I get lots of emails with business plans, PowerPoints, executive summaries each week. I try to give them all a fair read. After all, you never know where you're going to learn about the next Microsoft. But you'd be surprised how often I will get a mass email address to "Dear Sir" or, worse yet, addressed to the wrong person.
The other day I got just such an email. It was addressed "Dear Mr. Thorp" and then went on to pitch a new SaaS business. Rather than read through the plan, I emailed the sender back a curt reply:
"I will pass it on to Mr. Thorp."
Now I could pretend that I was trying to do the sender a favor. After all, it doesn't do him any good to get off on such a wrong foot. But I wasn't trying to be helpful. I was being snide and, frankly, rude. Sure, it is important to be careful and focused and detail oriented to be a successful entrepreneur. So I could fairly draw some conclusions about the plan from the mis-addressed email. But I would be hard pressed to make the case that such a mistake, in and of itself, is determinative of the future success of a company.
This weekend I received back an email from the entrepreneur who had referred to me as Mr. Thorp. He wrote "what can I say ... I messed up" and he apologized for what he called his "human terrible mistake." As I read his apology it struck me that I am a jerk. He had made a mistake. But it wasn't so terrible and it was certainly human. How often have I misdirected an email or forgot to copy my assistant when I said I would or misspelled someone's name or simply forgotten to reply? These things happen all the time. Is it any more indicative of my ultimate success as a VC, as it is indicative of this individual's likely success as an entrepreneur?
I owe this founder an apology for being a jerk (which I have sent). I can't say that I will necessarily fund his company -- I am certainly more likely to do so having seen his humble approach to making mistakes and fixing them -- but I can say that I will give his plan a careful read. Too often I treat the task of getting through my inbox as if it is a dreary chore through which I must suffer. But I would be better served to treat it more like a treasure hunt. You never know what great things await you and you never know where they'll be hiding. Who knows? Maybe I'll fund this business. It would certainly make for a great story at the IPO closing dinner.