Dear Santa... Please can I have some money?
I grew up avoiding asking for things, as I feared getting turned down which would show I’d been wrong to ask which would be embarrassing. And I grew up believing that telling others ‘I’m good at this!’ was not what polite children did and likely to lead to instant spectacular failure in whatever I had ‘boasted’ about.
I don’t know if these traits are English, familial or specific to me but as a child I viewed asking for something big or costly at this time of year as a character flaw. All very well as a child but as a grown up wanna-be-social entrepreneur these characteristics suck.
So I’m learning to override them. There’s not much choice.
We need to test market our product in Indian slums and we want to do it in the next 18 months. If we don’t we risk someone else seizing the opportunity before us and we risk drift among the network of supporters and partners we’re building. But it’s not easy. Not just because of these un-entrepreneurial traits of mine. It’s not easy because I’m finding that at the heart of seeking enterprise funding is a set of contradictions which makes the process at best disorienting and at worst a tad dishonest.
In the ‘90s the best friend of my then boyfriend played in a chart-topping band. They’d started how all bands did before the Internet, schlepping from sticky-floored pubs to broken- toilet glitter-ball clubs, building their fan base. But unlike other bands from the start they thought big, scraping the money together for a van and a roadie before they were on the A&R radar let alone in sight of a contract.
It worked: they were huge. You need a bit of this as an entrepreneur. What self-respecting funder wants to put their money into something that lacks vision and some of the infrastructure to cope if that vision comes true? But how do you balance this with a need to bootstrap, to improvise, to wing it on next to nothing? And where does ambition end and arrogance begin?
Then there’s working out how much money you need. This should be easy right? Not an area of contradiction. Wrong. Look at it this way. You go to a restaurant. You know exactly what you want. It’s not on the menu so you look at what’s on offer and order that instead. So what was the point in knowing what you wanted before you arrived?
We’ve had two rounds of funding. Both small in absolute terms but massive in the progress and confidence they’ve given us. But at this stage, as we look for our third round, working out what we need feels tricky.
$100,000? We wanted $400,000 but great we can do it for that!
$500,000? We only thought we needed $250,000 but honestly that’s just perfect. And so on... Those highly convincing spreadsheets that are there for you at every turn are a little less convincing when you have to do the work.
Needing evidence to get money versus needing money to get evidence.
Wanting to keep control so you keep true to your vision versus handing over a little control, getting the dosh and potentially moving quicker.
Then there’s being too early for funding for some funders and being too late for others. And finding you need funders supporting you to attract funders to support you.
Also, in our case, we’re doing something typically achieved through public health means via a commercial approach. So we often fall in-between funders’ agendas as not quite one thing or another.
If only it were as simple as writing a letter to Santa. Although come to think about it Santa often ignored my letters and once I asked for colouring pens (I loved art) and he gave me a doll (I hated being girly). Perhaps in his infinite understanding of what people want in life versus what they get he was trying to prepare me?