Avoiding the Game of Thrones Effect
How finishing strong can leave a lasting legacy.
Great to see you for another Sunday edition. I took a quick flight yesterday to Houston to surprise my dad for his 72nd birthday and on the way here dove into the book The Trillion Dollar Coach. It's a fascinating read about one of the Valley's most successful founder/CEO coaches.
In this issue, I’ve got a strong dose of storytelling inspiration for you, including a deep dive on fixing a common problem area of pitches and a set of resources that will leave you ready for the week ahead.
I'm calling this one a banger (let me know your thoughts once you read). Shall we begin?
DEEP DIVE: Finishing Strong
Here’s the scenario:
You’re in your first meeting with a VC. It’s going pretty well, but as your time with them comes to a close, you’re struck with a wave of panic. What the heck are you supposed to say to wrap things up?
As sweat collects on your upper lip, you fumble for the right words. And here’s what comes out:
“Um, so, yeah. I guess just let me know.”
Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Closing out initial conversations with confidence is one of the things I see founders struggle with the most. You spend months—even years—prepping to make your pitch, but when it comes time to conclude, you look like Ricky Bobby trying to figure out what to do with your hands.
Finding the right ending isn’t something that just founders wrestle with—it’s an issue that’s plagued storytellers for centuries. Ernest Hemingway famously wrote 47 different endings to A Farewell To Arms before he found one that satisfied him. And Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had this to say: “Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”
Why would these literary giants place so much emphasis on the ending? Because last impressions matter. An IPSOS cognitive psychology study discovered that our memories are more governed by how an experience ends than how it begins. This explains why childbirth is often looked upon fondly by mothers—the joy of meeting their baby for the first time trumps the memories of a painful delivery.
I found this to be true during my time as a trial lawyer as well. No matter how well I crafted my opening statement or presented my evidence, if I didn’t have a killer closing argument, I jeopardized my chance of getting the verdict I wanted.
Botching the ending can not only cause trouble for you in the short term, it can also damage your long-term legacy. Remember how everyone loved Game of Thrones at first, and during the last season fans wanted Jon Snow’s head on a pike? The final season fell flat because it forgot its identity.
Shortly after the show wrapped, Scientific American published a lengthy article about what went wrong. They concluded the reason GoT jumped the shark was due to a shift from sociological storytelling to psychological storytelling—the primary storytelling mode used in Hollywood. That is, it went from a unique show brimming with confidence to one that lost its way and defaulted to predictable tropes.
It’s the same thing that happens when a founder runs a great meeting up until the end—and then drops the ball. All the confidence and conviction the VC felt up until that point was replaced with question marks.
How can you avoid the same pitfalls as GoT? Learn to finish strong.
Begin by thinking about the impression you want to leave. What emotions do you want your audience to feel as they close that Zoom window? Intrigue? Excitement? A desire to hear more? Then, ask yourself what image or thought would best convey that.
One tactic you can use is to come full circle and return to an idea you introduced earlier—what comedians often refer to as a “callback.” Another is to include a strong call to action that leaves your audience feeling compelled to act.
My favorite way to end is asking your audience key questions. Something like: “This has been a great conversation. How does what we are building align with what you’re looking for in a startup? Would a deeper dive in the next few days make sense?”
Getting the tone right on this one makes all the difference. I've watched and reviewed 50 investor calls over the past few months. The way this works is nailing an assertive but kind tone. The way to make it fall apart is to go aggressive or desperate. Either one of those and the message get's lost inside of a poor delivery.
I shared a few examples of how the tone sounds different the other day inside of a group of series a and b founders I was working with and the pieces started falling in place for them. It's one of those things founders don't know that they don't know. Once you do, then it's about learning how to control it and nail it every time.
Why do I love this strategy?
For a few reasons. One, it demonstrates you’re thinking about next steps, which suggests you have a strong vision. Two, it cuts to the chase in a way that moves the process forward without being too pushy. ALWAYS get to next steps—even if the next step is “no.” Ending on a “maybe” is a waste of mental bandwidth and creates unnecessary stress.
Most importantly, closing in this manner conveys a sense of confidence. Founders who end with some variation of “I’m just happy to be in the room with you” end up coming across as passive and insecure. That’s some Michael Scott energy.
Remember: just because VCs have the checkbook doesn’t mean they’re holding all the cards. Most are simply looking for a company that aligns with their strategy and values. As the founder, YOU are also interviewing the investor to make sure that’s true! Joe Dormani, a principal investor at Thomson Reuters Ventures, encourages founders to be brave and ambitious when pitching. “Build something the world values and the market will be there for it!” he wrote on his LinkedIn page.
I can’t stress that last point enough. Don’t fear the no—seek it out. Know that you’ll win no matter what. It’s up to the VC to climb on board the rocket ship or miss out on seeing Mars. Don’t be a passenger along for the ride—take the wheel and step on the gas. Ricky Bobby may not have known what to do with his hands, but he did get one thing right: If you’re not first, you’re last.
RESOURCES for Founders and Storytellers
After 12 years of inaction, the US Department of Energy announced plans this week to issue a $2.5 billion loan to a joint battery venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution. It’s the same program that loaned Tesla $465 million back in 2009 to build its Model S sedan, and according to GM and LG will be used to jointly build three battery plants in Ohio, Tennessee, and Michigan over the next two years.
Earlier, I mentioned how back in 1929, Ernest Hemingway toiled over the ending of his novel, A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway’s personal life made him a polarizing character, but he undeniably shaped storytelling in the 20th century with his short, declarative sentences and tangible scene descriptions.. Ken Burns’s three-part documentary on Papa takes an in-depth look at how he did it.
Last week, the Ma’alaea Bay on Maui saw its first Code Red swell in 17 years—and surfer Kai Lenny was ready. The last time such perfect waves came in, Lenny was only 13 years old. The videos of him riding what’s been dubbed “Code Red II” are a testament to the hard work, preparation, and patience necessary to ride your wave when it comes in.
I’ve made it my mission to share what I’ve learned about storytelling and fundraising to help founders like you realize your dreams.
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