Courtesy and Tact Can Go a Long Way for Startups

covermouth_sep10.jpgWith the angst from the angels and venture capitalists debate still hanging in the air, and the thickening plot of “Angelgate,” it’s easy to forget that courteous, polite and gracious behavior can save your startup from easy pitfalls. In an industry that functions largely on connections, burning bridges is never a smart move, intentional or not. Here are a pair of examples from seasoned venture capitalists on how playing nice can go a long way.

How To Cancel a Meeting

“You better not be the person who was asking for the meeting. You should grovel. You should call personally to state your sincerest apologies.”
Mark Suster

Back in May of this year, investor Mark Suster recalled an anecdote when the cancellation of a meeting frustrated him. He had scheduled a meeting with an entrepreneur and kept the commitment despite a strong desire to reschedule and attend a conference. When the entrepreneur cancelled last minute (by having his assistant call Suster’s, no less) Suster was upset, to say the least.

Long story short, the entrepreneur had a good reason for canceling the meeting, but Suster was left with a bad taste in his mouth due to the way it was handled. As he outlines in his post, depending on the proximity to the meeting, canceling an appointment has varying levels of requirements.

If it’s a few days before, or earlier, it’s okay to send a polite email in most cases. Within a day of the meeting, Suster says you need to be aware of who you are dealing with, and decide accordingly.

cancelled_sept10.jpg“There are some people who live locally to you and you know don’t have calendars full of meetings every day,” writes Suster. “If I KNOW it is somebody with whom I can more easily reschedule then we’ll reach out to them and see whether it’s OK.”

If you need to cancel within the hour of the appointment, as was the case with the entrepreneur who canceled on Suster, “the sky better be falling,” says Suster. “You better not be the person who was asking for the meeting. You should grovel. You should call personally to state your sincerest apologies.”

Biting Your Tongue

As the old saying goes, if you don’t have something nice to say, it’s probably best to say nothing at all. This is the sentiment behind a blog post Friday morning from New York-based investor Fred Wilson. In it, Wilson remembers an entrepreneur who had considered sending a not-so-friendly email to a troublesome VC firm after it had turned down his pitch for investment.

“It is hard to take a hit and not hit back. But you have to do it.”
– Fred Wilson

“When you get a no, you have to take it with class. You need to thank the investor for taking a look. You need to keep the relationship intact for the next time you want to raise money. It is hard to take a hit and not hit back. But you have to do it,” he says.

The best form of payback, he says, is when you do finally strike a huge deal and that VC firm is left out to its own dismay. “That makes it a lot easier to write that polite reply that you need to write,” says Wilson.

More often than not, taking the high road can be beneficial to the success of your startup. If the advice of these wise and experienced VCs says anything, it’s that letting the bridges you burn light the way is not the best option. Be polite, graceful and courteous, and you’ll be surprised where that will take you.

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Gabriel Catalano

septiembre 2010
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