To our founders,
I try to be an open person, especially with all of you, but you might not know this about me. When we started Bloomberg Beta, I had strong feelings about becoming a VC — vaguely gross feelings. There were a (vanishingly) small number of VCs I adored. The rest I thought were, as my daughter would say, blergh.
When Julie and I started a company, VCs bottom dealt us every card in the deck — the memories linger. Some of this is natural; the universe resists change. Some, though, is the particularly-blergh culture of the VC industry: getting VCsplained by people who assume startup ideas are always tractable to the intellect, forgetting we are all still equals even if people ask you for something all day long, allowing the enormous time pressures on you to compromise your ability to treat others with respect.
The best firms were often exceptions of kindness and generosity — Greylock and USV, in particular, stood out this way. They started their meetings with us by explaining themselves, their backgrounds and approaches. Even though we, of course, knew them both professionally and (because we are fortunate) as friends. These best firms might have known that, if they did want to invest (and, for perfectly fine reasons, most didn’t), they’d soon be selling us — and it would be phony to “flip to sales mode” later.
(Pro tip: kindness, understanding, and modesty in the face of the incalculable improbability of predicting startup success are all much more valuable than “being helpful.” Mr. VC is generally not so smart or connected, that his (sadly, almost always his) “free advice” or one-off intro can actually meaningfully help smart founders already devoting night and day to the cause. There are exceptions— like Tim Chang— who made a wildly helpful introduction to a recruit. These days, my partners James, Karin, and Shivon remind me by example of the power of simple kindness.)
So if I had all that blergh feeling, why become a VC in the first place? I wanted something easier, less emotionally grueling than being a founder — The Hardest Job. It’s difficult to be a good VC, but ridiculously easy (compared to being a founder or operator) to just be a VC. Also, If I’m going to complain about a system, I always itch to see if I can do it better. (Put my time where my mouth is.) And my wife, Sara, was starting something; I wanted her to have room to do that without having two founder unstable-reactors in one nuclear family.
So I started life as a VC… with misgivings. As a VC, I unfortunately spent even more time with blergh-VCs than I had as a founder! (I learned greater appreciation for the good VCs. I realized even the blergh ones have money which is still, let’s face it, green.)
At other times in my life, I’d entered a job with misgivings, almost always in a client service role — as a management consultant, or meeting with ad agencies to sell them that “thing we’d never done before.”
Then, together with our team at Bloomberg Beta, we gathered you together — our community of founders — and I spent more and more of my time serving you. I realized that earliest-stage VC, correctly done, is also a client service job. I learned I was mistaken: It’s not that I dislike client service jobs; I just didn’t like my old clients. And I love founders. Serving you founders, every day, is a joy. I’m grateful — these weeks more than usual.
Founders create. You are the primary sources of business. You are raw, you are messy, you think deep, you fear big, you worry, you lunge, you carry secret shame and at-times-more secret dreams. Founders are just like the rest of us, only more so.
Three years in to this job, I have a new view on being a VC. I now love it. Why? I’m in a client service job where I love my clients — you founders. (To her credit, Sara knew I would love it from day one. Yet again, she got to the puck long before I did.)
So thank you, founders.
Note: I’m giving thanks for you, not to you. If I were saying thanks to you founders, I would be grateful for what you have done that benefited us. Saying thanks for you means, to me, I’m grateful for your mere, yet often miraculous, existence.
This year, I looked at a pile of blank Thanksgiving notecards, the tradition that’s replaced holiday gifts for us. I imagined writing, and my pet peeve of repeating myself — you all need to know that, thanks to you, I love what I do for a living. So here’s your card. DRY.
Keep on founding, founders. For those who have yet to join our community and one day might, or those who never will, you, too, do The Hardest Job.
With gratitude and respect,