• Paul Rutherford


Updated: Jun 10

A venture fund investor asked me to look into a small company that had attracted him a couple of years before, now he wasn’t so sure. “Either the proposition is falling behind a fast moving market, or it’s the way the Founder addresses the market. Take up the drains and let me know what you find.” He was right about both. Founder wasn’t a bad person, just someone who was in love with the technology and had no interest in his customers. Of course, he wanted to sell his solution; but he was unbothered about the people who might buy. We decided to visit a new contact, to test the proposition, and to see the Founder at work. The prospect was the Production Director of a mid-size publishing company. We met him in his archetypal breeze block office, its uniformity customized with professional certificates and company article re-prints. I’d agreed with the Founder that he’d lead the conversation which, after niceties about tea and coffee, milk and sugar - no biscuits - he dived into his solution pitch. I didn’t understand 90% of the technicals, even less about the problem he thought he was solving. Yet the vocabulary was irrelevant; the tone - clipped, cold - said everything that needed to be said. We were going to be back out in the car park by the time the customer had drained his coffee. Then I noticed a silver-framed photo on the window ledge, next to his desk. “Excuse me, Mr Xxxx. That photo: isn’t it Petula Clark?”

Founder looked like a deer had just run into his headlights. Mr Xxxx glanced at the picture, then at his desk: “Oh.” For a second he looked like he was trying to suppress a blush. “Yes. That’s Petula… Clark.” “And isn’t it signed?” “Yes.” Mr Xxxx puffed his chest a little and he grew taller, an inch-or-so. He asked me if I wanted to see it closer, answering his own question by reaching over to the shelf. As he passed it to me, I notice he briefly tilted it into the light, checking the frame glass for fingerprints. I read it: “To Keith. A pleasure to see you again. With love and thanks.” Beneath was a signature, with a very loopy P and C. “See you again?”. Taking back his prized possession, Mr Xxxx - now Keith - looked at it with considerable affection. “I’ve been a fan for years, ever since her first hit. Really since I was a boy. I’ve seen her in concert many times, here and abroad. And I met her three times, after her shows. She signed this the third time.” Two coffees later - and a plate of bourbon biscuits - he’d told us the chronology about her start in radio, her film career, her records, her singing in English, French and Italian. Keith Xxxx never became a major customer, although he did buy from us a couple of times before the investor pulled the plug on Founder soon after. In the car back to the office, Founder asked why I’d mentioned the photo at all. “When we go into a meeting with our well-prepared agenda, we stick to it, hell or high water. And so we don’t notice the personal.” Founder was unconvinced: “That’s very risky. I don’t know him very well, and you didn’t know him at all. How did you know he’d want talk about it?” “He invited us.” Founder looked confused. “Why else would he put the photo on display?”

Coachaiku: 17-syllable reflections, in a 5-7-5 form, for personal and professional development.

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