The SnupNow start-up is being funded primarily by sweat equity and assistance from a number of partners. When dollars are required, they come from a small loan from me. You might wonder if I am wealthy or not, whether I am inclined to risk other people’s money or not, or just how we will succeed in writing software for a $0 – low dollar investment when books like Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software by Rosenberg, Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure by Kaplan, and dot.bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath by Kuo, among many other books have documented software companies with considerable funding that tanked anyway.
I have stayed away from many business-related topics here since my primary audience is the project team that needs to focus right now on writing software, but here is my current thinking related to funding. I would still like to avoid seeking funding, and I have one scenario in mind where I can avoid it, so we shall see. However, it is likely funding will be required.
Why? We are planning to write the alpha delivery of the software without funding, in spite of how slow that is moving. It is unlikely that we can sustain development beyond the initial alpha or beta version without paying developers, as we will need to pick up the pace once we have customers requesting enhancements. We will need to pay for hosting, the database, and our version control software. It is also unlikely that we can both sufficiently market and support a production environment without funding.
When? Once we have had people using the alpha version, before we have a lot of customers to support, we will want an injection of cash to get us to the next level. I will want to be very sure that we will be able to pay back any loan or provide the expected return-on-investment for any angel investor before I will ask for funding. I err on the side of being too fiscally conservative, even if more risk-tolerant than my husband. He paid cash for our first house.
What? My scratch-paper figures say we should look for no less than $1.3 million, but that we really can do it for that figure, low as it might seem to some (high to others, I’m sure). It is much harder to write down anything that doesn’t seem like B.S. that proves an ROI. I cannot prove the future. I need to back up whatever figure we determine and hone my pitch by working with Snupnow LLC owners and others.
Where? Once I have the relevant information gathered and am armed with a tight pitch, then I’ll look locally for starters, using the local Small Business Development Center and other resources to find the proper people and venues.
How? Even when we have a good presentation and a schedule of events and opportunities to make the pitch, I know I will have some anxiety regarding How.
After I get into the groove, I’ll do fine, I tell myself. I am an introvert, but as a noisy introvert, I can flip a bit and at least simulate an extrovert, perhaps even become one.
I had a very difficult oral exam in a graduate school course in mathematics. I got a very high score on it, which surprised the professor and pleased me. The next day he heard me mention that I had to head back to Grand Rapids to meet with the Board of Calvin College so they would approve me to teach Mathematics and Computer Science the following year. His inappropriate, but oddly understandable, response was “Don’t worry, you do very well with middle-aged men.” He said it with an edge that was clearly intended to indicate that my high score the previous day came from my manipulation of him personally, rather than my knowledge or intelligence. While a typical feminist reading this might find this offensive, for some reason I was not offended at the time, nor can I drum up any negative feelings today. We had had an hour of intense mathematics together in his office the previous day. We both knew that I knew the material, that I did not snow him. He intended this sexist statement as a compliment, which is how it has stuck in my brain.
With business relationships, as with other relationships, you have an impression very soon after meeting someone whether you will enjoy doing business with them, even if sometimes getting it wrong at first. In addition to requiring a solid business plan, funding will depend on finding people who want to do business with me and with whom I want to do business. I often prefer doing that dance with women than men in the business world. There are too many added nuances with men. In the case of finding funding in Northwest Iowa, I am more likely to be talking with men.
I am not an expert in such matters, but it seems that men require more ego-stroking. Women are happy to get to even-up in the relationship quite quickly. Men are more likely in those first few minutes of meeting me to want to have a one-up relationship. I don’t know if that is true for all of their business relationships, nor do I know if it might be peculiar to me, but I suspect it is a male-female issue. I didn’t give that one-up position to Obama or Romney when I shook their hands and asked them each a question one-on-one early in the presidential campaigns (one advantage to living in Iowa), and I don’t give that position easily.
Men have the added feature, however, that they can more easily think they are in a one-up position when I think I am in an even-up position. That is when things work out best. The man has to feel personally one-up, while professionally even-up for this to work. What I do for that comes naturally to me, which might be where my professor’s statement about middle-aged men comes from. I am not sure I can describe this transaction, but it goes something like this. If I like the person (I am not inclined to fake it), then I somehow let him know that, which usually feeds his ego. With women it is a more two-way transaction, something that makes us both comfortable, rather than a “try to make sure he feels like a man while working with you even-up” approach. There are some women who work with men by trying to make themselves look or act more like a man. I don’t play that game. I have enough manly traits as it is. I happily play the part of a woman, provided you treat me like an equal. In some circles, this is contradictory, even impossible. Did I mention where I lived?
When someone else has money they might use to fund my company, then they get the one-up position, right? Well, I really don’t know if those who might provide funding for a project, whether male or female, want to feel they are in an even-up relationship with those they are funding, but they will certainly want to believe I can come through for them. I am anticipating it is somewhat like a customer – vendor relationship, where the vendor wants to attract and keep the customer. The vendor gives the customer some benefits in the relationship (since I know some of my readers, I will have to add “no, not that kind of benefits”, apologies to the grown-ups reading this), but wants to ensure the customer knows they are competent. So, I think I have to aim for even-up, even if also obviously needing to be humble and thankful for any audience I might have. I have never asked for money before. I’m not sure how this will go.
While I would want to focus on the reasons why someone might want to invest in this business when pursuing funding, these relationship issues will surely weigh on my mind. After meeting a person, whether giving a pitch in a group setting or talking one-on-one, I will review whether our speed dating was successful. I will likely know more intuitively about whatever limbic resonance we might have shared than whether they think the business plan to be viable.
I do not know if I can do anything at all to substantially improve this first impression that people have when they meet me. Some people will like me and some will not. I doubt I can improve that ratio much. For those inclined to like me, I can work to improve their initial impression by dressing appropriately and saying the right things, but for those with whom I have no chemistry, nothing I would do to prepare would be sufficient, I suspect.
My professor gave me something valuable with that possibly sexist statement. I use that in my positive self-talk. “You do very well with middle-aged men.” I can use this for men from 30’s through 70’s. Sure it might have been more accurate when I was in my mid-20’s than now in my early 50’s and when I weighed 60% of what I weigh now (I keep working on that), but my brain has that quotation lodged in there, and I use it. I add to it a statement from a friend who told me an executive of her company said I was an enigma as I was both a woman’s woman and a man’s woman.
Will this help when pursuing funding? I don’t know. I am definitely concerned about how this funding thing will all work out.
We were coming out of a Jack Stack restaurant, my favorite barbeque chain in the Kansas City area, a couple of weeks ago. My daughter, carrying her baby, whispered something at the same time I noticed. “That’s Conan O’Brien.” She had been irritated that a car pulled up right to the door, blocking our path a bit. While the rest of our family walked past the driver’s side, I casually went to the passenger’s side of the car where Conan was standing. This was the mid-west and “my people” are not fan-types. We give celebrities their space. I didn’t shake his hand, ask for a picture or autograph or otherwise bother the man, but had to think quickly to decide what might work for him. As I passed within inches of him, I said loud enough for my family to hear it “I love you” and kept walking. He turned around and said more loudly “I love you, too.” We were close to our car by then, and I turned and said “Aw, I’m just a girl from Iowa” to which he said “I’m just a boy from Boston, so it should work out.”
Good, it should work out then.