Talk to this guy

I’ve worked with, and for, a handful of founder/CEOs as technical co-founder. One of the scenes that played itself out over and over went something like this.

Mr. Senior Technologist (me) is sitting in his office, beating his brains out on the problem of the moment, and Mr.CEO pops by with a random in tow.

Mr. CEO: Hey John, this is Mr. Random.
Me: Hi Mr. Random
Mr Random: Hi John
Mr. CEO: Let’s go to the conference room, I want you to talk to this guy.
Me: Sure
Group proceeds to the conference room, plunks down, says something about the weather and then the key moment arrives.
Mr. CEO: Mr. Random works for RandomCo. You guys talk, I have to make a call.
Exit Mr. CEO stage left, leaving Mr. Technical Cofounder, aka the guy who does not “talk to people” for a living, sitting slackjawed at a table with a guy he just met for the first time thinking “talk about what?”
RandomCo could be the biggest player in our industry, or they could be the guys who do Mr. CEO’s lawn.  I wouldn’t know because 1) Mr. CEO didn’t tell me and 2) I spend all my time, you know, building the product.
This was always most fun when the random was a non-native English speaker who was as flummoxed at getting ditched as I was at being left with him.
Me: So, ummmm, Carlos. You’re from Spain … that’s a nice place.
Carlos: Que?
 Good times.

never open your mouth until you know what the shot is

That’s one of the great lines from a movie full of great lines – Glenngary Glen Ross. Ricky Roma is berating Williamson the sales manager for blundering into a pitch and scaring the prospect away. As CEO you are Ricky Roma, you sell. Everyone you talk to, you’re selling yourself and your company to them. Employees, investors, customers, business partners, hell – even your wife or girlfriend, every time you bring her through the door you’re trying to convince her this isn’t a stupid waste of time and money. You’re selling.

Now in our scene above, what did Mr. CEO do? He plunked a prospect in front of me and invited me to fuck up the shot. Actually, he insisted that I fuck up the shot. Whatever shot he was taking with this guy, I’m obligated to talk until I fuck it up or he returns.

why is this wrong?

The simple (i.e. wrong) answer is that it’s just plain rude to leave two people who’ve never met before alone to entertain themselves. But starting a company is an exercise in rudeness and startup CEOs are rude by nature. Might as well tell them to stop breathing.

Fucking up the shot is a slightly better answer, but not quite right. After all, even a great CEO will only close a tiny fraction of the hundreds of people he brings through the door. One more random who thinks we’re idiots doesn’t mean much.

The real answer has more to do with team-building than with the immediate scoring opportunity. What makes a great point guard in basketball? He’s a guy who passes me the ball when I’m in a position to make a shot and doesn’t give it to me when I’m not.  A bad point guard passes me the ball as I’m lumbering across the half-court line saying “Hey John – talk to this guy!”.

When Mr. CEO dumps me in a conference room with Mr. Random he’s doing it not because I have a shot, but because he doesn’t.

Don’t be that guy.

About JR
Software guy, startup guy, non-fiction glutton, south shore inhabitant

2 Responses to Talk to this guy

  1. Pingback: First Impressions Matter | Pointy-Haired Startup

  2. Pingback: First Impressions Matter | Traction Hack

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