The Ask

By Phillip Bogdanovich

I needed a warehouse space and an office. The Hyperion management team and I had been discussing it for a while and I was feeling anxious. I felt like someone somewhere had started a countdown clock. I didn’t know how much time I had left, but it wasn’t much. Something terrible was going to happen if I didn’t complete this task on time.

In a short amount of time we compiled a list of building owners and tenants who were willing to lease to us, and I was beginning to feel better about the situation. We chose to focus on a space in the middle of downtown Austin—a space we could never afford under normal circumstances. It was perfect. After weeks of talks, we negotiated terms that were favorable to us. Now all I needed was a little money and to commit. Then the opportunity imploded and the space was leased to another, larger company. I had asked too soon.

Be careful what you wish for. We have all heard the phrase. I’ve said it, usually when I knew a friend or family member was about to do something stupid and I was basking in the warm glow of an impending disaster. A life lesson. I’m more mature than that now on most days, but the underlying concept still rings true. We can ask too soon.

There have been many warehouse moments in my life. In each of them, I asked for something, usually a favor, before really being ready to accept it. When someone asks for something, an invisible machine is set to work. The world is now aware of your quandary, no matter how big or small. I’m not writing about Karma. I’m specifically referring to the choices you force other people to make when you present them with a problem:

1) Do I help you?

2) How?

3) When?

4) Do I really want to?

5) Is this something I’m generally interested in?

6) Now what?

Be aware of these gears in motion. This machine has no off switch, just a conclusion.

There is a minimum level of commitment. Figure out what it is and be prepared to commit. When Hyperion was looking for a warehouse I knew that there would be some money required. I also knew there would need to be a willingness to accept a reasonable offer. What I didn’t know was how ready I needed to be.

I didn’t place the importance on the time component of these decisions that I should have.  Once we had a reasonable offer, we didn’t execute. We talked. We discussed whether it was really what we wanted and whether it was really affordable. After two weeks of talks, we decided the offer was reasonable and we could afford the warehouse. It was too late. When we returned to the property owner, the space was no longer for lease. It had gone to someone else. We had thought ourselves right out of an ideal situation.

Here’s what I learned from this debacle: First, identify the components of the ask. Determine the critical points that will lead to a quick, definitive decision. Stick to the plan. When I postponed providing an answer to the owner of the warehouse, I was doing so unnecessarily. We had already determined it was something we needed to do and had reached favorable terms. We couldn’t resist the urge to reevaluate the opportunity once it was in hand. We were non-committal.

The warehouse incident hurt. A lot. Especially after the opportunity evaporated. In the interest of preventing this sort of thing from happening again, we developed a loose framework for effectively sorting through “the ask.”

1) What are we really asking for?

2) Do we need it?

3) Are we ready?

4) What are our key components to close (a specific amount of money, time, location, etc.)?

5) Who do we ask?

6) What can we offer?

Had we answered these six questions and committed to the answers, we would have avoided the entire problem we created, and I would be writing this from our warehouse office in downtown Austin right now.

Be aware of the fact that once you put your company’s needs out into the world, you have control over 50% of the solution, at best. Someone else needs to make a decision as well. They have to decide whether to help you, and there is a process to that too.

This is why the ask is such a precarious thing for start-ups. We’re constantly asking for shit. Manpower, space, money, a couch to sleep on…The list is endless. Because of the dynamics involved in asking, how we navigate the process can mean the difference between a bootstrapped success and a cautionary tale. I failed to consider that once I expressed a need for something, there was a very real possibility that whoever I asked would decide they were willing to give it or sell it to someone, even if that someone wasn’t me. Committing to the ask is the best way to ensure you’re the one who actually gets what you’re asking for.

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