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The Day I DIDN’T Become a Billionaire

One fateful day I got the call I had been waiting for:

“Mr Swain, His Excellency Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum would like very much to meet you. Would you be free next Wednesday to present your new venture to him?”

I’m not going to pretend I was cool about it, not even slightly … more like a teenage boy that finally gets to first base (think Carlton dancing in the Fresh Prince if you want a visual reference). FINALLY I get my shot. FINALLY I get to build something of serious merit. FINALLY I get to look at the 3 comma club from the inside not the outside. You can call me Peter “The Unicorn” Swain … or so I thought.

30 minutes later I’ve assembled the team at the office responsible for the killer app that we were proposing and told them that we need a working demo in 8 days time. For some reason they didn’t share in my enthusiasm at this point, more abject terror than unbridled excitement if truth be told. It turned out that the $1m dollars and 6 months of engineering required simply could not be shrunk into 8 days, no matter who I bribed or how many corners I suggest we cut. Go Figure.

We landed on a “smoke and mirror” style demonstration that would prove the concept. We evaluated all the risks and countered them wherever we could to ensure that what we would present would go as seamless as possible. So far, so good.

The next day I received another call:

“Mr Swain, I understand you have a meeting with His Excellency on Wednesday. When would be a good time for you to come over so we can brief you on the meeting?”

This was unexpected. Apparently a meeting with the 3rd inline to the throne, one of the richest men in the world, had some rules I wasn’t aware of. In short, it lasted over a day and covered everything from how to address him (Your Excellency), how to walk in the room (Make eye contact with him before anyone else), how to leave the room (Don’t turn your back on him … this one was slightly tricky as there were 2 steps up to the podium which were problematic when walking backwards) etc. Fascinating stuff, especially when you consider I was more focussed on the engineering challenges we were facing at the office than how I should bow or how much aftershave I should wear.

The big day arrives and the demo is ready … the office is beyond tired but jubilant. In my corner I can honestly say that this is one of the only times I have felt nervous in my life. What was that rule about how I address him again? Am I wearing the right tie? What if I go off script and launch myself into exile.

I shouldn’t have worried as he was busy that day so our meeting looked more like me and 2 colleagues waiting for 6 hours reading magazines. We were asked to come back the next day, same story.

Finally on the 3rd day the meeting was on. I entered the room correctly … BOOM. I delivered the perfect pitch … SHAZAM. I avoided pointing out he had yogurt on his Moustache … WINNING. I ran through the financial projections proving the billions we would all earn … SLAM DUNK. I even left the room backwards … MIC DROP. We were all elated and it couldn’t have gone any better. The pitch was perfect, the demo was superb and the financials were insanely good. What could go wrong?

As you have probably guessed, the next day we received a call to thank us for our time and to inform us that His Excellency thought our concept was solid but would be passing on the opportunity but wished us the best of luck. We were distraught and beyond deflated. What the hell went wrong? How did we walk out of a pitch that we felt was a homerun and have nothing to show for it aside from a polite brush off?

We were none the wiser for about 2 weeks when I ran into a colleague at a coffee shop. Instead of the usual greetings and platitudes he stared at me for 10 seconds and then burst into fits of laughter. When he finally got his composure back he looked at me and said “Dude … you pitched the richest guy in the world that you would make him money. He has more money than he can ever spend, why would you pitch a guy with that much cash that you would make him rich?” And there it was. In my haste and excitement I forgot Sales / Business / Relationship 101.

“Find out what they want and then give it to them.”

If you don’t know someone’s motivations you cannot exert any influence or persuasion … even if you keep silent about the yogurt in their moustache.

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