Note: This post originally appeared on Medium. It has been reposted here with permission from the author.
Fred Wilson wrote another superb blog post today, this one about deciphering the investment strategy of VC firms.
Having told the story of his visiting the sites of competing VC firms and being able to infer their strategy by “sector, stage & geography,” by having looked at the totality of their previous investments, he opines that the public message of most VC firms is insufficiently linear. The problem is that entrepreneurs look at the sites of these firms and pitch them even when there is truly no fit. This is a shared mistake produced in part by lack of an investment of time and effort by the entrepreneur, but also because the firms are unclear in their messaging.
He spends the rest of his piece advocating that someone build a crawler to cull essential information about each firm’s investments, and there’s more, but since hundreds if not thousands of entrepreneurs will immediately start building anything that the Fred Wilsons of the world suggest, I moved on to a thought.
Instead of (or maybe in addition to) building said crawler, entrepreneurs should think about the Maypo Principle.
Maypo was (still is in some places) a brand of maple-flavored hot breakfast cereal that was invented in the 1950s. The “I Want my Maypo!” commercials were among the most popular in the history of advertising.
The concept behind the ads was simple. Kids hated oatmeal. They hated oatmeal because oatmeal generally tastes like hot wallpaper paste. So the mid-century cereal overlords decided to make an oatmeal full of sugar and maple flavoring and create and instill a psychology of desire. Make kids think that if they didn’t get something that they actually never wanted, they were missing out.
Because, you see, people hate to miss out.
The immensely brilliant George Lois knew this. He picked up where “I Want my Maypo” left off, and created a set of the most famous spots in TV history, the “I Want my MTV” campaign. I’ll let him tell the story.
The campaign worked wonders and MTV shook the world. Video literally killed the radio star.
So how does this apply to learning about a VC firm’s investment strategy?
Simple. VCs hate to miss out. Most investors hate to miss out much more than the average person does, in part because there’s so much at stake, and in part because of the psychological makeup of someone who breathes the daily rarified air of the risk capital world.
Back to the world of cereal for a moment. A couple of decades after the launch of Maypo, manufacturers saw how life was speeding up for Americans and decided that they should eat cold breakfast cereal instead of hot. There were also better margins to be had on selling massive amounts of cold cereal, the vast majority of which were sweetened to death with cane sugars then corn sweeteners.
So they invented Mikey.
Mikey hated everything, but he loved Life cereal. So the older kids followed his lead and ate this dry cereal with cold milk because they didn’t want to miss out. Whether they did or not In Real Life doesn’t matter, the Life cereal campaign played perfectly into the psychology of kids who hate to miss what others are (seemingly) enjoying. I want mine, whether it’s Maypo, or Life.
The post-digital era in which we live totally gets this fear of missing out. We’ve even coined FOMO, which is an intense fear that others are participating in rewarding experiences (or things) on which we’re missing out. Think about things such as Pebble and their recent $20 million Kickstarter campaign. What percentage of those who backed the new Pebble did so out of an intense desire to have a smartwatch, and what percentage were grasped by an intense FOMO?
Investors hate to lose. They hate to lose on investments they’ve already made and they hate to lose on investments they should have made. The psychology of investment is to be in early, to be the pioneer in the space, to find the previously unfindable, and to help lead the entire team and operation to glory. All that aside, investors really hate missing out a second or third time.
So, my advice to entrepreneurs is simple.
Follow Fred Wilson’s advice and learn as much as you can about investors you’d want to approach. And in forming and building these relationships, use all of the information you can possibly access to find out what they’ve missed out on. Imagine where they want to be and if you have something that can get them there, show how you can do so. After years defined by getting in, the green fields out there are fewer and far between. Missing out has become the new getting in so if you can shift the paradigm back to one of opportunity rather than fear, you’ve differentiated yourself from the truly limitless competition seeking to attract the attention of these same investors.
Everyone wants their Maypo.