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5 Things Every Entrepreneur Needs From Investors Right Now

What does a founder need from their investors in these harrowing times? I have five suggestions ...

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If I hadn’t lived it, I would think my life story was lifted from the pages of a Horatio Alger story. 

It began with me sleeping on a dog eaten mattress in Queens, hawking flowers on street corners, handbags at flea markets and scraping gum from tables at McDonald’s. Until I was 26, I spent many nights on the curb of different emergency rooms, suffocating as the walls closed in while my mother waited hours to see a doctor. Again.

Even though we were penniless, a belief as priceless as it was indestructible slowly took root inside me. My beginning was not going to dictate my end. Anything could happen in this great country if you could conjure three magical ingredients: a vision for your life, a plan to achieve it, and the will to pursue it. 

I owe my entire career to a flick of a pen that became a domino. I needed to change our lot before my mother ran out of time, so I defied all the conventional wisdom in the world – and signed myself out of high school at 16. A high school dropout. The plan was to double my measly $5 an hour salary working at a deli by being able to put ‘college student’ on job applications. I discovered there was no rule prohibiting a student from enrolling in college before their high school class graduated as long as they did well enough on their GED. My guidance counselor at the time warned me I would be branded a “loser forever.” My science teacher predicted an inglorious career flipping burgers at McDonald’s. But I had a vision, a plan, and the will to execute it. 

After seven grueling years of taking classes at night at Queens College, working two jobs, I enrolled in Fordham Law. By 26, I achieved escape velocity out of poverty when I was named the youngest press secretary in NYC history. My mother would never benefit, as she died at 10 a.m. my first morning on the job.

Her death taught me another painful lesson about life:

Do not wait! Do not waste another minute on this earth because it may be your last, and you don’t want to spend your dying breath regretting that you never took your shot.

Fast forward two decades later, I’ve gone from a high school dropout to teaching at Harvard Business School. From sitting on the couch watching Mark Cuban on Shark Tank to becoming a Recurring Shark alongside him. From imagining I was an NFL quarterback as a kid to becoming a Vice Chairman of the Dolphins. 

I get asked one simple question over and over: 

How? 

My newsletter is my attempt to answer that question. It’s titled with an admittedly suspect word – Manifestors. So we’re all on the same page here, I propose a definition: someone with the ability to glimpse the future and the gumption to summon everything in and around them to manifest that vision. Someone who can chart a path on a distant horizon. No compass. No lights. Relying on just intuition, pattern recognition and street smarts. In the beginning, their far-fetched prognostications always encounter resistance, even revulsion – that is, until an amorphous land mass in the distance begins to take shape and the first farsighted believers scream, ‘Land ahoy’! Naturally occurring manifestors are such a rare breed. Most of us dream big but can’t execute, while many thrive on executing another’s vision but are lost without a map. 

With a virus laying waste to the world, the future belongs to the manifestors who can toggle between fantasy and reality, the world as it was and how it should be. 

In this newsletter, we will cover the strategies to thrive in this new world order, to live a life of perpetual growth – and become the manifestor you were meant to be.  

We begin with an open letter to the investors who will finance the next wave of manifestors. I start here because we all need believers to get our ideas off the ground, and to stick with us when we falter. We are in such a period, perhaps on the precipice of the greatest correction since the Great Depression. Tremendous innovation will be forged in this fire. And investors will play an important role in bringing those innovations to the fore – if they don’t panic and screw it all up. So it is to them I dedicate the first newsletter:  

 Dear investors,

I know it’s painful to watch your investments cut in half over night, or worse, crumble to ashes. But imagine if you didn’t just have money into a business, but your entire life. Your savings. Your kids’ missed soccer practices. Your retirement. Your identity. Your self worth. Gone in an instant. 

So what does a founder need from their investors in these harrowing times? Five suggestions:  

1) Begin and end every conversation with: How can I help youAn operator exists in the fog of war and cannot see further than their hand. They must deal with the immediate crisis arriving in percussion waves. Lengthen their supply lines by forecasting distant threats or needs. Take responsibility for organizing government aid, unemployment issues, business interruption insurance – so your CEO can stay focused on the front lines.  

 2) Grab a shovel and dig a ditch. We have enough generals; small businesses need infantry soldiers who will do whatever task is not being performed, no matter how seemingly menial or trivial. Fall in line.

3) Be a human being first, and an investor second. Respect a founder’s desire to uphold the values they built their company upon. Making compromises to survive causes enormous grief. Trust that they will make the right call. Many are dying inside.

4) Consider: Do you really need an updated model today? What could possibly be accurate in the midst of a pandemic? 1918 isn’t exactly a useful comp. Don’t ask for updated forecasts unless you absolutely need them to make better decisions now. And even still, you shouldn’t want your management team spending critical resources on making pretty PowerPoints. (Caution: Founders shouldn’t blow off their investors, either. Everyone wants to feel part of the solution, and you will need a base of support who believes in you to rebuild when the world resumes).

5) The rules of business are being rewritten by the hour. Be nimble – and leave your rigidity at the door. Until this is over, the object of the exercise is not the bottom line – it’s about survival. It’s all about living to fight another day, and extending the runway as long as possible. That will require creativity, risk taking, agility – none of which lend themselves to ponderous deliberation.

If you follow these suggestions, your returns will still take a massive hit, but your reputation will soar. And that’s something money can’t buy.

Are you a manifestor? Does this message resonate with you? If so, what topics do you want me to cover to help you along your manifestor’s journey?

I look forward to your thoughts. Thank you for taking the time to read, and please subscribe to my newsletter here for regular content. – Matt

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