As You Fundraise or Interview, Remember: Lines Not Dots

I had lunch the other day with an investor. Not to talk about investment for GAN, but to just share what we’re up to, where GAN Ventures is headed, and to build a friendship with someone who shares a ton of mutual friends and personal values and just generally does similar work in the world. In other words, I mostly wanted to get to know him personally, as someone I already value and respect.

We had a great lunch. But it’s what he did after our time together that really struck me.

During our conversation, he’d asked about a company that GAN Ventures is considering and offered to help as we weigh whether or not to move on the deal. I didn’t think much of it when we were sitting down, but here’s what happened after our time together that was really special:

  • The next morning, I had an email from him at 6:30am. He asked to jump on a call to talk about it more.
  • I followed up with an email that morning. Though I didn’t have any new news, I told him I’d love to follow up in a week.
  • Exactly a week later, he reached out to hear how things were going.
  • I told him I did finally have news and we scheduled a call.
  • Then, we had a great discussion where he shared a ton of advice that was really helpful.

Do you see what happened here? Not only did we show up to hang out over lunch, but we both continued to show up, show up well, and do it on multiple occasions.

What Happens After the Call

In my experience, talking with founders tends to look a lot different. Our first major phone call will go really well. The founder shows up on time, they have a great pitch, and I really like them.

But then, more often than I can count, here’s what happens:

  • I’ll ask for something on the call and the founder never follows up with what I asked for.
  • I send the founder a follow-up note and don’t hear from them for a week or more.
  • Or, I find out later that something the founder told me on the call wasn’t true.

Now, I understand that founders are incredibly busy people. They need to prioritize their time because there’s only so much of it to go around. But, like in an interview, what happens after an initial interaction is equally, if not more, important than when someone gives me a pitch.

This isn’t the common belief among founders, as far as I can tell. Most startups think that the first call is the most important part of the investing process (pitch above everything else!). For me, though, the call is the least important part of our discussion. What comes next is sometimes the determining factor when I consider whether to invest in a company or not.

  • Do they follow up with any action items or requests that we talked about on the call?
  • How do they follow-up?
  • What do they say when they follow-up?

And, taking this one step further, I care about what their company is up to after that initial conversation:

  • Are they creating more partnerships and with whom?
  • Does their team seem increasingly engaged?
  • Are they raising more money?

Because all of these data points are helping me understand what this founder is really like.

  • Are they reliable?
  • Can I trust them?
  • Will they deliver?
  • Can they actually execute?

A first call doesn’t answer these questions. All a first call tells me is whether I like a company. It’s what happens after that call that tells me whether they’re worthy of our investment.

Lines, Not Dots

Mark Suster wrote a great post on this idea several years ago and Reilly, my founding partner at GAN Ventures, brings it up a lot. The gist is that, the more we see your behavior, the more we get a sense for who you really are. We get to connect our single data points into longer lines, which tell us your true nature. Most of us think that investors just care about this “line” when it comes to the trajectory of your company and its growth, but I actually think that investors care at least as much about the lines of your behavior. 

Think about the interaction I had with the investor here in Denver. While that first interaction was great, he was trying to understand what I was like after our first meeting. Would I follow-up and how? What was going on with the company we were considering? And how good was I at making that deal become a reality?

By showing up and showing up well, I (hopefully) gave him confidence that I was trustworthy and that I’m someone who executes. The “lines” in my behavior showed him that I was someone who continually performs in positive ways.

And this kind of behavior, creating lines, not dots, has an impact across so many areas—not just investments, but hiring, building relationships with potential partners, and so much more. It applies both professionally and personally. Most people don’t make determinations to be in relationship with you in one way or another based off of a single interaction. They want to know how you consistently show up over time, and if their time is worth investing in you (financially or otherwise).

So, what kind of line are you making?