Beth Susanneis the person European and Asian entrepreneurs call when they want to learn how to loosen up and exude confidence before meeting with a group of Silicon Valley investors.
Based in Amsterdam, Susanne is an American pitch coach who’s worked with entrepreneurs from around the world who run technology and health care firms. Before that, she worked in Silicon Valley as a consultant. When the Dutch Consulate wanted more entrepreneurs from their country in America, they consulted with Susanne, who helped bring 15 companies from the Netherlands to Silicon Valley in 2011.
Armed with her knowledge of various cultures around the world, Susanne teaches her clients how to adapt their communication and presentation styles to the U.S. market.
But breaking down America’s cultural habits and practices will cost you. Susanne typically charges $US3,900 per day. And she’s not the only American pitch coach out there with such rates. She says it’s reasonable: If she can help foreign entrepreneurs communicate in an effective way, they’ll get the funding they need.
Foreign entrepreneurs “think that everyone can come to Silicon Valley and get investments,” she tells Business Insider. “Once you get a meeting [with investors], you really have to understand the culture of the VC or investors.”
According to Susanne, 85% of people who get funded are the “old boys,” meaning they have deep networks in Silicon Valley. “You certainly don’t break into the scene cold turkey,” she says.
So why is it so difficult for foreign entrepreneurs to connect with American investors?
It all comes down to what’s called the “show and tell” culture of Silicon Valley, which expects entrepreneurs to exude confidence and talk about their achievements. But this showmanship is difficult for foreign entrepreneurs, since it’s not ingrained in their cultures.
“Across the board [in Europe and Asia], it’s bad energy if you start talking about how good you are,” says Susanne. There’s a Dutch saying that translates to: “If you stick your head above the corn fields, your head will get cut off.” It warns that saying you’re the greatest can be dangerous, she tells us.
It’s a glimpse into how Europeans and Asians conduct business. They tend to be more cautious than Americans, says Susanne. “They understand there are consequences to action, and they don’t take risks the same way we do.”
However, when these foreign entrepreneurs come to the U.S. to pitch their business ideas, they need to think like Americans. “Americans are like teenagers. We don’t like to be told what to do; we don’t think about the consequences of our actions,” says Susanne. “We’re a country of risk-takers.”
One example of the “show and tell” culture is overestimating company valuations and future sales. Entrepreneurs do it, and investors and VCs expect it. So when entrepreneurs from foreign countries come to the U.S. to pitch, American investors expect them to oversell, too.
“If you don’t expand [the numbers] because your culture doesn’t expect you to and you come to the states, you won’t do well with investors,” she says. Because VCs expect inflated projections, when foreign entrepreneurs present realistic numbers, the investors assume their sales will be even lower.
Susanne explains that she’s not teaching foreign entrepreneurs to take “crazy risks,” but she is trying to get across that talking up what you’ve achieved isn’t considered boasting or bragging. It’s simply the truth.
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