Entrepreneur to Entrepreneur Etiquette
This morning I pitched at the Angels Breakfast Club organized by Silicon Valley Bank. I presented first and afterwards I sat through two other entrepreneurs pitches. I always enjoy listening to how other entrepreneurs present their business opportunities because I generally take away a couple of ideas on how I can refine my own pitch. As I was listening to one of the presentations a burning question about the presenter's business jumped into my head. My first instinct was to raise my hand during the Q&A session. However, I quickly quelled that urge having remembered previous events that I have attended where other entrepreneurs have hurt the presenters by asking hard questions.
At events where multiple entrepreneurs are pitching to investors audiences I think it is very disrespectful for non-presenting entrepreneurs to ask questions. First and foremost entrepreneurs are detracting from dialogue opportunities that the presenter has with the investors in the room. Typically these types of events have only 5-10 minutes for Q&A and these minutes are precious for making a good impression and getting to the next meeting.
Second, the questions from other entrepreneurs to the presenters tend to be hardballs. I've always thought that, at the heart of it, these hard questions are an attempt by the other entrepreneurs to impress the investors. This bothers me because the opportunity for entrepreneurs in the audience to impress the investors is when they take the podium, not during someone else's presentation. Sadly, I've witnessed presenters choke on these tough questions and loose credibility with investors in attendance. It is quite possible that these difficult issues would be raised at a later date by interested investors but its definitely not fair that a non-presenting-entrepreneur takes the opportunity away from the presenter.
Lastly, this is just poor etiquette. These events are setup to help entrepreneurs and we should be supportive of each other. Just imagine how you would feel if after giving the presentation of your life and successfully answering the guy from Sequoia's and girl from DFJ's questions only to be derailed by some entrepreneur you've never met before.
I'm not suggesting that entrepreneurs who have questions about the fellow presenters'' businesses don't share them because it is constructive criticism that helps us all refine our own businesses. However, any criticism should be conveyed confidentially after the event.