Polite but persistent

Years ago we had a sales rep in Canada, Ying Zhang. She was a middle aged mum pitching contract manufacturing.

I met her largest client for drinks. He told me how he had asked her to leave his office on multiple occasions. “Please stop bothering me, I have vendors for my products. I don’t need another one.”

She emailed him the next day and walked back in the following week with a revised offer. And the week after that. And the week after that. Until he finally relented “just to shut her up.”

Ying was always polite but persistent.

When I reviewed our sales. Most of our clients had taken 6-18 months to come onboard. With at least a dozen calls and emails to get to meetings and then following up with usually 3 or 4 more meetings to land the first deals.

I reviewed a few of our own vendors and found the same thing. Polite but persistent.

Making sales means making it through this buffer zone. It’s rare a sale is made on the first point of contact.

If you’re aware of this you can think of the sales journey as a learning experience. It’s not an all or nothing communication it’s another step in understanding. 

This isn’t a license to be spammy but it is a lesson not to give up on the first rebuttal.

What’s your experience?

Notes on VC’s and Capitalisation Tables

Somehow “Future Proofing your Capital Raise” got into my calendar and I’m not entirely sure how. Never remiss in guzzling festive beers and blue cheese, I decided to go have a look.

It was a Venture Capital Christmas Panel put on by the good folks at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. Set on the 6th floor of NZTE’s Quay Street offices with a panoramic view of the downtown Auckland waterfront.

The speakers were given an assortment of Christmas themed sunglasses to wear and equity themed questions to answer.

The panel consisted of Nina Le Lierve (Enterprise Angels), Rob Vickery (Hillfarrance), and David Beard (Movac). All are active investors in New Zealand startups. All have huge amounts of in the trenches experience. All were speakers with a lot empathy for the people and businesses they serve. I do hope NZTE rounds them up again for another panel.

The focus of the panel was on how you manage your startups equity or what I like to call the life and fast times of a Cap Table.

The following are my notes based on the answers they gave. All mistakes, omissions and odd grammatical structures are mine.

Festive Sunglasses

Cap Tables

A Capitalisation Table being the record of note on who owns what in your company. It usually includes details on such wonders as common equity shares, preferred equity shares, warrants, and convertible equity.

A basic Capitalisation Table lists out each type of equity ownership capital, the individual investors, and the share prices. A more complex table may also include details on potential new funding sources, mergers and acquisitions, public offerings, or other more esoteric transactions.

A Capitalisation Table is a tool that is a valuable way of guiding and aligning ownership, recruitment and retention schemes.

Side-note. Most likely not kept in the Cap Table but Rob Vickery made reference to one company that kept a record on the performance of each of their VC’s (in regards to how much activity on behalf of the company they had contributed). Clever.

It’s a good idea to start keeping a Cap Table from the outset of any business. It can help keep the shareholders’ equity portion of your balance sheet crystal clear and it will be referred to more and more often as your business grows.

There are proponents of getting startups to breakeven as early as possible with the least amount of capital but that doesn’t mean you won’t need to raise money. 

The Software as a Service (SaaS) business model, is the primary business model in today’s startup world. You pay programmers to create software, and you pay more money to sales and marketing to get customers. The aim being to create a future stream of steady cash.

High upfront costs, and then a stable stream of payments later.

With this kind of capital requirement and in particular, capital timing, you are most likely going to need some help in the front end via…

  • Bootstrapping – using your own money
  • Loans – borrowing
  • Equity – exchanging investors money for shares of your business

You may have enough capital on hand to bootstrap, you might have enough collateral or credit with a bank or friends to get a loan. Or you might have to start pitching your idea and exchanging part ownership in your business for cash.

Naming Conventions

Rob Vickery noted that there are generally accepted naming conventions for the different stages of funding and it helps of you have an understanding of these stages. Though there is a confusing overlap of actual achievements and players involved at each stage.

Pre-Seed Funding: The bootstrapping stage where you have an idea you’re exploring and building your first rough minimum lovable product versions, looking for market fit. This is where you lean on your own money or as the adage goes money from the three “F’s” (friends, family and fools).

