VC Cliché of the Week

It’s another Bliss McCrum cliche this week. When I was starting out in the venture business Bliss and his partner Milton used to take me along with them to board meetings. And I recall leaving a board meeting with Bliss and he said to me "watch what he does, not what he says".

This is another way of saying the classic cliche that actions speak louder than words. But Bliss meant something more. He meant that when managing someone, you need to pay attention to what they do, not what they say.

I’ve been in a board meeting where the CEO presented a plan to increase sales headcount to increase sales. At the next board meeting, there were less salespeople working for the company than the month before.

I’ve had situations where the entrepreneur said that they were willing to consider a sale of the company to a buyer who had expressed an interest only to find out later that the entrepreneur threw out such a ridiculous number in the meeting with the buyer that the buyer walked away. Clearly the entrepreneur didn’t really want to sell the business at that time to that buyer.

My point is not that management are liars. It’s that people often say things that are not a true reflection of what they want to do. People tell you what they think you want to hear.

But if you focus on what people actually do, you will get a sense of what they want to do, where they want to go, etc. And then you can use that as the basis for a conversation about alignment of interests.

There is more than one way to build a business, make money, etc. I have seen success happen so many different ways that I do not believe that there is one right way. So if management wants to do things their way, I am inclined to try to work with them on it. But you have to figure out what their real plans are. And the best way to do that is to watch what they do, not what they say.