A tale of startups, VCs, their colliding intentions and a disillusioned Agile coach

Part 1 of 4—The “pitch”

In the past year, I’ve been working mostly from co-working spaces, coffee shops, the odd university campus here and there and, when I get really lucky (i.e., I have enough money), I treat myself to a beach-side cottage and enjoy a coconut smoothie while working on my trusty laptop.

What can I tell you? Life is good when you’re in the right place at the right time… But I digress. The reason for my digression is very simple. The story I am about to share with you takes place within a co-working space. People that have launched or worked for startups will easily relate to the atmosphere of a co-working hub.

For those of you who are working 9 to 5 in offices and oblivious to what co-working spaces are, think of them in terms of small and big libraries where you’re allowed to talk (less the collections of books and the librarian) and that are filled with cool geeks, rad nerds, designers, and other innovation aficionados.

Most of these co-working spaces offer the same services: hot-desking, personal desk or office, mentors and coaches, the odd social night or happy hour and networking events. But most importantly, they offer a direct contact and relation with VCs via pitch nights where panelists come to scout and give their feedback on the startup ideas that are being pitched.

Being new to the startup ecosystem, here’s what I initially thought VCs were: passionate investors who wanted to bring startups from ideation to production as quickly and efficiently as possible.

As you know, I’m an Agile coach and, as such, I am professionally trained to identify any situation where an Agile approach is beneficial and will allow development teams to produce software with an incr… Wait! I think you all know where this is headed, so I’ll spare you the Agile sales pitch.

Basically, what I sensed was an opportunity for my partner and I to assist the VCs and startups with an Agile approach to software development. Now, I was aware that many of the startups were already keen about Agile software development, but what jumped out at me was an opportunity for the VCs to take advantage of this business value-driven approach.

My intention was to introduce Agile software development to the VCs and inform them of how it could be greatly beneficial to them. Business value-driven demonstrations, functional software increments, retrospectives, etc. There was a lot to be gained from a VC’s perspective, or so I thought…

Armed with an Agile passion and convinced this was going to revolutionize the startup industry, I immediately booked a spot at one of the “Pitch Night” events organized by a co-working hub in collaboration with a local VC firm.

The evening seemed like it would never end as I sat through five startup pitches and feedback sessions. I made the best of the situation by scrutinizing every reaction the VCs had in regard to the products that were being presented. That way, I could introduce myself by asking them about their impressions on a specific startup or the lot of them. I couldn’t wait for the last pitch to end! As soon as the microphone was turned off by the event’s Master of ceremony, I stood up and made my way to meet Paul, the head panelist from the VC feedback table.

“Hi Paul, my name is Marc. I’d like a couple of minutes of your time concerning a software development approach that I believe will greatly benefit VCs like yours in regard to their involvement with startups in the long run.”

“Uhmm… interesting. Let me introduce you to my colleagues, Matt and Dave. Maybe you can take some time to share your idea with them. I promised to meet someone right now,” he immediately said as he politely introduced said Matt and Dave into the conversation.

OK, minor setback, I thought to myself. Might as well go with the flow and trust that his “colleagues” will be more interested.

With that, I turned to Matt and Dave who were standing by the counter, smiling absently while enjoying their event-sponsored beverage. I plunged into the conversation head first: “Are you guys familiar with Agile software development?”

They looked at one another and answered “No” in synchronicity. So far so good, I was thinking this was going to be a revelation for them.

“It’s an approach that I believe will help your firm minimize risk and allow your startup teams to produce more business value up front, deal with complexity and change, as well as enhance collaboration,” I said in the best salesman tone I can produce.

Their reaction was instantaneous: eyebrows rising in interest, ears perking in curiosity, and eyes opening wide in amazement. I had them! Hook, line and sinker.

“I could tell you guys all about it here, but it’s a bit noisy and there are other people I have to meet. How does a quick meeting over a coffee early next week sound to you?” I did my best to pull off the “I’m important enough to brush you guys off and meet other people” bit Paul had just pulled on me.

In a swift movement and without giving them a chance to respond, I pulled out two business cards, handed them to Matt and Dave and shook their hands.

I then said: “I’ll send you an invitation tomorrow. Sounds good?”

Once more, they responded simultaneously and without hesitation: “Sure!”

I swiftly made my way off towards a friend I knew would be willing to talk to me and make it look like he was expecting it.

The event was slowly coming to an end with people making their way out of the co-working space. I usually stay and close shop with a few of the fellows but not that night. I had to play my cards well and look busy, like I had places to go and people to see, even if it was 10 in the evening.

The next morning I sent an e-invitation to them booking 90 minutes of their time between 10 and 11:30 on the following Tuesday morning. The cards were set. The waiting game began…

Read part 2

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marc-andré langlais

Marc-André is an Agile coach at Epicoaching, member of Pyxis network. He helps build self-organizing teams who evolve in a stimulating and relational environment. Contact him to find out how he can contribute to the success of your teams.

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