Startup Diaries Week #13: F*ck You, Ego.

April 14, 2016

Ego is a funny thing. even when you’re so sure you don’t have one, you’re proven wrong.

That happened to me this week during week thirteen, the penultimate week of the Ignite accelerator programme #8, here in London.

We’d been writing our showcase script for the final Ignite showcase ready for the end of week fourteen and honestly, it was hard.

To put it in to context, we have four minutes to tell the story of Pip™, illustrate the market size, talk about our seed round and our team and also really excite the crowd about this new artificial intelligence we’re building.

Sounds easy, right?

Wrong! Four minutes flies by when you’re talking – try it, just talk about something you love and watch the time fly past. It’s crazy.

But hey, it makes for a decent podcast. But, I digress…

The guys at Ignite had arranged for us to have a coaching session with a public speaking coach and that was where my ego kicked in.

Now, before I tell you why and how, I want to make this clear: I’m a huge advocate of coaching and being the recipient of quality guidance. More so, I know how valuable it is to have a public speaking coach helping you continually get better, no matter how much experience you have.

I’ve had coaches before, and I’ll have them again – of that I’m certain.

My ego didn’t come into play because of my unwillingness to be coached.

My ego came into play because someone was questioning me – actually, they were pushing back at me hard on exactly what Pip™ really is.

Having prepared the initial showcase script for next week, we were asked to present the first minute or two of that to Tim, the coach from Amplify who Ignite had commissioned for us.

And so, I did.

Tim, having listened intently, then asked me what the hell Pip™ did.

And so, I did the pitch again,

And again, Tim asked.

It was then that I started to get frustrated. I was pushing back to him with unreasonable notions; pointless arguments and pontificating about how Pip™ was this super-dooper A.I. platform.

It got icy, I won’t lie to you. And it was uncomfortable.

And then I realised why it was getting uncomfortable: it was because my ego wouldn’t let me really see what Tim was trying to do.

Tim was trying to move me into storyfying Pip™’s existence, use case and importantly, the vision for the long-term A.I. by reacting like an audience member at the showcase would:

“So… what the hell is this thing?”

The whole of the above scenario unfolded over the first 5 minutes of my 30 minute session with Tim and at around minute 6, I had to step outside of myself for a moment or two to give myself a talking to.

This wasn’t me – I don’t do that kind of thing. Why was I being a dick about this?

What was it that Tim was doing, that was causing me frustration enough that I acted way out of character?

And then I realised: he was saying that I’d gotten things wrong.

I’d put together a technically fantastic pitch, but the audience didn’t give a shit.

They don’t care about the tech. The audience wants a tale of people; a take they can relate to and a tale that inspires passion, vigour and belief in what Pip™ will become.

They want me to make them believe that with Pip™, we will change their lives.

Once I moved past my ego, Tim and I got on really well and had such a great session that will help me for the rest of my life.

But that’s not the only reason I was frustrated

Reflecting on this, and having re-written the pitch into such a strong showcase version, I was able to identify that it wasn’t just the fact that Tim was pushing me to be better that I didn’t understand at the time.

Actually, looking back at it, I can trace my frustration back to my mindset having shifted.

For what seems like so long, I’ve been immersed in tech, investor talk and building out an idea that popped in to my head whilst locking the door to come back to London all those weeks ago.

Bottom-line: I’d lost my usual flow and process.

To put this in to context, when I’m asked to deliver a new talk at a conference or similar, I spend days developing a story before even putting pen to paper.

Then, I lock myself in a room for half a day and put each single idea down on a Post-It note, stick it to a wall and use those to develop “story beats”.

Then, I tell the story, sometimes adding slides and sometimes not.

THAT is what frustrated me. I hadn’t done that, I’d let myself fall into the trap of talking tech / product and jargon first.

Tim called me out on it and he was bang right to do it.

The funny thing is, I knew it was wrong because I felt “off” pitching it, I just didn’t know why at the time.

Once I’d gotten over my ego and embraced the idea that Tim was trying to draw out of me: a semblance of a story, I realised it was my own process that had gone missing – and so, I went back to my own way of working, taking on board what Tim had said, and suddenly it all just ‘fit’.

We now have a pitch that feels like Pip™. A pitch that feels like me.

Tim 1 – 0 Ego.

Challenges this week

Outside of the above, the main challenge for me personally has been trying to get “work” done whilst prepping the investor deck and the showcase script / pitch & deck, too.

Condensing everything down into a few minutes, and then trying to condense again, and again, and again just becomes tedious and worrisome: you fret that you’re pulling important things out, whilst realising all the time that you’re not really pulling anything out that matters.

It’s so bizarre. And kind of cathartic, to be honest.

On another note, week thirteen saw our second investor lunch come around.

Adam again took point on this and did a sterling job. I’m running lunch three on the Monday of week fourteen.

The overall feeling from these lunches is to not place too much importance on them.

They’re important, yes. But no one needs to be nervous about them, despite the “weight” of the investor pitch that we were asked to put together for them.

The investors you meet are just people, and if you have a compelling story to tell and a product that you believe in, you’ll be fine. In fact you’ll have a great time.

The key point from all investor lunches or meetings during a startup accelerator is simply this: the people that you meet are there because they’re interested in you. They aren’t on some untouchable pedestal – have a drink with them, be yourself and enjoy the ride.

Real-life: how the co-founders are doing

I feel lighter, mentally.

I don’t know why that is – perhaps because there’s a change on the horizon insofar as going home at the end of next week.

But I don’t think it’s that, at least not totally, I think it’s because the great-big unknown that was Ignite back in January, has now become another meaningful, learning-fueled chapter in this wild ride of so-called “entrepreneurship”.

It feels trite to say that the end is in sight, because things won’t end, they’ll simply change again.

Adam and I know that we’ll need to be in London around investors for a few days per week moving forward; we know we have great, lifelong friends here and we know that we have a place to come to work, mix and share knowledge.

We also know that we have that in Manchester and actually, anywhere that Ignite spreads its wings – it’s part of the family package.

Thinking back to week one, I remember hearing past cohort members saying that this would be the case, but now being on the other side of the journey, I can back that up with the experience of being a part of that family.

It’s amazing to know that there’s always an ear to bend; a shoulder to lean on – it’s priceless.

Lessons learned this week

  • Don’t try to fit a mould, stick to your own flow and processes – enhance them using what you learn, don’t replace them.
  • People don’t care about the same things as you do in your business – that’s fine, just learn what they do care about and make sure that you articulate that.

We’ve had a wild ride of this, including a pivot and the highs & lows that come with that – to that end it’s looking likely that we’ll be able to impart some solid advice on future startup accelerators in the form of mentorship – that’d be cool, wouldn’t it!

Next week, it’s the final week and I will be the one presenting at the final Ignite showcase on Friday – wish me luck!

Don’t forget, the more you expect from yourself, the more you WILL excel!

Mark Asquith

That British podcast guy, Mark is co-founder of, the world's only growth-oriented podcast host. A Harvard, TEDx, Podcast Movement and Podfest speaker (amongst many more!), he's a wildly approachable Brit and Star Wars/DC Comics geek.

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