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Bring The Cupcakes

A friend recently gave me some advice he had gotten from a famous VC. This investor was very successful with a knack for not only spotting but more importantly getting into really hot companies. When my friend asked him how, he said the key was something he called "bringing the cupcakes".

The idea is really quite simple. It's just about giving good gifts. In a world where there are lots of dollars competing for a small pool of exceptional companies, personal touches mean everything. It almost seems trite. Find out what people like and gift it to them. And what I love about the phrase is that something as simple as bringing cupcakes can make all the difference.

This really reminded me of a passage from Michael Ovitz's excellent book Who Is Michael Ovitz?:

We instituted CAA's famous gifts office in the late 70's on the uncontroversial theory that people love free stuff. One of my assistants kept track of all our clients' hobbies and charities. When an agent found out some new bit of relevant data—Tom Hanks is taking scuba lessons or the like—it got passed to the gifts assistant via a buck slip, or interoffice memo. The next time the client had a birthday or a book coming out or a movie shooting, he'd get an outdoor watch or a nice piece of luggage, or say for Paul Newman or Tom Cruise on The Color of Money, an ornate pool cue. When Ron told me Sylvester Stallone admired my old Ferrari, I gave Sly the title. When Laverne & Shirley became a hit and I kept redoing Penny Marshall's deal, I told Paramount's Gary Nardino, "By the way, add a washer and dryer as a gift. From you to Penny.

*aside: I love the idea of a dedicated gift department to surprise your clients with awesome gifts of things they didn't know they wanted.

Ovitz talks about gifting Ferrari's, but it's always surprising to me how these personal touches are typically neither expensive nor difficult. Often the little things matter more than the big things. Remembering a fact, a hobby, a recent story they told you, etc and then demonstrating that through a well timed gift does just as well as a big grand gesture.

While cost doesn't matter, being memorable does. Good timing is an easy way to be memorable. You have to strike while the iron is hot—pay for the rush delivery, it's worth it. But you also don't want generic gifts like wine, cheese/meat boards, etc. It's ideally something they will keep around, remind them of you and hopefully something they will always talk about and share with others. Again from Ovitz:

Except for start date gifts, my rule was that important gifts shouldn't be disposable: no champagne, no muffin baskets. Instead, rare first editions from Heritage books, ancient Greek coins, paintins and prints, even the occasional car—sturdy, thoughtful presents that would last. Our gifts office spent more than 500k a year and generated a ton of good will. Every Christmas we gave Tiffany key rings or the like to the secretaries of our favorite executives, and we messengered over 500-1k to our favorite restaurant owners and maitre d's, those who'd made us seem more important at the beginning than we actually were.

Gifting isn't just for talent agents or investors. It's applicable to anyone who wants to stand out in a noisy world, which is increasingly everyone. Just doing the work isn't enough anymore—remember to also bring the cupcakes.