Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Picked up in a German Bar

It's not all glitz and glamour being a "highflying" venture backed start up guy, let me tell you! Sometimes you need to get down and dirty to make things happen. And so it came to pass that I found myself being picked up in a German bar before returning to a sleazy, backstreet hotel.

Let me explain.

I'm still on the road, fund raising for Garlik. Last week I heard of a couple of German VC firms that might be interested, so I executed my tried and tested "getting a VC meeting at short notice" plan.

Here's how it works. I contact one of the VCs and arrange a 30 minute conference call. Everyone's got 30 mins to spare at short notice and then you have a foot in the diary. Then I contact the other VC and tell them that I happen to be in Germany the next couple of days and, since I'm around, how about I pop in and say hi? I don't trouble them with the detail that at this stage it is only my voice that happens to be in Germany. Armed with this meeting in the diary, I go back to the first VC and say since I am in Germany anyway for a meeting, why don't we turn or 30 minute slot in to a face to face meeting. Bingo - two meetings lined up at short notice with busy VCs.

Now, we try to figure out how to make it happen. That's when I discover that the two VCs that I am now supposed to be seeing on the same day are actually hundreds of miles apart. Never mind, we'll figure something out, so I pack up my toothbrush and head off to the airport.

Check in at Terminal 5 (very smooth, great terminal in my experience). BA flight to Munich (bloke on plane next to me using blackberry when he shouldn't. Do I tell the stewardess on him or snatch it off him and ram it in to his ear? Neither. I adopt the traditional British approach and just "look extremely annoyed"). Nice chat with the German taxi driver on the way to VC number 1 (how many London cabbies could have a chat in German I wonder?). Enter the VCs palatial offices, whip out the laptop. Pitch, pitch, pitch, sell, sell, sell, question, question, question for about 2 hours. Then dash off, jump on a high speed three hour cross country train and off to see VC number 2.

But this is where things go a bit off course. The VC lady has arranged to meet in my hotel lobby at 8pm and grab dinner, so that we could discuss the investment opportunity.

Or to put it another way, I had arranged over the internet to be picked up by a wealthy German lady in a bar, taken to dinner and then ask her for money at the end of the evening. Hmmmmm. People could get the wrong impression. "People" mostly being my wife (who, thankfully doesn't bother to read this blog :)

However, I am a start up guy and right now I am a start up guy in cost cutting mode, so I am not actually staying at the posh hotel in question. I am staying in the cheap and slightly sleazy hotel five minutes walk around the corner.

When we booked it, I did wonder how different a £30/night two star hotel was to a £200/night five star hotel. It turns out the answer is "very different" as became clear when I was buzzed through the security door at my hotel and the receptionist looked like she was going to ask me whether I needed the room for the whole night or just a few hours!

I actually laughed out loud when I went into the room, put the ash trays in the draw to try to get rid of the smokey smell and looked around for the bathroom. I couldn't see one so I assumed with sinking heart that it must be a shared bathroom in the hallway. I opened the cupboard to hang up my coat only to find that there was the smallest shower and toilet tucked away inside that I had ever seen. Ah, the joys of start up life :)

I rushed around the corner hoping to get to the posh hotel before Ms VC but she was there waiting in the lobby when I arrived. "Don't you want to check in?" she asked.

"It's alright, I've got it covered" I said making vague arm sweeping gestures in the direction of the reception area and guided her out of the door. Off we went for dinner.

Posh hotel. Now posh restaurant. Why, why, why? Don't people know I hate posh food. We walked right past a perfectly good Burger King to get to this fancy French place. Octopus. Can you believe, they actually serverd me octopus! When the waitress came to take the plates away she looked annoyed and said "is there a problem with the food, sir?". I felt like saying "Yes, you seem to have given me an octopus instead of real food and I don't know what to do with it."

Instead I said "No, no, no, it's lovely" and quickly took a fork full of octopus. I almost gagged but managed to chew away whilst making "mmmmmm, lovely" type of noises. Then I chopped it up and hid it under my knife. I am a master at this technique. Sometimes people find stuff I have left under a knife many days later.

So, over dinner I pitched, pitched, pitched, sold, sold, sold. Then walked back to the posh hotel. Said my farewells. Made as if to go into posh hotel, then nipped off round the corner to Sleazy and Sons. Lept up at 5.30am, back on the 3 hour train ride to Munich. Back on the BA flight. Back to the UK and got to the office to find a BBC TV crew waiting to interview me about a new type of financial fraud, for tomorrow's BBC breakfast news.

The good news as I sit here typing at 2am is that I get a whole 5 hours sleep in my own bed at home before setting off again tomorrow. This time to Mumbai, India to pitch to some VCs there. I'm not taking chances this time though. I reckon a cheap and sleazy Mumbai hotel would be beyond even my hardy start up guy spirit!

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