Ahh, the ironies of life.
When I started talking to investors in New York about SpeakerText––not even trying to raise money at that point, mind you––I offered a grand vision of how the company was going to "change the internet" and revolutionize how people interact with audio and video on the web. The response: Too big. Too ambitious. Make it smaller, safer.
After hearing this enough times, I changed my pitch. SpeakerText stopped being "a new paradigm" and the "next logical step in the evolution of video on the internet," but instead became "an interactive transcript tool for video publishers." Or at least in my pitch. In my mind, we're still out to change the world, but I didn't really talk that part talk up unless people asked.
And then I went to the Valley.
The response: Too small. I don't see how this changes the fabric of the internet.
But wait, I would explain, there's this whole other part that I didn't tell you about. And I would go on to explain how SpeakerText is going to change the internet. Ohh, they'd say, that is a lot bigger. Hmf. Why didn't you pitch that in the first place?
Now, at first I thought it was just me. But then I met up with another founder who was visiting the Valley as well. I heard his pitch and thought the same thing that people had been saying to me: too small. I told him this and he said the same thing I did: Wait, there's more! And he went on to explain that he had cut out the world-changing ambition part of his pitch after local VCs (he's from Vancouver) had poo-poo'd it in favor of a smaller, safer idea.
Hmm. Sounds like a pattern.
And so I now have a working thesis: There's two kinds of investors in this world. The ones who think big, and the ones who don't; the ones with a Valley mindset, and everyone else.
One of the dangers that first time founders living outside of the Valley (like me) face is that our minds get poisoned and our ambitions shrunk by the parochial leaders. And it's not even that all the locals are small-minded or small timers, but that the ones who really push you to think big––the Chris Dixons & the Fred Wilsons––are so far removed from and inaccessible to the little guys that by the time you get a meeting with them, your thinking and your pitch has already been influenced and shaped by the more numerous and accessible VCs that push you to think smaller and safer.
It creates a weird paradox: to get a meeting with the big time VCs, you first need to talk with and be vetted by the small time VCs. But the feedback you'll get from the two camps will differ radically.
If you listen to the small timers and incorporate their feedback into your pitch, it will kill your chances with the big timers. And by the time you've figured this out on your own, it may be too late.
And yet such is life. You live, you learn, you stumble, you recover, you pivot and you persist. Besides, it's never too late. Life is an iterated game. You just gotta keep hustling. Always.
As someone reminded me in an email today, it's not like everyone in the Valley wants to change the world either. On this earth, there is no paradise. It's just a matter of degree.