Seed Funding: The product development stage is usually where you actually have some kind of product and looking for market traction. You could be starting to hire around here and this is also when not only the three “F’s” but Angel Investors and possibly some VC’s start to play.

Series A Funding: The business model is in place, you have your early team and you are starting to refine and scale your products. Some Angel Investors are here but this is generally your first round with VC’s getting involved.

Series B, C, D etc Funding: You’re into scaling and building out a bigger and better team, further rounds of VC investment are injected to boost the speed at which you are moving.

These are sometimes called bridging rounds depending on where you are in growth and path to exit.

IPO: Stock market listing, the public tips in its money, early investors get to have drinks and fast cars all round.

NB: Enterprise Angels has a Capital Strategy template containing a useful exercise. https://www.enterpriseangels.co.nz/documents/ 

Update: Hillfarrance has stepped up with some very nice templates and resources https://hillfarrance.com/resources/

Now that we have our naming out of the way we can get to some of the lessons Startup funding life likes to throw at us. Like finding investors to start with.

Finding the dosh

Google is your friend. LinkedIn is your friend. NZTE is your friend.

Do your research. Reach out to connect on LinkedIn but don’t pitch over LinkedIn. You will be ignored.

Find the investors websites, look up their email addresses. Email your pitch. Investors have a workflow and email is part of it. Remember the best investors are seeing thousands of pitches. No matter how convenient it is for you, they don’t want pitches thrown at them randomly on social media.

Stop and think about this for a moment. You’re sitting on a pile of cash that you literally have to spend at some point but you’re getting hundreds of pitches. What would you want to see and how would you want to see it?

  • Maybe a clearly formatted, well thought out, spell checked, single page document that doesn’t make you wade through footnotes to figure out what the business is?
  • Perhaps a succinct description of the problem being addressed, who’s problem it is and the size of the market?
  • A short punchy explanation of how they are addressing that problem followed with a summary of what makes the solution unique in the market place?
  • A quick description of who the team is, with a sentence or two about why they are suited to addressing this problem?
  • A clear call to action… do they need money? how much (what range)? Maybe a quick explaination of what they would do with the money? Do they need connections? What kind? Which industry? Looking for advice? What area exactly?
  • Rounded off with full contact details, a note on how and when is easiest to reach them
  • Finished with a nice thank you?

Is that something you would like to see in your inbox? Something that makes it easy for you to reply to?

NB: Again Enterprise Angels has your back with a very nice template. https://www.enterpriseangels.co.nz/documents/

Update: Hillfarrance has stepped up with some very nice templates and resources https://hillfarrance.com/resources/

Don’t be afraid to knock twice. Good investors are busy, a polite follow up after a reasonable amount time is ok.

While searching for investors NZTE is also a good starting point. Simon Ansley, NZTE’s Auckland based Investment Director spoke up. All of the above points regarding a sharp one pager also apply when sending them an inquiry. They have a list of investors they can scan through and match you up with. If it’s overseas investors you are looking for they can throw the ball to Terry Allen their Investment Director for North America.

Relationship Goals

Once you have got your investors attention and you’re communicating now is the time to be transparent. Be confident, be honest. Contrary to popular belief they’re in the business to help. Transparency works both ways.

Sure you are looking for money but there are other factors that are just as important if not more so. Nina Le Lierve raised this point and all the panelists agreed you are looking for alignment. Once you take the money you’ll be working together for a long time. Think ten years, maybe longer. This is not a short-term relationship.

Does the investor offer connections or industry experience? Will they open doors? Are they in it for the same duration as you are? Are they easy to get along with? Do they understand the problem? Have they got some key insights? Are they proactive? Speak to other founders they have invested in. All these aspects and more contribute to the overall relationship and again that relationship is going to be a long one. So take your time doing *your* due diligence. 

Speaking of which they will be doing their own due diligence. Prep your partners, your staff and your clients. Investors will and are going to talk to them candidly. Don’t let them get caught by surprise.

