Speed, money & first impressions – thoughts from Entrepreneur Country

A visit to an event for entrepreneurs hosted by Julie Meyer last week prompts Alex Bellinger to think blink.

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2nd July 2009 at 4:35 pm

If you’re a first time entrepreneur looking for VC funding right now, then forget it.

juliemeyer

Julie Meyer rallying entrepreneurs

That, to put it bluntly, was the message coming from a panel of esteemed venture capitalists and investors at last week’s Entrepreneur Country event hosted by online Dragon and Ariadne founder, Julie Meyer.

VCs are more worried about exits than they are about deal flow and business angels are on their knees as most have seen their personal wealth shrink dramatically over the last 12 months.

To be fair, as Dharmash Mistry at Balderton Capital rightly pointed out disruptive ideas and entrepreneurs will always find capital and the two largest VC funds in Europe have recently raised $1.5 billion.

Nevertheless this isn’t any consolation for startup virgins.

As Nic Brisbourne of DFJ Esprit put it:

I have a strong personal conviction that there are good opportunities going unfunded. The VC industry has yet to show a consistent ability to generate good returns in Europe.

But despite all this, the mood at the event was overwhelmingly positive. And I began to start thinking less money = good news.

It is after all only going to accentuate one of the sharpest and most important of entrepreneurial skills – resourcefulness.

In many ways I can see the crisis of capital creating a new generation of dynamic, nimble, revenue focused entrepreneurs and small business owners. The very people Julie Meyer is appealing to in her recent ‘individual capitalism’ rallying calls.

The second theme I took away from Entrepreneur Country was speed.

Speed as rapid, agile action and speed as often irrational gut instinct. The instant slicing and dicing of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.

Whenever you talk to investors or listen to a panel of VCs, it becomes very obvious that most investments hinge on gut. That split second, sub-conscious feel for the people behind an idea or a business.

It’s an area, of course, where investors and entrepreneurs are perfectly aligned. Both act on instinct often, both get it wrong often. So fail fast is the mantra and rightly so – or at least much of the time.

Which brings me on to the other speed.

One of the more esoteric, but nonetheless interesting speakers at the event was former editor of Business 2.0 and The Harvard Business Review, Tom Stewart.

Tom talked about five key forward-looking themes for businesses of all sizes. Among them was speed – the fact that businesses no longer have time to rest, let alone to rest on their laurels. As he said:

Speed is necessary, but speed kills.

Who does it kill? Well potentially the slower, bigger companies. And that’s where startups and smaller businesses can step up to seize new opportunities.

But particularly in the world of the web, there’s also an ever increasing need for ‘speed to scale’ – at least if the VCs are to achieve a worthwhile exit.

And in that case not being able to keep up can kill off startups, just as much as monolithic corporate monsters.

As Tom Stewart pointed out somehow we’ve got to balance speed with the important task of letting things emerge – listening to the traffic, if you like.

Otherwise we’re never going to be able to make a decision about an event or an opportunity we simply couldn’t have foreseen – leading in uncertainty when decisions are beyond calculation.

What’s this got to do with startups, small businesses and VCs for that matter?

Well, uncertainty is where the opportunities are and the world seems to be blessed with an abundance of uncertainty right now.

Exciting, challenging times, but let’s make sure we also pause to reflect on what we’re trying to achieve while we’re racing towards new horizons.

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Alex is the founder and editor of SmallBizPod, the UK's first podcast dedicated to small business, start-ups and entrepreneurship. Alex writes about topical small business issues, entrepreneurs and anything else that catches his eye here on the small business blog. http://www.smallbizpod.co.uk

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