Startup leadership and self

Culture is a direct reflection of leadership. This is one of the reasons ego-centric leadership - fear, greed, self-importance - is so incredibly self-defeating in any organization, but especially in startups. It's the main reason my own companies went on to do OK, but not great. I was scared - that we'd fail completely, that the opportunity cost was too high, that we should secure the small win rather than risk it all again and again. 

It took me about a decade to truly understand that leadership is about people, not things. What a platitude, but what truth! The abstractions take care of themselves if you just take care of the people. I came late to this realization, later perhaps than necessary given loving parents and a decent education. I think this is just one of those growth journeys that we're all on (seeing my daughter develop ego is very gratifying, though I know she'll have to get over it eventually!). For some this realization comes sooner, for some later. Don't let reductionist materialism fool you: leadership is first and foremost about people, not things. 

Equally, beware of falling into the converse trap: the ego is only a hindrance to success if it is inwardly focused. If the flow radiates outward - to the thing you're looking to do and the people you're doing it with - you're unstoppable. You will be called magnetic, charismatic, inspiring. Even if you have all the social awareness of an Erlich Bachman.

Perhaps this is why large companies are less successful over time. The manager's primary motivation is personal success and the "I" will get in the way of truly caring about employees, customers, colleagues, and making good products. 

The point in time when you've reached product/market fit and sit back and say "now we have to become a real company" is one of the most dangerous, pivotal moments in a startup's life. It's where culture gets lost, empty mission statements are formulated, useless lists of values circulated and dominator hierachies installed. Rules and processes can't substitute for creative, purposeful founder leadership. 

You can only show up as that purposeful leader day in and day out if that's who you authentically are. And that authenticity is one of the things I increasingly look for when investing. 

Founder coaching

2017 was a year of profound changes for me. I thought long and hard about what kind of founders and what kind of companies I want to back in the future. With my partners, I began to rethink what a venture capital firm should look like and stand for. And I finally tackled my perceived lack of horizontal value-add (impostor syndrome much?) by completing a professional coach training program. 

I've always liked the sports coach analogy of the founder/VC relationship. You're the athlete, playing the game. We're there with you - emotionally, financially - but supporting you from the sidelines. Just like VCs, some ex-players make great coaches. But some of the greatest coaches were never particularly great athletes (I was an OK but not a great founder). The delineation is also useful: when I have the urge to "get in the game", I know I'm overstepping my bounds.

Some of the tools and perspectives I've gained through coaching have been very rewarding. I find myself asking more questions and helping develop options, instead of just dumping opinions and pattern recognition. I've been acknowledging and validating different perspectives, giving more compassion and empathy during difficult times, always trying to move to a "higher", more integral perspective. It changed board room dynamics more than once. To some extent, it feels like I've been re-learning the "people" side of the venture capital business. Which is really the only side of the business that matters. 

I'm incredibly excited to continue this part of my work in 2018. And finally I'm excited more because I believe that what we're doing has meaning and purpose, rather than because we're going to kick ass and make a lot of money for everyone. That's kind of incidental.

It's my job to help you realize your full potential. What could be more fulfilling than that? 

Have a wonderful start to the year, everyone.