Last week I had the privilege of being able to ask Doug Richard (a former Dragon of Dragons’ Den) a couple of questions at the end of a ‘master class’ which he hosted. And, boy, did I screw up. Big Time.
I could cite excuses for this, such as we had a very stressful journey getting there, and I was a bit freaked out by the time we arrived. I can think up plenty of other excuses but the bottom line is that I somehow lost my brain en route. This is embarrassing but perhaps if I share this, you won’t end up doing something similar. Thank feck this was just in a room of people and not on national TV like some of the hapless punters on the Den.
Having researched and written the starter sites eBook (which I gave away free to those who signed up for my new newsletter), gone through the “build vs buy” choice (a free PDF for those on my list) and written a guide to buying websites (published on Amazon), I’d moved on to exploring start-ups in more depth. When it comes to start-ups, Doug Richard is a leading name in the UK so his master class in London was too good an opportunity to miss. I was looking forward to attending and to reporting back here.
The two topics I’d wanted to ask him more about were customer engagement and the “build vs buy” question. I was there to listen and learn, so I didn’t want to hog his time by asking anything specifically related to my own business, but wanted rather to pose the questions in more general terms so that the replies might be useful for all participants.
Customer engagement and feedback are things which have been causing me considerable difficulty recently. In a nutshell, I spend all day every day writing stuff for people on various websites, forums, blogs and emails. It can’t be totally boring, because lots of people read every word I write. Thanks to those of you who do. Some people even buy the stuff I have for sale. Thanks for that too! But it’s very rare for anyone to talk to me.
I can start various discussions on forums, and it’s only the same handful of people who respond and join in, even though lots of others read the posts. I can get 500 opens of an email, yet no one responds even if I beg them to. And I can write blog posts, which are widely read, and no one comments. I had hoped to discover Doug’s ideas about how to press the right buttons to get people to participate rather than sit passively and suck it all up.
Thus, in my first question to Doug, I tried to convey the above without specific reference to me or my business. This resulted in some kind of garbled question/problem about lack of feedback. Unsurprisingly Doug didn’t seem to understand exactly what I was asking, so in an attempt to clarify what I was suffering from lack of feedback about he asked me:
What is it that you do that you’re not getting feedback about?
Given the circumstances, I’m sure you’ll agree that this was a perfectly reasonable question. But I just thought: “Oh, shit. I didn’t want to focus on me and my problems.” So I gave the following moronic reply:
Erm, well, I do lots of different things…
thus digging a deeper hole for myself.
Doug was very patient and persevered. He next asked:
Tell me something you did last week where you didn’t get the feedback you wanted?
Again, I didn’t want to try to explain all my business problems and the first thing that came into my head was The Buyer’s Quest book, so I burbled something about that.
This is too painful, I won’t continue with this particular discussion. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Doug thought I was a complete idiot. Actually I’d faint with shock if he thought I wasn’t.
And you never get a second attempt at a first impression.
Then followed some more Q&As from others. And then, in a futile attempt to retrieve the situation and not have everyone think I was totally devoid of braincells, I thought I’d ask about the build vs buy thing too.
These days I’m quite a fan of buying something established rather than building from scratch. The reasons for that are all outlined in my build vs buy PDF (and in The Quest). Briefly it’s because start-ups are so very risky that there’s more chance of success with a proven business. Sure, if you don’t have the money to buy then a start-up may be the better option. (Most of my own business consists of websites I’ve built from scratch.)
However, even if you don’t have money to buy, it doesn’t mean that you have to build. There are ways to raise finance, and rarely you might even be able to get seller financing if you can convince the owner that you’re the right person for the ‘job’.
I failed to convey these thoughts to Doug in my next question, so I didn’t reprieve myself.
I’ll just have to put this down to experience once I can stop beating myself up about it. I hope you don’t ever go through the same experience.
Here’s the lesson of this sad little tale. If someone important asks you what you do (or what your company does), you should reply:
We do this, for these people, in this way.
If I had replied to Doug:
We are a 15-year-old pure-play Internet company which provides content across several online platforms monetised by various methods, including advertising and paywalls.
he might have had a clue about where I was coming from and known where to go with his answers. And the really sad thing is that I had “We do this, for these people, in this way” written on a piece of paper in my bag. It comes from Doug’s book about creative start-ups, which I had read before I attended. It always pays to do your homework…
Anyway, we shall draw a line under that for now and move on. My next jobs include to write a review of Doug’s book, and make a report about the master class (which was pretty damn good). Stay tuned. And if you’d like to leave some feedback, whether comments or questions, I shall be most grateful.