Rob Go at NextView Ventures wrote a blog post yesterday about the reminders that two drawings in his office give him. He recalled sitting on a MegaBus going from Boston to NYC (I know that feeling) to meet a company, and having to sit in a seat next to vomit the entire time (I’m glad I don’t know this feeling). He described the moment and the general concept of keeping humble quite well:
It wasn’t pleasant. But it was humbling. I wanted to capture that moment, because I know that all founders go through moments like these. By the way, I wasn’t wearing a suit like the guy in the painting.
The second piece is a big contrast to the first. It’s really hard to stay grounded as a VC. You meet with really talented founders who are pouring their hearts into their companies, and you say “no” or focus on the critical elements of their businesses all day long. It’s really easy to be somewhat condescending when talking about founders. It’s also really easy to make snap judgments about people, or paint them as good or bad in really broad strokes. “That’s guy is a force of nature!”. “That guy is an idiot” “That woman is a great entrepreneur” “That guy is a clown”. Those are all things I’ve said about founders behind closed doors. It’s not great when it slips, and even if I don’t say it, I’m embarrassed to say that those thoughts are in my head all the time.
Though his post is about staying humble and hungry, I think the former is what’s most important. In my short time working in NYC, I have encountered all types of successful people. A popular anecdote that you hear from people coming out of some of the larger banks is where an executive (we’ll call him Mr.Smith) leaves the firm to open up his own shop. Mr.Smith had a great track record investing in private companies, structuring deals, and all of his other duties since he had been at his big bank, so he thinks he might as well do it for himself. What a lot of these Mr.Smiths don’t realize is, is that once they leave these places with all of these smart people and great resources, “their” ideas, track record, and success quickly disappears. This is the importance of being humble.
I’ll be honest and say that even I, an inexperienced 22 year old at his first full-time job, have said what Rob details above about founders and CEOs. It’s hard not to when you want to sift through a universe of people and companies, but don’t want to waste time really getting to know every individual. Since I’ve spent more time at my job though, I’ve learned a lot about what being humble really affects.
The other two people in my office are smart, successful, and incredibly humble. It would be easy for them to dismiss those who are younger, less experienced, or have differing opinions, but they don’t. Instead they listen and show an amount of respect and humility that is very rare on Wall St. Being around these guys is what makes our office culture, and even lends to our investment process
A large portion of being humble is attributed to understanding who and what got you where you are today. There seems to be a general consensus here that all of us need each other in one way or another to continually better ourselves as well as the fund. Staying hungry and staying humble is what keeps great firms and great products going.
It’s like any great team in sports. Rarely has a superstar come out on top without a solid supporting cast, and especially in today’s leagues where talent is at an all time high, if everyone plays their role, the team is better off.