They will also be looking at your Cap Table. Or at least a summary of one. Now is not the time for you to find out it’s the proverbial hot mess. Get some legal advice when setting up your Cap Table but please don’t put the lawyer into the table in exchange for services.

Things like a hundred shares split across twenty five founders, friends and family or a random non-dilution clause snuck in by a cheeky pre-seed investor can be a royal pain to tidy up.

Equity Leakage

You want to do your best to avoid Equity Leakage. Dishing out more equity than you need to or in unproductive ways, causes problems.

No one enjoys ownership fights. Figure out how you are going to divorce before you get married when splitting shares amongst founders. It’s easier when there is no real money involved.

David Beard suggested having a mechanism or clause in place so that the equity of founders who walk away from the business gets returned to the common pool or something similar. It’s all too common for partners to get sick of the slog or take better offers of work, and walk away holding large chunks of equity. This is dispiriting to the partners that stick it out and not something any investor wants to see in a Cap Table.

With some forethought, some study and a little advice you can avoid these things.

Over-subscriptions. If things are going well sometimes a funding round will become oversubscribed where there’s more buyers than there is equity on offer. While this is generally considered a good thing it can have complications. You can increase the price of the equity but you don’t want a “down round” if you have to raise funding again. You might want new investors onboard at a reasonable price without giving up too much equity to do so. All of these considerations need to be kept in balance.

An experienced VC can help you work your way through these issues.

The general consensus was, don’t take more money than you need. Too much money at the wrong time can be just as problematic as not enough. Too much money can make companies sloppy. Stay a little hungry.

If you are using equity to attract or retain talent via Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOP’s) learn about vesting and cliffs.

Think about giving everyone in the company something. It’s not leakage if done right and aligns the team towards the same goal. For example (hypothetical numbers here) reissue 10 million shares and dish out parcels of 10,000 shares. It’s a bit of an optical illusion but 10,000 shares looks better than 0.1%. If you really hit it big those 10,000 shares will be a nice package.

A good Cap Table also allows employees to understand what their payout would be and for you to understand what the value of your common stock is after each round of financing.

In the USA at least. Investors like to see founders holding a substantial amount of equity usually in the 70 percent bracket to ensure they have plenty of skin in the game. The last thing they want to see is a founder tired of their ninety hour weeks and getting scooped up with a big corp seven figure salary offer and walking.

I’m pretty sure there was more but I was four beers in and enjoying a very good conversation with the interesting people behind the Blinder startup and the Punakaiki Fund.

I would like to thank the people at NZTE and all the panelists for an entertaining and informative evening.


Sauntering through a Startup Weekend in Wellington in 2020

Not everyone wants to be, or even should be an entrepreneur. But everyone should experience the process at least once.

Some Startup Weekend History

Startup Weekend was founded in Boulder, Colorado by an extreme minimalist and vagabond, Andrew Hyde, in July 2007. Coming from outside the tech world he saw how the hardest thing was to make a start.

He came up with a weekend. Start on Friday, pitch your idea, form a team, and be challenged to launch a working startup by Sunday.

He wanted everyone to know that the entrepreneurial path is not luck, that if you want to create your own future you can.

“People wanting to do what they want to do and making that a reality.”

In 2015 Startup Weekend was acquired and became part of the Techstars collection of startup programs. As of 2020 Startup Weekend’s have been held over 2900 times in 150 countries with over 190,000 participants. Not bad for a vagabond.

Even though Startup Weekend has become a global phenomenon it still holds true to its original ethos of being open to everyone, lots of ideas, lots of energy, lots of fun, and lots of pizza.

New Zealand History

I’m blurry on the exact genealogy of Startup Weekend in New Zealand. I was lucky enough to participate in the recent Wellington Startup Weekend. Which had representatives of every generation of facilitators from the earliest Dave Moskovitz, Dave Clearwater, Dan Khan and Lingy Au to the latest in Georgia McConnon, Lilia Alexander, Michaela Hing, Brandon Kwong, Travis Cornwall, Casey Davies-Bell and Ryan Walker.

There is actually a bit of a renaissance of Startup Weekend happening in New Zealand being driven by old and new hands.

