In our eyes, the year 2016 ends with a key message: intellectual discipline and personal engagement with experts are more important than ever. It is not enough to just complain about phenomena like Brexit, Donald Trump, or AfD or the Front National. An articulate and rigorous involvement of the experts is required. Society’s reflection on popular topics such as Brexit or presidential elections is often shaped by certain protagonists who scream
their opinions at everybody’s face. What has changed is that fact-based opinions have become less important. Loudness and speed of such opinions are more important than balanced and independent commentary. Now more than ever, it is vital that opinion leaders who claim to have “simple solutions” for complex problems and situations get confronted and challenged with facts constantly. And it must be understood that the straightforward solutions are not necessarily the best solutions. Sometimes, more complicated approaches and more time are needed. The idea that every problem can be summarized and solved on a single slide with five bullets points or in a five-minute keynote speech is simply naïve.
How is this connected with the start-up world? When you observe start-up pitches, e.g. on tv or live, and how the presentations are discussed afterwards, you can identify similar phenomena. In five out of ten pitch sessions, a person from the audience kicks-off the discussion by throwing a strong emotional
(and arguably undefeatable) opinion at the founders, such as “the world’s largest search engine could copy this in two months
” or “a major car manufacturer might sue the hell out of this team just to make sure it fails
”. Such opinions, if questioned by other people in the audience, are often justified with “gut feeling
” or “…based on my experience…
”, which makes them hard to challenge. And subsequently, if no other person challenges these views, the individual pitch discussion is likely to end with a veritable “start-up bashing”, i.e. sort of a fundamental critique of the founders and their business concept that goes way beyond the line of reasonable scepticism.
However, if you network with investors after such “bashing sessions”, the surprising thing is that you will also hear positive voices. Not everybody is singing from the same hymnbook. Some people admit that they did in fact like the case, but did not oppose the other people’s negative opinions because they did not want to stand up in front of the crowd. And this is where we believe a dangerous path begins. We believe that it is vital to have fair discussions of start-up concepts, that analyse the pros and cons of a given topic, and then lead to informed decisions. A clean discussion of an investment case looks at the start-up from many different angles, which is also known as the dialectical method
. An ideal discussion features a thesis
(in favour of…) and an antithesis
(against…) and no quick judgements. The idea is to bring all the relevant aspects of a given topic to light. And in the end, the investor forms a synthesis
, taking into account thesis, antithesis, and most likely his personal gut feeling. The better the analytical part of the discussion, the more valuable the discussion for the audience.
Our pledge to the start-up industry, both investors and founders, is: We try to ensure that we carry out analytical, intellectual discussions. We will object to non-analytical and non-intellectual comments when they arise, and, if needed, stand up against the crowd. Founders and investors benefit from comments articulated by experts in fair discussions. Standing up against loud opinions which are not fact-based and obviously wrong is a must, not a choice. And we believe that this attitude is important in many other situations outside the start-up world, too.
Rounding up this editorial, we would like to thank you for your continuous support and feedback in the old year. We wish you and your families a joyful holiday season and a tremendously successful New Year!!
On behalf of the b-to-v team, Florian Schweitzer & Alexander Stoeckel