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You always have to sell to someone

A lot of the lore of entrepreneurship centers around the leader overcoming all the odds to almost single-handedly pull the team/product/company over the finish line to the promised land.  And, there is no doubt that the entrepreneur has to be a visionary that continues to drive the team to overcome inevitable obstacles.  My point here is not that it is untrue.  Instead, it just isn't enough.

I know of many entrepreneurs who could convince co-founders to join them, could convince VCs to back them, and could convince customers to take a chance on them.  That gets a company off to a good start.  But, the process continues on.

You have to sell to partners who can help build your business.  You have to convince new investors to buy into the opportunity.  You have to convince your existing investors to hang in there during bumps in the road.  You may have to convince investors to give up a little bit of what they have in order to play for a bigger win later.  You have to convince acquirers that they should pay a nice price to buy your company if that is your exit.

Or, you have to convince investment bankers to take you public.  And, institutional investors that they can make money on your stock.  And, a wide range of public market investors to hang in there when you don't meet expectations.  In all these cases, the company leaders have to sell their idea/technology/product/value proposition/investment thesis to someone who is probably more objective about the company's prospects than they are.  And, anyone who knows anything about sales knows that it requires listening and empathy.

This leads to an interesting required balance.  You need to be single-minded in your purpose to get the company going and move it forward.  But, you also need to listen and understand the issues with those you don't believe.  You might get lucky and find that you can find business partners who just get it they way the entrepreneur does.  But, at some point, you need to break down your offering and make it work for someone who doesn't really care about how whizzy it all is and instead wants to see an understandable business model, a way to make money, and predictable results.

It is a very rare person who can do all this.  And, it's also rare for someone to realize that although they could do it all at some point, different skills may be required here as the company develops.  The best entrepreneurs recognize where they add the most value and where they need help.  And, they are willing to listen objectively and take on the help of others who can assist them in this complicated ongoing selling process.


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