There’s a coffee shop in the Portland (OR) airport with the tagline “good coffee … no backtalk.” It’s hard to see in my picture here, but there it is.
What I make of this is a reminder about a fundamental business practice that way too many business owners forget. You can’t, simply can’t, let your employees get together and amuse each other by telling stories of how annoying the customers are.
Seems obvious. But it happens all the time. Criticizing somebody else is the best ice breaker between strangers. When you sit beside a stranger in a plane, does conversation start with how wonderful air travel is? Or does it start with how bad the airline, how late the flight, how small the seats? We criticize. It’s who we are.
But don’t let it happen behind your scenes, backstage, in your business. Don’t let your employees do it.
I have no data to prove it, but I’d bet that the the annoyed and self-righteous tone of the petty bureaucrat and counter minder starts behind the scenes, with people sharing stupid questions and annoying traits of the customers.
(Note: I posted this first on the blog at gust.com, my favorite site for entrepreneurs and angel investors. I’m reposting it here because I want to make my points under my own banner too.)
Now there’s a great title for a blog post. Writing about angel investment, on his Portland-based Silicon Forest entrepreneurship etc. blog, Rick Turoczy titled his post: I’m confused, scared, and more than a little ashamed. Don’t even try to tell me that doesn’t make you curious. Rick’s a smart guy, very well known in Portland (OR), and his blog matters. So here’s his problem:
WTF Angel Oregon? This is one of your concept companies? Blanket Booster? Again… WTF?
Yes, it turns out that the Portland angel group called OEN Angel Oregon just announced an investment in a startup making a bar that goes on a bed to hold the blankets up so they don’t weigh down the feet. What’s the problem?
I’m struggling to grasp how a rail that holds your blanket off of your feet is a better investment than the hundreds of concept companies I’ve talked to in the past six months.
Rick likes high tech. He’s a techie, entrepreneur, and startup expert, deeply immersed in a local incubator. (And I get that, I’m a techie too. Look at my bio.) He says this shows two problems:
Angel investing in our region is decidedly weak in tech. And with good reason. Very few of the Angels in our region have a tech background. As such, they’re not very confident investing in tech. Angels invest in what they know. I get that.
You didn’t even enter the race. You didn’t even have the confidence to take your awesome idea to Angel Oregon. That you didn’t feel like you had something worthy of investment. That you didn’t think your startup was worth submitting to a selection committee.
I like the way Rick writes. His point number two is golden. I hope it’s clear he’s talking to all the techie entrepreneurs in his incubator, on his blog, and working in Portland. You didn’t enter. Touche. Well said.
Posting here as a very active member of an Oregon angel investment group — not Angel Oregon, but one in Eugene and Corvallis, the Willamette Angel Conference (WAC), I’m not comfortable with Rick’s summary of Oregon angel investor tech background. Our group has 35 members and more than half of them have come out of software, web business, or computer hardware. We have two major universities in our two towns, and there’s a huge Hewlett Packard installation in Corvallis. We’ve made three investments so far, two of them software companies, one a clean-and-green personal product. I don’t think we’re weak on tech. But Rick’s talking about the group in Portland, 100 miles north.
Here’s part of the comment I left:
One thing I dearly love about business is that almost everything is a marketplace. Buying is voting, and investing is voting. And people are unpredictable. Self interest rules in these markets, and investors are spending their money. Some consider the good of the community, some care more than others about the environment, some want to change the world, most are comfortable with investments in industries they are familiar with, some care only about what gives them the best risk-return relationship. You wind those various factors up like a top or a wind-up doll, and you set them lose, and what happens is what happens. It’s beautiful.
That’s my answer to Rick’s worries. I’m not confused, I’m not scared, and I am not in even the slightest bit ashamed. Hooray for business.