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Is your belief in meritocracy the reason for your failure?

As a pre-seed/seed stage startup investor, the most frequent gripe I hear from Indian founders is that they had a better product, competent team & better numbers, yet the investors funded their competitors. This makes them confused & dejected, and they lose faith in VCs & angels. A fair number of founders have remarked to me that “VCs are dumb”.

My honest answer to this is that the competition is simply selling a “better story”. But the founders are never satisfied with this response. And I believe the problem stems from a belief in pure meritocracy.

India’s education & entrance exam system has ingrained in us that the more intelligent, hard working & talented person (mostly) wins. If the person is good enough, we think they will eventually shine through in school, college & in professional life. We don’t inherently believe that we need to “sell” ourselves to the world. In fact, I’ll contest that we often look down upon self-promotion.

However, the unfortunate reality is that the world doesn’t care if you did the most amazing stuff, unless it knows about it. And unless you tell people about it AND they understand, they wouldn’t care. A job well done is only half the battle won.

But the problem with our discomfort around self-promotion is that most of us never learn to tell our story. Some might be unable to do it even if their life depended on it.

And this reflects in startup pitch decks too — a majority of decks I see are a disjointed collection of information slides. Very few founders make the effort to craft a vision for the future, communicate why they exist, and thread it into a compelling, flowing story.

VCs do invest in the startup’s traction, but more so in that founder who has a clear vision for the future and is able to communicate their place in that future effectively. That’s how you also attract talent to join you in your endeavour. If you can’t formulate or are reluctant to share your story, it’s very tough to keep onboarding more & more cheerleaders with you over time.

All other things equal, investors may like to back a team that might be a bit behind on the numbers but demonstrates much better clarity of thought. And this is often the reason for failure of a team despite a better product or numbers. And the same is true for a lot of us in our professional lives. Meritocracy only takes us halfway.

So figure out your story. And learn to tell it to the world. Because no one else will.

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