If talk is cheap, advice is cheaper. I sprinkle advice out like salt on french fries, not knowing if it works or not. You’re probably thinking: typical newspaper columnist. But hear me out.
About a decade ago, I met my friend Andrew for lunch at Henry’s Hunan Restaurant in San Francisco—hot and spicy. He was from Washington, knew everybody and had worked at a policy-strategy shop. He had even done business with T. Boone Pickens, the legendary wildcatter.
“I owe you,” Andrew insisted, “for the advice you gave me.” I had no idea what he was talking about, and my face must have shown it. “The ‘put it in the corner of your desk’ trick,” he reminded me. It all flooded back.
I once had a boss who would never sign anything, at least not right away. Instead, he told me, he would put the document in the corner of his desk. He would see it every day—and not forget about it—but not sign it. Eventually, a series of people would call until the person in charge got on the phone in a huff. Then my boss would say, “Hey, I’m happy to sign this, but what do I get?” At that point, he could ask for almost anything.
It works because it makes the impersonal personal. In 1999 one of our fund’s private investments was going public. The bankers at Goldman Sachs sent over a standard 180-day lockup agreement. I hated lockups. I’d rather sell into the frenzy, like Dropbox last week. What the heck, I thought, I’ll just put it in the upper right corner of my desk. Over the next few weeks, I got a series of calls and voice-mail messages asking me to sign the lockup. I ignored them, and eventually the head of tech banking called.
“You’re holding up the deal. We can’t proceed with the IPO without your signed agreement,” he told me. “Well, I doubt that,” I replied matter-of-factly, “but what’s in it for me?” After a pregnant pause, he asked what I wanted. Bingo. I was ready: “How about an allocation of 30,000 shares for my investors. It would beat the 1,000 shares we normally get.” Another pause. “OK. Agreed. Fax the signed pages within the hour.”