Corporate Fakers, Takers and Makers

By Tytus Michalski,

Imagine if your startup meets with one of the world’s largest companies to talk partnership. You tell them about your latest product full of excitement and passion. What if the following week they have a team working on a copycat product?

Large corporates have become much more involved with startups during the past several years. Especially the ones from Asia. And yet it’s difficult for startups to successfully do reverse diligence on these large corporates. Especially the ones from Asia.

Fortunately for startups, we’re doing that work on their behalf. Core to our model is finding the right corporate partners, especially in Asia, to help startups scale into local markets and provide other strategic benefits.

When startups pick the wrong corporate partners, it’s worse than nothing. Because takers and fakers can suck your limited time, energy and resources like vampires and zombies. They simply bleed your startup to death. And then move on to their next victim.

There are actually plenty of fantastic makers who know that their success comes from building the future with you. But connecting with them is hard. Here’s a rough guide to finding these makers, ignoring the fakers and protecting yourself from the takers.

The discussion with fakers tends to start off strong. They typically know how to work the media and get favourable press coverage. They love to attend networking events.

And they name drop. Right away they let you know that they know people. Not just any people but the people who know people and the people who people know. They are also always busy. This combination makes them seem like makers at first.

Except they’re not.

Because when it comes time to actually get things done, fakers gonna fake. They have convenient excuses, mostly related to schedule. Because fakers are very busy…doing not very much at all. Fortunately, that reduces their ability to inflict serious damage. They’re so busy doing nothing that their main negative impact is the opportunity cost of missing out makers.

As long as you don’t get stuck in a long-term zombie relationship, the downside of fakers is usually limited.

You should be much more worried about the takers, which come in various forms and sizes. Some are famous names. Some hide in the shadows. Some are shape shifters.

What all takers have in common is a zero sum philosophy that for them to win others must lose. These are the companies that meet with startups and have a team copying the product the next day. They negotiate complicated legal agreements and then find a backdoor. They suck your blood as quickly as possible because that’s how they stay alive.

So what can you do?

The main thing to remember is that, no matter what, takers gonna take. So when you start spending time with them, you’ll notice an odd pattern. They’re constantly finding ways to suck blood from others. The most obvious habit is to take from people who are weaker, so watch how they behave around people who can’t help them or hurt them. In the early stages of speaking with you, it may be less obvious because you have something they want. But even then you’ll notice hints of their desire to take.

The reality is that many takers are in positions of power and you will probably have to deal with them, so be prepared and keep your option open to walk away if needed because the downside could be deadly for you.

These are the ones who get stuff done. Once a maker becomes well known, their challenge becomes time allocation. They simply have too many opportunities and too little time.

First, you need to stand out. Because you’re not the only one who wants to get their attention. This does not mean coming up with gimmicks, sending them messages every hour or shouting louder at events. It means understanding what the maker truly needs or wants and only approaching them if you have the answer. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting your time and energy.

But there’s another kind of maker.

Instead of targeting the makers who are already famous around the world, consider looking at the large number of companies who are also makers but less famous. How do you find them? Especially in Asia? Through a trusted network. There are many amazing maker companies who quietly build huge value for their customers, partners and themselves and yet are not famous.

The best part of working with makers who are less famous is that they will actually have more time for you precisely because they don’t have to deal with as many distractions.

Sadly, there will never be a way to get rid of all the fakers and takers. But we’re in a fortunate position to give startups a shortcut to work with trusted partners. This creates a competitive edge for you to build more value faster.

We connect makers with makers so you avoid the fakers and takers.

  Category: Startup Tips
  Comments: Comments Off on Corporate Fakers, Takers and Makers

5 Fat Tails for 2016

By Tytus Michalski,

As venture capital investors, we are constantly looking for positive fat tails, companies that have the potential to generate extreme positive outcomes.

At the same time, not all fat tails are positive. There are negative fat tails. And as we look towards 2016 and beyond, it’s important to think about the risks. While there are many potential risks to consider, the following list of five fat tails focuses just on finance and economics because I don’t have the time to write a book this month.

To be clear, these are not predictions. In fact, the world may be better off if none of the following fat tails happen in 2016. But at least we should be prepared and resilient, just in case.

1. US dollar squeezes dramatically higher

If the US dollar rises steadily, that would not be a fat tail. But if it rallies sharply higher, that would fall into the category of fat tails. Why would that be negative? Historically, a strong US dollar is associated with tighter liquidity conditions globally. And so if we see a sharply stronger US dollar, that will be a clear warning sign of potential risks ahead. Currencies are typically the first financial markets to move. They lead bond markets, equity markets and private markets. As an early warning indicator, keep an eye on the US dollar. If it squeezes higher, get ready for more fat tails.

2. Unexpected rise in interest rates

The last interest rate increase by the Fed was in the summer of 2006. At that time, Facebook was only open to students, the iPhone had not launched and Tesla was an early stage startup. An entire generation of young people has grown up without understanding what happens when interest rates rise. An entire generation of old people has forgotten what happens when interest rates rise. It’s highly possible that we’ll finally find out in 2016. Historically, rising interest rates could not be called a fat tail event because this was a normal cyclical process. But if there is an unexpected rise in interest rates during 2016, it is best to approach this as a fat tail event because we really cannot predict how the results will play out.

3. Unicorn contagion

In every cycle, certain ideas capture the essence in a single word. In the current cycle, Aileen Lee’s concept of unicorns is that word. Now that some of these companies have started to show signs of being less than perfect, their connection as unicorns creates the risk of contagion within the group. More broadly, it’s still unclear what weakness within the group would mean for the broader startup and financial ecosystem. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps they are a leading indicator. At the very least, it’s worth keeping an eye on sentiment around unicorns.

4. Crowdfunding backlash

Crowdfunding is a transformational and positive idea overall. Like any transformational idea, markets have a habit of taking things too far. We’re now seeing new crowdfunding sites pop up weekly and some of the players are using very aggressive marketing tactics. There will inevitably be fraud, so the only question is the magnitude and the level of backlash. The fat tail event would be a larger than expected level of fraud, which would then lead to a strong backlash. This could impact both crowdfunding itself and also fintech generally. Compliance is already one of the fastest growing job in the finance sector. Unfortunately, a fat tail event in crowdfunding could accelerate this trend.

5. The Euro breaks up

Politically, it seems unthinkable. To be clear, this is not expected to happen in 2016, but it needs to be considered as a fat tail risk. If the Euro were to break up in some fashion, that would be the unwinding of a trend not simply going to the start of the Euro itself, but many decades earlier. The impact would be felt by everyone and while financial markets would take a back seat to the social issues, there would clearly be a massive impact on financial markets as part of the process.

The paradoxes of fat tails

Fat tails are full of paradoxes. The good news is that, individually, each of these events are unlikely to happen in 2016. The bad new is that fat tails are not independent. A stronger US dollar may actually happen along with an unexpected rise in interest rates and this in turn could trigger a unicorn contagion, a crowdfunding backlash and even a Euro break-up. And so, rather than thinking about them as five separate fat tails, we need to be aware of the possibility that they could cascade into one giant fat tail.

Fat tail events are almost impossible to predict. The only consistent prediction is if you can stay resilient during negative fat tail events, you’ll be around to take advantage of the remaining positive fat tail opportunities.