When everything rides on a single cold call

By Sarah Lacy , written on May 14, 2013

From The News Desk

Our sit down with Brian Lee last week captured everything I love about the PandoMonthly series. It was an inside look at the challenges and successes of one of the most important LA entrepreneurs to watch. And fortunately for any story-teller, Lee's career makes for a lot of dramatic ups and downs.

My favorite moment of the entire talk was Lee's story of how he nabbed Robert Shapiro as the face of his first company LegalZoom. It was a moment when his company -- and career -- hung in the balance. He and his cofounder had quit their cushy jobs as attorneys to start LegalZoom, only to be told after they'd made that decision that the Nasdaq had crashed, the consumer Web was over, and no one was going to give them any cash to follow their dreams. They felt if only they could get the most famous lawyer in the country to endorse their product, they'd still have a shot. It's a playbook Lee has repeated with ShoeDazzle and Honest. But he had a big problem in those early days: No one he knew knew Shapiro.

In this clip, he tells the story of cold calling Robert Shapiro -- certain it would fail -- and how the conversation that took place launched Lee's chain reaction of successes. Just watch it, as he tells the story better than I can.

I've found that most of the great entrepreneurs we interview for this series have that one phone call or meeting that changed the trajectory of their company. And it was almost always an uncomfortable one. So frequently the difference between success or failure isn't something as grand as the idea, the team, or even timing. It's simply having the balls to make the uncomfortable cold call that will probably result in embarrassment, but could -- just maybe -- save your company.

No one likes making cold calls. But that's what's so great about them -- if you are fearless enough to make them, to gamble on that .0001 percent chance that the person on the other end will help you, you have a huge advantage over people who rely on cushy introductions.

Increasingly, cold calls are a lost art in entrepreneurship (and reporting) with the proliferation of social media, AngelList, and incubators that all seek to make introductions to powerful gate keepers easier for would-be entrepreneurs. Everyone wants to lessen the pain of hearing your own voice crack, as you finally get that person on the phone, and your heart races with just two minutes to sell them on your dream. Everyone wants better odds of a "yes" on the other end of the line. But anyone who has built a company from nothing appreciates an entrepreneur who is willing to make them.

As a mentor once said to me, "If you're not going to relentlessly pitch your company, who is?"