Investors to Entrepreneurs: Find Your Skateboard

Remember when you were a kid and your mom or dad pressed some cash in your hand and sent you off to the store? Whatever was leftover from their purchase could be used for candy.

They wanted milk or cheese or maybe just an hour without you in house so they didn’t have to be parents for 60 minutes. You didn’t care. Within five seconds of that cash hitting your hand, you were out the door around the corner and down the block already imagining the bonanza of jawbreakers, Cheetos, licorice and Icy Squares that would soon be yours.

There was no thought. It was instant. A flurry of purchase and consumption in a speed set beyond hyper. Later you’d snap out of your sugar-fueled haze, covered in wrappers and spend ten minutes watching your thumb and middle finger press together and slowly, stickily, stretch apart.

But the birthday and Christmas wish lists were very, very different. Weeks of planning went into the wish list as this was not to be taken lightly. There were consultations with friends to see what ideas they had. Catalogues were considered and plenty of toy stores were visited to see what Hasbro had come up with this year. After the market survey, lists were written and rewritten as the order of the list was of utmost importance.

You had some idea of what was considered a reasonable budget, so one expensive item at the top of the list meant fewer gifts in total as compared to eliminating the expensive item and seeding the list’s top items with lesser purchases. This strategy would of course result in more gifts. There were so many things to consider and so much to plan.

But a funny thing would usually happen. That one item over the period of consideration stood apart. That skateboard which previously was item number six on the list had embedded itself into your consciousness and you found yourself learning more and more about skateboarding in general and the decks, bearings and wheels. You could feel yourself attempting your first dark stall maneuver and it felt right.

Soon, the considerations of cost and numbers of gifts became entirely irrelevant and the skateboard became the entire focus. The rest of the list could be burned as long as the skateboard showed up on that special day.

As investors, we see pitches all the time. Sometimes we’ll see many pitches in a row and later you’ll still be thinking about that one deal and you keep going back to it until you either invest or find the problem that keeps you out.

I recently had a pitch from an entrepreneur who is likely one of the most creative minds I’ve come across. It’s his blessing and curse. He made a high-end product a few years back that found its way around the world. He wanted to start a new company and pitched me on his new product. It was a good idea, but not a great idea so I didn’t express a lot of enthusiasm. Sensing that I wasn’t excited, he said “Well, if you don’t like that idea I’ve got more!” and he proceeded to whip out ideas like they were Dubble Bubbles.

I have to admit that I was impressed by the sheer volume of ideas that one individual could create. I was less impressed by his passion for any one of them. I told him that I wanted to see him again when one of those ideas consumed him.

So many think that it’s all about the idea, but that’s only partially true. Ideas are great, but ideas without the passion to make them actionable are just a sugar rush. They’re instant fun.

You need to find that one idea that waits for you when you wake. It’s that one idea that won’t leave you alone. It’s the one idea that keeps you from sleeping and haunts your every waking moment until you know you have to find out if it has merit or not. When the end user or buyer of your solution who validates your idea turns to you with that look of candy-store glee, you’re golden.

You think up ideas all the time. You might as well start writing your ideas down on paper. They become your wish list. Eventually, you’ll be looking for a ramp.

Photo: Adam Gropman