Stop Saying “Let Me Know If I Can Help”!
It's time to replace this well-intentioned but ultimately empty cliche with something much better for our ecosystem.
I hear people say “Just let me know if I can help” all day long and I’m over it.
While this phrase entered our shared vernacular with a kind intention, it has now become a completely useless cliche. It offers the illusion of generosity and allows a meeting to conclude on an apparent high note without actually accomplishing anything.
The Problem: Empty cliches
Bright and passionate entrepreneurs drive our ecosystem forward but the majority are new to the startup world, so when someone tells them “let me know if I can help”, it can be confusing. While these entrepreneurs are smart and resourceful, it’s virtually impossible for them to know upfront what specific help you could provide or what to ask for from you. In fact, you may actually be creating more work for the recipient who now needs to think through HOW you can help them and how to follow up with you.
There’s a helpful parallel with new first-time parents:
A friend has a baby and you kindly say to the worn-down parents “Let me know if I can help” with well-placed intentions.
The parents area already so sleep-deprived that these casual offers of “let me know how I can help” actually end up as more tasks to add to their already full plate.
When I was in this situation, what I truly valued was the specificity and forethought in offers from friends and family who asked “Is it ok if we come by tomorrow to drop off a home-cooked meal/groceries?”. This was so much more authentic and generous than a vague offer of undetermined help.
The right way to actually offer help: Specifics
So back to our startup ecosystem: if you want to be helpful, it’s incumbent on you to help determine what you can provide that would be most beneficial to them. Do the work in your mind before and after a meeting to be able to present a genuine, thoughtful, and specific offer that will truly benefit the recipient.
So instead of asking an entrepreneur “let me know if I can help”, here’s how to actually be helpful:
Reflect: Do your homework and inventory your own skills. Pick 2-3 things you are confident that would be useful to the recipient and that you’re seriously willing to offer. If you’re not quite sure because it’s your first time helping, take a presumptuous guess.
Provide a menu of ways you can help: It’s rare, but when I like a startup but it’s not quite a fit for Ubiquity, I’ll offer a concrete list of actions I’m willing to take that I’m certain would be beneficial to them:
I might spend a few minutes with them thinking through 2-3 other deeptech seed investors who might like this particular pitch and passing along their intro blurb.
If I noticed their financials/projections came off poorly, I might point them to the Ubiquity University video module and Google sheets template on building your first financial model.
It might involve making specific recommendations on storyline for nailing their fundraising.
Contextualize the help and its benefits to them: Presenting options is one thing, but it’s also important to sell the recipient on why these options are helpful (remember, one of the biggest challenges of seed startup life is knowing whose advice to take). Citing past examples is one way to do this; e.g., “The last time I met a founder like you with such a relevant background, they switched their messaging around to focus on the customer impact and they later told me their fundraising dramatically accelerated.”
Once you understand how to be authentically generous in your offers to help another, it’s then important to be very careful when making this specific offer. After elevating yourself from cheap talk (“Let me if I can help”) to true generosity (“Here are 3 things I can do for you”), you’ll now have to follow through, so make sure to be sincere but sparing.
I’ve resolved to stop saying “let me know if I can help” and I hope that you will join me.
Ubiquity Ventures — led by Sunil Nagaraj — is a seed-stage venture capital firm focused on startups solving real-world physical problems with "software beyond the screen", often using smart hardware or machine learning.
If your startup fits this description, fill out the 60-second Ubiquity pitch form and you’ll hear back within 24 hours.
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