So, there we were on the 25th floor of a corporate law firm's offices on Market Street in the heart of San Francisco's Financial District, listening and taking notes in a meeting with Judith Iglehart from the Keiretsu Forum when the door flung open and in burst Randy Williams, the founder and CEO of the angel investing network.
He'd just dropped in to see us after taking a quick break from a screening committee on the floor above, where he'd been chairing a group of 12 heavy hitters and investors from some of Silicon Valley's brightest and best known businesses. He invited us into the room to watch him work. We lined the wall and stood transfixed as they first passed verdict on an entrepreneurial business that had just been in to present a pitch for funding – not clear, said one. Poor presentation said another. They all scribbled down their points on a slip, which would have decided whether the guy had a chance to come back and present.
Next up was a very confident and polished business owner punting his pitch for a modest amount of funding to get his business to the next level. To cut to the chase he had a slick and fast paced presentation but he rambled. He ran way over his time and you could sense the frustration around the table. He performed even worse in the Q&A, he couldn't explain what he needed the money for, or what his exit strategy was, nor could he articulate the differentiating factor in his business.
The discussion, after the pitchee left the room, reflected the obvious frustration they all felt. There was a business idea there, they agreed, but the presentation and failure to answer questions concerned them all. Get him back for some advice – sharpen the idea, said one of the investors. And here's the thing, Randy Williams reckons they'll get the funding from somewhere else. No idea is perfect, no pitch a sure fire winner – do you stick, or twist? That's the risk, this is what angels have to do.
And so this is how business angel financing in the Valley works. This is quickfire, brutal and unforgiving - you can't waste time. You get to the point, you get it across. And if you can't do that in front of a panel of people who want to give you money, what chance would you have with customers. But it's not the structured reality of Dragon's Den, there was a theatricality about it, an energy, a sense of urgency. Another incredible insight.
The last visit of the trip was to Plantronic, a 50 year old company that started making the telephonist head sets the receptionists may wear in Mad Men. What was fascinating about this tour de force was the thought that has gone into how voice technology will change – and how work patterns have changed too. The chief executive Ken Kannappan described it as contextual intelligence – understanding the waves of innovation and social change and being there.
It's been amazing how many themes keeping cropping up again and again with these successful companies – creating an emotional connection between product and consumer, often through design.