When investors treat entrepreneurs like toys

March 4, 2011, 12:14 AM UTC

Entrepreneurs put everything on the line, but we’re just poker chips to some of our investors.

By Mick Hagen, contributor

I spent a few days at Launch Conference last week, and met some entrepreneurs doing really interesting things. Their passion and energy is contagious. They are underdogs. And I love underdogs.

The conference was also filled with early-stage investors and VCs. I interacted with a few personally but mainly I listened and observed as they participated on panels and as they gave feedback to the presenting startups.

The Investor
I don’t appreciate the way some investors talk about the startups in their portfolio. I’ll sometimes hear, “Yea, i’m in on that deal.” The words themselves aren’t that bad… but it’s the way they say it. They convey an attitude of not really caring. It’s just a “deal.” It’s like they’re playing a game of monopoly or doing some fantasy baseball trade or playing a game of poker and us entrepreneurs are just the Skittles they’re playing with.

I get it. It’s often their job to invest in a bunch of companies. I understand. Spray and pray. Yadda yadda yadda. But it’s no excuse for not caring.

The Entrepreneur
We put our entire life and livelihood at risk for the startup. We have no alternative. No portfolio to lean on. It must work. All day every day, we are consumed in building value in the enterprise. We forgo great jobs, great schools, and great opportunities to be building a startup — a startup that will most likely fail. But we continue.

Some of us are post-economic (we’ve sold a company), but most of us aren’t. We’ve got no track record. Little money in the bank. Just hustle in our veins and a dream that won’t die.

I’ve had my share of battle wounds. I’ve gone through tens of thousands of dollars in debt. I’ve slept on couches and bunked up with friends. I’ve begged family members for loans… as humiliating as that is. I’ve gone through a nasty foreclosure. Yes, you heard that right: I’ve lost a home. Do you know how hard and embarrassing that is? My credit is a complete disaster and will take years to recover. This hasn’t been easy.

Yet to so many investors, we’re just a “deal.” Just a drop in the bucket. Just a Skittle on the poker table. And while these investors are worried about what country club they’re gonna join next or what imported car they’ll get their wife for V-day, we entrepreneurs are busting our butts and sacrificing everything trying to get the company off the ground.

The Exception
Not all investors are like that. Many investors are former entrepreneurs and they still remember what it’s like. They know what we’re going through. They understand how wet the pillow gets at night when times get tough. They understand what it’s like to come home and tell your loved one, “honey… i don’t know how we’re gonna pay rent this month.” They remember.

Many investors aren’t former entrepreneurs. But you’ll know what kind of investor they are by how they talk about their startups and founders. You’ll know by how they express concern and empathy for them, their family, their situation. If they are truly founder-friendly, they’ll care. You’ll hear it and you’ll feel it.

The Conclusion
If you’re an investor, care. Really care. Don’t forget the blood, sweat and tears that we shed every day to make this happen. To you we’re just one investment. To us, this is everything.

If you’re an entrepreneur, don’t take money from investors who treat you like a pawn. You aren’t a toy for them to play with. This means the world to you — literally. They need to respect and appreciate that.

Mick Hagen is co-founder of Zinch, an online social network that connects students with colleges, scholarships, study abroad programs and graduate schools. You can follow him on Twitter @mickhagen.

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