A healthy dose of ingratiation can be as important as a great business plan.
Institutions may be tip-toeing back into the equity markets, but as far as entrepreneurs are concerned, lenders are hunkered down and investors have fled the scene. Only the safest, no-brainer ideas--if those--are attracting new money.
What does this Head Coach know about raising money? Only this one critical, if somewhat unsettling, fact: Financiers (venture capitalists, angel investors, commercial bankers and the like) are more likely to get behind a young company headed by an entrepreneur whose personality appeals to them than one run by someone with whom they don't connect.
While a spiffy M.B.A. can still carry the day in corporate America, entrepreneurs must rely on a host of intangibles to get their dreams funded--and that means doing something that goes against their grain: They must be learn how to be ingratiating.
Now, you might assume that because entrepreneurs have a penchant for breaking rules and thinking about the world in unconventional ways they should have little trouble fudging some of the more superficial aspects of their characters. Wrong.
Ingratiation is no cakewalk for entrepreneurs because they are so solidly wedded to their convictions. Indeed, the desire to prove them out runs as deep as the need for air and water.
Moreover, entrepreneurs' drive to prove they are smarter than everyone (particularly the critics they cannot forgive or forget) makes compromising their values and convictions seem not only wholly disingenuous but also threatening to their senses of self. Sometimes, that "I can do the job" confidence is so intense that investors run the other way.
I'm here to help entrepreneurs smooth those edges a bit while not feeling like they've compromised their values. What's worse, after all: a little harmless schmoozing, or not getting what you came for?
Visit The Forbes.com Digg ChannelIngratiation--the deliberate effort to create a good impression with others--gets a bad rap; far too many people confuse it with pandering, sucking-up, even conning. There is nothing deceitful about ingratiation--it is merely strategic self-presentation designed to veil (not deny) personality traits that might chafe or offend. In short: Don't sweat it.
How, exactly, to ingratiate yourself with investors (or anyone else in business, for that matter)? Having a winning demeanor is nice, but there's more to it than that. Here are four basic principles to keep in mind.
1. Enthusiasm over narcissism. Express yourself through your passion for your business. Talk about your dreams for changing the world and making money, not about how smart you think you are. (This isn't easy for ego-suffused entrepreneurs.) If a venture capitalist wanted to buy a brain, he'd go shopping at the appropriate university. Also, not all brainiacs make good leaders--and that's what professional investors are looking for.
2. Demonstrate that you are coachable. Nobody likes a pushover, but being able to take direction, or at least a suggestion or two, goes a long way. Don't be afraid to tell investors that you need their help and are hungry to learn. Remember: Investors have egos, too. They don't want to be mere moneybags--they want to be heard. They are also smart enough to know that entrepreneurs abhor structure and bureaucracy, so assuring them that you are open to a bit of direction will set you apart.
3. Project equanimity. Spouting state-of-the-art management techniques isn't nearly as impressive as demonstrating a high "emotional IQ"--specifically, the ability to think calmly and temper your emotions during crunchtime. Young, growing companies deal with plenty of turmoil--investors want to know that you won't cave under the pressure.
4. Let them know you will put the business first. Running your own business may well be your way of filling some psychological void, even cleansing yourself of failures past. Whatever you do, don't let investors in on all that. Make sure they know that you will always put what's right for the business ahead of your own emotional needs. The moment you come off as high-maintenance is the moment investors stow away their checkbooks.
Dr. Steven Berglas spent 25 years on the faculty of Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry. Today, he coaches entrepreneurs, executives and other high-achievers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.