The more competent the team, the more it disappears. There is a similar effect in technology, the better it works the less we notice it. The Wellington team came together and ran things as if they had access to alien technology.

Well setup, well catered, well laid out and well explained. Loads of fun.

The Experience

Wellington and Dunedin could be sister cities. But Wellington has the waterfront flavour of a low-rise Hong Kong with its mixture of old and new architecture. Startup Weekend Wellington was held at Victoria Universities “Orauariki Wellington School of Business and Government.” With picture perfect views of the Beehive across the street.

The complete list of facilitators and mentors stretched to over two dozen people, that worked with over seventy participants. All up one hundred people gathered on a Friday night and the crowd warmed up with a raucous session of paper, scissors, rock.

Forty brave people, with urging from friends and crowd, stood up to call out their ideas.

Everyone proceeded to vote with their feet and twelve teams were successfully formed… Caturdays, Connect, Drop, Flatmaaate, Food Stories, GEM (Greener Events Metrics), Hobby Swap, Mental-Match, Mohua, Sixth Official, Teafly and Weave Talent.

Idea Wall

Teams then morphed, changed names, team members, ideas and target markets as the weekend progressed. They spent the next two days furiously identifying markets, validating ideas, and crafting minimum lovable products. All the while sharpening and polishing their pitches.

Every team and every individual experiences a multitude of lessons compressed into a very short period of time. The pressure and the emotion can run high. Thankfully this weekend didn’t have anyone tossing their toys (it happens).

A small sampling of the some of the lessons and insights that occurred over the weekend…

Holding too tight. One participant said it was their second Startup Weekend. The first one they didn’t make it past the Friday night. Not enough people had chosen their idea to form a team and they had taken it to heart and walked.

This time not only did they loosen their grip but managed to form a team and let another member do the final pitch. That is some serious coming to terms with ones ego versus doing what’s required to get an idea moving.

Because our name. One team started with a name and that name had bound them to an understanding of who they were and what they were doing. They pounded against that trap all weekend. Until they realised it was just a name and what they were, was something completely different. It was like they had been uncorked and with only a few hours left they produced a beautiful pitch.

Bias. We are all biased to some extent or other. It’s how we act upon our bias that counts. That’s the point. One team had confronted this more than most and wanted to change it.

They started with an idea for education and moved forward to understanding there is real value in having different cultural, mental and physical views. If they’re accepted and applied with the right intent they can be a huge boon to companies.

Having powerfully different and divergent views incorporated into a team can reveal problems and solutions that no workshop of the like-minded ever will.

In a complex and increasingly diverse world this team wants to provide the talent that has the diversity to help companies navigate these biases positively.

Invert the paradigm inadvertently. Mental health is a major issue everywhere. What can we expect of a soft bundle with billions of wires and trillions of connections. Things get mixed up. One team was heavily focused on the people at risk and wanted to speed up their access to help. Delays can be disastrous.

In the process they started to look at things horizontally across the country and the idea to do some load balancing across vertical silos of counselling popped up. This led to an insight that helping the counsellors would help more. They flipped their target market.

Novelty and the obvious. Stating the obvious, is a novelty in itself sometimes, and we often laugh when someone does it. But just as often there is a truth in the obvious that we avoid approaching but is powerful when we do.

At least two teams produced the obvious, made us laugh, and made us all ask “why didn’t we think of that?!”

Stuck. Without fail every team got stuck somewhere. An idea, the market, a team member, team dynamics, an implementation, the message, the permutations are endless. Every team seemed surprised that they had got stuck, and every mentor smiled.

Working through the stuck is what starting up is all about.

Opposite inputs. A subset of stuck, every team had to wrestle with the opposites. Team members, markets or mentors (or a combination of all three) giving opposing inputs. Teams had to absorb and decide which input was best suited to their goal at that given point in time. This was fun to watch.

Sorting out the threads

The Pitch

Having negotiated their way through team building, cold calling, active (constructive) criticism, little sleep, much frustration. The pressure comes to a peak for the big pitch on Sunday night.

