Michael Ibrahim is co-founder and CEO of Zypsee, the “Seamless Web” of the $20B metro ground transportation market.
Build for the present. Many people hamper themselves by building products for a vision but have nothing for the path to get there.
We are always focused on what we need for the next deal, customer, or marketing play.
Everything must be phrased in terms of tradeoffs. It’s easy to come up with the next “most important” project. And since all entrepreneurs are first- and foremost do-ers, it’s easy to become scattered. Only when we look at ideas within the context of everything else that has to be done can we prioritize the real difference-makers.
Gifts, prizes, thank you’s — they are all standard nowadays and should be. But sometimes it’s easy to think gimmicks can replace the core essence of what we should do right.
So yes — we’ve shown up at our closest partners with impromptu celebrations or polo shirts as gifts. But we’ve built something else into our culture and model: we succeed only when they succeed. That delights them most of all.
Break pre-conceptions early.
In ground transportation, the venture community thinks of the progress of a successful, highly publicized first-mover. Few realize the space is wide open and 99.5% of the market is untapped.
Our space is heavily invested. But few investors know the industry well enough to realize their is a much more scalable model that differentiates us from the me-too startups.
We let people know this immediately — with real stories of real people and real businesses that shatter preconceptions.
Execute the basics, they work.
Our core customers are the industry businesses that service rides from corporate and consumer passengers. For them, pure hustle and execution of the basics got deals 1-10:
Sales 101: Track your pipeline; have real milestones that move partners to commitment
Deliver Value: Listen before you pitch. If you don’t understand what it is like in their shoes you won’t have a pitch that will change their world for the better.
Have Real Values: Used car salesman or strong-arm tactics may work 1 or 2x …but you can’t build a business with them. People sign with you when you are trustworthy and genuine.
This was essential to deals 1-10. But now that we have our foundation and our model has taken over, partners come to us.
No matter how big the deal — there are times you just have to walk away.
We’ve walked away from industry changing deals because the counter parties just weren’t ready. They were eating up our time as we massaged proposals for them. But they just couldn’t collectively commit no matter how appealing it was. So we left it on the table.
But we did it on good terms. And when the time is finally right for them, we probably are better positioned than anyone to get it done.
Small checks = more time and more work.
It’s good to take a $25k check from a friend who is investing in *you*. But if someone calls themselves an angel and wants to hear your pitch to consider a $25k investment consider it a warning sign. There is a chance that he doesn’t have the stomach or the net worth required for the asset class. In the end you could invest more time than you would have needed to get a $100k, 500k or even $1M check.
One other tip: if an investor asks for your deck but hasn’t yet confirmed a meeting or call, the answer should always be “no.”
Use your partners. We have an extended enterprise of over 1000 people. Our core team is only 10 strong. There is no way we would have a hope of managing all these people…and tech only takes you so far. Luckily, our partners fill in the gaps to do what we could never do by ourselves.
Our trademark filing required us to do business across state lines. We were working a deal over the NY-NJ border so it should have been easy — even in our early days. But timelines got tight and our meetings were postponed until immediately before the filing deadline. And then, our counterpart bailed on the meeting after we showed up to his office. So we pitched his cleaning lady and asked our lawyers: “Is that interstate commerce?”
Don’t forget to look back at all that you’ve accomplished. You will always have the next big challenge ahead of you. So it’s easy to feel like you’re continually on the precipice standing still. Only when you review what you’ve done do you realize how far you’ve come.