Backable by Suneel Gupta
Opposite of success isn’t failure-it’s boredom.
What moves people isn’t charisma, but conviction. Backable people earnestly believe in what they’re saying, and they simply let that belief shine through whatever style feels most natural. If you don’t truly believe in what you’re saying, there is no slide fancy enough, no hand gesture compelling enough, to save you. If you want to convince others, you must convince yourself first.
Destruction and creation go hand in hand. The fire actually made us rebuild ourselves by being more faithful to ourselves, to what we really wanted to be. That’s why as the one-year anniversary of the fire approached, Aduriz did something that confused foodies and frustrated a few unknowing tourists. He voluntarily closed Mugaritz again for several months to reinvent their menu, just as they had after the fire. Since then, Mugaritz has shut its doors for three months every single year. And for each of those years, Mugaritz has been named one of the top ten restaurants in the world – the only one to stay on the list for 14 years.
Most new ideas aren’t killed inside conference rooms. They’re killed inside hallways and break rooms. They’re shared before they really had a chance to mature. And when we don’t get the reaction we want, we tend to put our concepts inside a drawer. But it’s not that our idea was bad – it simply wasn’t ready to share.
Spend 80 percent of your time convincing yourself, then the remainder pulling together the slides, business plans, or whatever else you need to convince a backer. You’re much better off walking into a room with high conviction and low-production-value material than the other way around.
One thing to note about both Chef Aduriz and Remi Marcelli is that their incubation time had an end date… It wasn’t endless. Chef Aduriz set a fixed date to reopen Mugaritz, and Marcelli had a scheduled time to present his strategy to LEGO’s top brass. Without establishing a deadline for your incubation time, it’s easy to sit on an idea without ever pushing it forward. As a matter of discipline, backable people avoid an “as long as it takes” approach and mark a deadline on their calendars. By then, either you have conviction for your ideas, or it’s time to move on.
So he shifted Amazon’s pitch process from slides to a written narrative. If you had a new concept to share with Bezos, you needed to explain it in a thoughtful three – to five page document using full sentences and paragraphs. If someone builds a list of bullet points in Word, that would be just as bad as PowerPoint, said Bezos when he announced the change.
But when I shared this spreadsheet with a mentor, she asked me a simple question: Which one of these ideas lights you on fire? After scanning the spreadsheet, a harsh reality hit me: none of them did. I scrapped my spreadsheet and created a new one. This one didn’t include factors like market size and competition. Column A listed Ideas and Column B answered a simple question: In love? (yes or no). That exercise forced me to begin reflecting on ideas that truly made me come alive.
A typical pitch communicates that an idea is new. A backable pitch communicates that an idea is inevitable. The Airbnb founders had to convince investors that people would be open to sharing their home with a stranger. Rather than trying to tell investors how they thought the world should be, they showed how the world was already headed in that direction. Inside Airbnb’s original pitch deck was a critical slide showing that home sharing was already a growing phenomenon on Couchsurfing.com and Craigslist.
So when you’re sharing the insight that lead you to your idea, ask yourself, Is this google-able? If it is, then take your research deeper. Set up interviews with experts, take a trip, join a nonprofit that’s relevant to your idea. Go beyond Google. That’s what the secrets lie.
You received a personal phone call from a member of the board of directors. During this call, you were not asked for more money. This was a critical point – the call wasn’t being used to sell you again, but rather to express sincere gratitude. You received a heartfelt thank-you for your support, and you learned how your contribution was making a difference. What she found was astounding. Two years later, 70 percent of the people who had received the phone call from a board member were still giving to the organization, compared to just 18 percent of those who hadn’t. To top it off, donors who remained were now giving 42 percent more than they had at the start.
At first, his answer felt disappointing. After twenty years at the studio, Jacob says your likelihood of success inside a pitch room depends on one key thing: Practice. Whether you’re interviewing for a job, sharing a new idea with your team, or raising money from an investor, “a pitch is a live performance.” Not practicing beforehand is like an actor not rehearsing before the main show…. But somehow when Dorsey asked me simply how “I think” about product development, my answer came out in a jumbled mess… After a few laughs, he asked me a simple question: “Di you practice before that interview?” Yes I responded. I did my research, wrote down notes, and prepped questions – all the things we do to prepare for an interview. “ But did you practice?” Jacob asked again. “You mean did I actually rehearse what I was going to say? No.” He asked, “When you were studying for a test in law school, would you take practice tests?” “So, for a law school exam you would spend hours practicing, but for a meeting that could have changed your career, you didn’t practice at all?
I’ve found that backable people tend to practice their pitch extensively before walking into the room. They practice with friends, family, and colleagues. They’re rehearsing on jogs with running partners, in the break room, and during happy hour. They prepare themselves for high-stakes pitches through lots of low-stakes practice sessions-what I now call exhibition matches.
Because Seinfeld wanted to practice new material inside low-stakes venues before going back to performing in front of sold-out stadiums. For backable people, no venue is too small for an exhibition match. They only requirement is the ability to practice in front of someone other than yourself. Simply having a real human starting at you is enough to put you into real practice mode.
Stop. We’re going to do this in real time! When you are practicing, don’t share an overview of what you’re going to share. Share exactly what you’re going to share!
And if no venue is too small, the world becomes your stadium.
BE WILLING TO BE EMBARRASSED. The first practice session is always the hardest, because you’re letting someone else see the roughest edges of your pitch. One of the big reasons I never played exhibition matches is because I wanted to avoid any negative feedback… “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, then you’ve launched too late.”… Senior leaders inside companies like Disney, GE, and Hilton, when I asked her how many of her clients were naturals, she didn’t hesitate before saying, “None of them.”
Twenty-ne practice rounds, Rule of 21. Around my tenth practice round, I felt something new. I knew the material so well that I no longer needed to focus on it. Instead, I could use that attention span to survey my audience. I could observe how each message was landing, and make adjustments along the way. In earlier practice rounds, if someone seemed confused, I’d simply move on the next point. No I found myself being able to adjust on the fly-I would slow down and re-emphasize for clarity. If they laughed, I’d smile with them. My talk was starting to feel more like a dance than a pitch.
Obama ran for Congress and was defeated by a two-to-one margin. After the loss, the Obama family was $60,000 in debt, Michelle wasn’t happy, and Obama was considering giving up his political aspiration altogether. And things were about to get worse. After losing his election, Obama decided to fly out for the 2000 Democratic National Convention, which was being held in Los Angeles. After landing at LAX, he tried to rent a car, but his credit card was declined. Then, after finding a way to the convention, he was denied admission into the main auditorium. When Al Gore accepted his nomination that night, Obama was standing outside the convention, watching on a monitor. Four years later, he would be the keynote speaker. What happened in those four years? Obama began again. He hit the reset button and started from scratch… Looking back on that period, Obama says that it was losing an election that showed him how to win. “It taught me the importance of campaigning not based on a bunch of whitepapers and policy prescriptions but telling a story,” he said.
And we realize, as all backable people eventually do, that when you get dismissed, there is always another room… But after spending over five years interviewing and studying people who’ve changed the world, something occurred to me: none of them were ready.
The Game of Now may not always lead to success. But the opposite of success isn’t failure; it’s boredom. So let’s play this game together. Let’s fight for the ideas that make us come alive and inspire good people to join us in the game. Let’s experience moments that we’ll cherish forever, even when it hurts. Because you are ready.