Founders- It’s Time to Ask for Help

Jason Yeh
January 14, 2022
#
Fundraising

To start this week, I need to ask for some help from you, dear readers. Partially, because it’s a great example to lead with for this essay, but more because…I actually need help.

Here’s the deal -  in 2021 I was able to help a ton of founders through my work at Adamant Ventures, including this newsletter. In 2022, I hope to do much more with an assist from you.

If my work has helped you in any way… 

Please share the Fundraising Fieldnotes Newsletter with three people and recommend they subscribe.

To make it as easy as possible, here’s some email copy you can use:

Subject: weekly reading for you
Body: Hey [NAME] - I subscribe to this great newsletter for founders that I think is really insightful. The last post was about the power of asking for help. In it they asked for our help sharing the newsletter with others. No brainer for me to return the favor because I’ve found it super helpful.
It’s written by an ex-VC and former venture-backed founder. Take a look and subscribe: adamantventures.substack.com - I read it every week.
[YOUR NAME]

Asking for help can be tough

Okay, wow. That was kinda hard. As a Taiwanese-American kid growing up, I was taught to never inconvenience others.  I was expected to always pull my own weight and never be a burden. Those ideals really stuck with me throughout my life and professional career. Even the request for help in the first part of this newsletter would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Up until fairly recently, I believed I had to prove I could do everything on my own.

Because of this background, I rarely asked people for help. When I did, it was only as a last resort if I felt like I had exhausted every other avenue to solve the problem on my own.

I learned from failures how backwards this mindset is. Especially in startups, you don’t get a trophy for solving a problem on your own more slowly. Instead, I think the community rewards those who contribute to the pay-it-forward flywheel of receiving help and helping others.

The only way to get where you want to go quicker is by asking for help. The best entrepreneurs in the world understand that it takes a village.

How / When / Where?

Learning how and when to ask for help as a founder can be a superpower because of all the places it can be applied in your journey. Where can it be applied? Nearly everywhere, but here are 3 categories that I find particularly important.

  1. Wisdom (Feedback, Insights, Guidance)

    This one is #1 for a reason. The wisdom of others who have more experience or unique perspectives can be a force multiplier for your business. You should be asking for it as much as possible. This can be requesting feedback on the beta version of your product, soliciting notes on marketing copy you’re testing, or simply asking “How did you do this”? 

  2.  Promotion

    In today’s world, every single person is a media outlet. Between email, messaging apps, online communities, and of course social media, one person can spread a message far and wide. As a founder, sharing your vision must be a constant responsibility as you look to continually recruit customers, colleagues, and investors. As such, asking your network to share and promote your story is one of the most important ways you need to be asking for help.

  3. Introductions

    I’ve referred to introductions as the lifeblood of fundraising but that’s not the only field where introductions are powerful. Any arena where decisions are made with limited data and people are at the core can be greatly influenced by the right intro. Besides Fundraising, the most relevant are Sales/BD, Network Building, and Recruiting. Asking for help with intros can mean the difference between landing a large fundraise, signing a huge deal, connecting with an advisor, or closing on an important hire.

The Anxiety of Asking

There are natural anxieties many people feel when asking for help especially if you have a similar background to mine. You worry that people won’t want to help, that they can’t help, that they’ll be annoyed you asked, or that they don’t have the time. 

When you're getting ready to ask for help you need to push these anxieties aside and say, “So what if they’re annoyed?” Realize that you’ll have to go through those people to find the ones who are excited to help.

Additionally, consider the different types of people you can ask for help from. There will be many who you contact that won’t be excited to help. They’ll be too busy or they won’t be able to help.  Of those people, the majority are good people and won’t care that you reached out - they understand the game! The ones that do care, those that are annoyed or upset you asked are [how can I say this] … bad people. And who cares about annoying bad people?? (seriously)

How to ask for help

Just because I’m pushing HARD on asking for help, doesn’t mean it should be done without care. Bad requests for help can be painfully ineffective. Here are four things I think are really important when asking for help. 

  1. Be brief

    People that have the ability to help are likely busy with other things. So make sure you try to be as brief as possible.  You don’t want to waste their valuable time by requiring them to do too much reading before they even consider helping.

  2. Be specific

    One of the most annoying requests I get are open-ended asks for help that require me to do a lot of processing and considering before I can even start thinking about whether or not I want to help. A great example is the annoyingly common “Can you introduce me to someone who might be interested in investing?” With this frustrating ask, I need to do a bunch of processing myself before even beginning to answer the question, which makes me not want to engage. The right approach would be to ask for an intro to a specific person.
  1. Make it easy

    The example from #2 breaks this rule. If you’re making me first determine what your company does, then think through the types of people in my network who might be interested in the space, and finally select the best person to intro, you’re not making it easy for me to help you. I often get badly formed requests like this from people that I like and want to help.  When I do, I usually don’t say ‘no’ because I truly want to help. But, because it’s not a priority for me and not easy to do, I push it down my to-do list. This is where requests for help go to die.

    If you know the steps that someone will have to take to help, minimize how much work they need to do by taking it on yourself. Research their network to find the specific connections that would be best for you. Write email copy that they can use to make an intro. If you do that, you’ll find many more of your requests being answered!

  2. Pay it forward

    When you ask for help, show appreciation and be excited to return the favor. The system runs on karma, goodwill, and trust and will pay you back if you show up appropriately.

Here’s a great example - I really, really appreciate your being open to the request I opened this essay with.  I write this newsletter for you all and am excited to add other great founders to the readership with your help.

I'm going to continue to pay you guys back with awesome content and other opportunities for subscribers that I hope helps you with your future fundraises :)

Cheers.

______________
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