Kevin Willer, CEO of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (“CEC”) popped into the GiveForward office a little while back to chat and check out our fancy new digs in Bucktown. Before he left, he asked us if we’d be willing to write a blog post about how the CEC has helped us grow as a company. We’ve been huge fans of the Center’s work dating back to the Pre-Willer days (B.W.E.) so of course we said yes. Before Kevin even finished asking, I knew exactly what I was going to write about.
Every month at GiveForward we email out a progress report to our investors. In these emails, we try our absolute best to sound smart and toss around various business-y sounding terms like “burn rates,” “margins” and “cost of customer acquisition”. And while we make sure to address the obligatory metrics and financials, we tend to devote just as much time (if not more time) to discuss softer topics like the power of hugs and what that means to our business.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit, talking about the importance of hugs in a monthly investor newsletter is not the most orthodox style of investor relations. But then again, we’re not the most orthodox of companies. What I can tell you, however, is that our newsletters are genuine, they suit our style and they seem to work for our investors. In each email we share our big wins, our small victories, our fears and our struggles. Through this monthly communication, we try to give our investors a glimpse into our heads. We want our investors to have a solid understanding of what is driving our thought process and our strategic vision for the company. But perhaps more importantly, through these newsletters we also give them a glimpse into our hearts. We want our investors to know not just what we do as a company and how we plan to get there, but why we do it and why it matters to us.
While our investors tell us they really appreciate our monthly updates, to be perfectly honest, we don’t send them to make our investors happy. We send them out for much more selfish reasons. We write these newsletters because we benefit greatly when we purposefully engage our investors. My Co-founder Desiree and I are first-time entrepreneurs. We know there is a ton that we don’t know, and there is so much we can learn from mentors who have been in our shoes before. We have twelve incredibly smart investors backing us with an invaluable pool of knowledge and experience. But we only get to tap into this pool when we open up to them, make ourselves vulnerable by admitting we don’t know everything, and ask for their help.
So where the heck am I going with this, right? How does any of this relate back to the CEC? Well, it all goes back to a Behind the Business session the CEC organized where Matt Maloney, Co-founder of GrubHub came in to share his story on how he and Mike Evans, built their company. Matt told the audience about how he used to hold board meetings once a month just so he could learn from his board members. He purposefully engaged them — In turn they taught him and Mike how to run a successful company. When I heard Matt’s words that day, they completely resonated with me and I remember thinking to myself, “alright, we should do the same at GiveForward.”
These Behind the Business sessions are why I love the CEC. By bringing in successful entrepreneurs to share their stories, the CEC is doing the exact same thing for the Chicago community that Desiree and I do for ourselves at GiveForward. They’re purposefully engaging successful entrepreneurs to share their wisdom with the new batch of Chicago’s emerging leaders. I’ve been to a bunch of these sessions and whether it was Matt Moog, Brad Keywell, or Matt Maloney speaking, I’ve never gone to a Behind the Business session where I didn’t pick up some piece of advice and then apply it back at GiveForward.
To be sure, I could have gleaned much of this same advice by reading a startup blog or a book, but I’ll be honst with you, it’s not the same. It’s not even close. When you hear someone speak in person, their advice is tangible. It feels real and you’re ten times more likely to take action on it. And that’s why these sessions at the CEC are so valuable.
Of course, this blog post is obviously the one exception to my rule that advice is more valuable in person :) So, if you’re an entrepreneur just starting out, I encourage you to go to as many talks and presentations as possible and learn from people who have done this before. If you’re an entrepreneur with investors, I strongly encourage you to engage them. Investor relations should not be about mollifying your investors and keeping them off your back. It should be about opening up a dialogue with them and learning as much as possible from them. If you do this, I can promise you that the value you’ll gain from their mentorship will far exceed the value of their capital.