This isn’t a thirty second “hey this is my idea” this is the full blown five minutes in an auditorium, in front of a hundred of your peers, your friends, your mentors and the judges. This is pedal to metal and it’s the first time for most to ever publicly speak. Pressure!

And we are blown away!

Not a person in the theatre wanted anyone to do anything less than their level best. Hearts were pounding, breaths were held.

Absolutely every single speaker and team rose to the occasion and took it head on. Pitch after pitch (with some rather thunderous applause) was nailed.

You know you’re hitting home when the judges are asking for feature requests.

No one envied the judges Veronica Harwood-Stevenson, John Holt and Stephen Cummins task of trying to sift so many wonderful teams and ideas into some kind of hierarchy. In the end they had to add in a fourth place and a couple of (very well deserved) rising stars to get things in order.

Much applause, quite a few tears of joy, huge amounts of relief and (for those inclined) a very long night of celebration ensued.

The Community

If the teams think it’s hard work, wait until they try organising and facilitating one of these events. It’s a large organisational slog that begins months before, peaks for an intense 54 hours and then whiplashes into the event windup. Why would you want to do all that work of facilitating instead of just participating?

In his beautifully laconic way Dave Moskovitz summed it up with a single word “Naches.”

A Hebrew word, it’s the complete opposite of schadenfreude.

Naches is the joy you get from seeing others succeed.

It’s this kind of joy that attracts the right kind of people and why those people are such powerful community builders.

The Team

Startup Weekends are in marketing speak “the top of the funnel” they’re often peoples first exposure to startup entrepreneurialism and they send ripples throughout the community. They are fabulous, they compress a lot of genuine project based learning into a very short amount of time.

Never underestimate the power of community builders riding on a wave of naches.

A great place to find out when the next Startup Weekend will be happening is to subscribe to the Startup Digest NZ newsletter (follow the link).

Absolutely do make the effort to get along to your next Startup Weekend.


Startup Weekend International

Andrew Hyde


Startup Weekend Wellington

Startup Digest New Zealand




  • A massive thanks to Travis, Claire, Casey and Henna for putting up with me and putting me up.
  • Kieth Shering has the best job title.
  • Shannon Wray has the best housing solution.
  • Mandy Simpson takes her coffee very seriously and it was much appreciated that she wouldn’t accept any lowering of standards.
  • Marwan Jamal is working on his PhD so let’s all ask him when will it be finished? (note: don’t ask someone when their PhD will be finished).
  • Don’t pick a fight with Georgia McConnon, you won’t win. She was seen carrying the entire weekends kitchen supplies in one hand while talking on the phone with the other.
  • Michaela Hing is most likely to become CEO of ANZ, before she does a reverse takeover of HSBC.
  • Don’t get between Lilia Alexander and her camera. She will make you look wonderful.
  • Travis Cornwall should be considering TV.
  • Casey Davies-Bell should have bought his puppy along.
  • Ryan Walker should be in comedy.
  • Lingy Au is the only person who can run an entire Startup Weekend in Germany with only one word of German.
  • Brandon Kwong, you will be missed.
  • Never play paper, scissors, rock with Katherine Blaney.
  • Be very careful slipping out to lunch with Dan Khan.
  • Be very very careful celebrating with all of the above afterwards (5:00am finishes are harsh).
  • A big shout out to the companies and organisations that sponsor these events. Wellington was sponsored by Amazon Web Services (AWS), Raygun, Angel HQ, Storypark, Sharesies, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ Entrepreneur Magazine, Coffee Supreme and SkinnyFizz.
  • Apologies for any omissions. I didn’t take the notes I should have.


Postscript: After writing the above I got to wondering (I’m probably showing my ignorance so correct me if I’m missing something). What happens after? These weekends create some genuinely good teams and ideas, where do they go next?

Are they being followed up on?

Are there channels that are readily available to provide ongoing assistance?

Are there other entry level activities that run throughout the year that provide the same kinds of learning and mentoring?

Would something like this fit into a high school curriculum?

If you have some ideas or answers on any of the above, let me know.