Wednesday, May 03, 2006

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.


At May 03, 2006 10:37 PM, Anonymous Dharmesh Shah said...

What's even worse is when it takes the guy five minutes to ask the question, and it turns out not to be much a question at all, but a statement around what he thinks about your business and why it won't work.

At May 11, 2006 3:45 PM, Blogger Andrew Fife said...

yep, and sadly I see that all of the time.

At September 24, 2007 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a simple go-around. If during the q&a portion of the presentation, as presenter, ask the questioner to identify himself and who he/she is representing. If the questioner is not a funder, as presenter you simply respond "that it is good question, let's deal with that 1 on 1 after the public q & a is over". If the questioner is intent on an answer, he/she will find you. If he/she doesn't, no loss...

At September 24, 2007 1:46 PM, Blogger Andrew Fife said...

I don't really agree. I think that asking a member of the crowd to identify themself would be fairly awkward. IMHO this strategy would probably make the presenter look like they had something to hide.

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