitive deal.
So my advice to founders who find themselves in this situation – where they’ve gotten off to a slow start – is to resist the temptation to push harder and try to manifest success by acting like everything is going well. Instead, take control of your narrative and call it a false start. I tell them to acknowledge that they started these conversations prematurely. Tell investors that they’re in conversations with that they’re actually going back under the hood to work on the business to hit certain milestones before the raise. This turns all of the investors that were stringing them along back into warm leads for their upcoming raise. They can then continue nurturing these relationships while they prepare for a more prepared fundraise process.
By owning a false start, founders are no longer fundraising and put themselves back into a position of strength as they’re no longer asking for money. In as little as a month, after getting more prepared to run an efficient fundraise, they can then start again and come out of the gates with more momentum. By claiming a false start, resetting, and re-starting their fundraise with momentum from a position of strength, they usually end up raising a round far faster (and with better terms) than they would have if they just kept pushing.
Claiming a false start during a fundraise is far better than trying to push through a slow start. I’ve been finding that this advise is applicable to parts of entrepreneurial careers beyond fundraising. You can claim false starts, retool, and come back out of the gates from a position of strength with strong momentum.
If we zoom out from the fundraising process and look at the overall founder journey, we can find a higher level example: going full-time on startups that aren’t taking off after a year.
Sometimes, founders will go full-time on their side projects with the hopes of turning it into a big business, and they do so without having raised money from investors, having strong traction from customers, or without attracting a strong founding team. After a year, founders can find themselves in a difficult position where despite their initial excitement that prompted them to go full-time on their venture, they’re struggling to get “out of the garage.”
Founders in this position find themselves at a very important fork in the road – one similar to founders who prematurely started fundraising. Their first option is to call the venture a false start, kill it or relegate it to a side project, and get a full-time gig doing something else. The second option is to stay in the trenches and continue building it for another year or so without much validation.
Just like with fundraising, the longer you’re building something without the market (investors or customers) giving it validation, the harder it gets. I’ve seen founders end up spending 3+ years building startups that never receive external investment, customer traction, or new team members that can help give it a real shot. This is a really difficult position to find yourself. It’s extremely emotionally taxing, and it can be a negative signal to future employers who will question the experience and skills you gained in working for yourself for 3+ years. They may even question your judgement and competence for not having achieved more with your startup.
On the other hand, calling something a false start after a year of trying shows both entrepreneurial appetite and strong judgement. It also gives founders a chance to gain more ownership of their narrative. Rather than being in a place where your personal finances or other factors made the decision to get a “real job” for you, you can create a narrative where you made the decision to wrap it up and move on.
I mentioned earlier that a fundraising founder who owns their false start usually ends up raising a round faster than the founder who tries to speed up after a slow start. This can be true of entrepreneurs building their own ventures too. An entrepreneur – who calls it quits on their startup after a year, works somewhere else for 18 months before starting another startup – will likely find startup success sooner than the entrepreneur who decides to just keep pushing indefinitely on their first venture despite a slow start and very little validation.
Claiming false starts can work across many things in careers. From job searches, to side projects, and everything in between. Rather than having things in your career which are are pitter-pattering along slowly where it feels like you’re pushing a boulder up a hill, you can claim false starts, retool, and come back out of the gates from a position of strength with strong momentum.