Building Successful Long Term Relationships
Twenty-two years ago today, the Gotham Gal and I were married. I've learned a lot in the twenty-seven years that we've been living together and much of those lessons have spilled over into my business life. I also have to say that observing my parents, who have been married fifty-two years now, provided a lot of learnings for me early in life that have helped me with my own marriage.
I thought today might be a good opportunity to talk about some of those lessons and how they impact how I approach building successful long term relationships in business. In my business, the most important relationships are those between my partners and me, and the relationships with the entrepreneurs we back and their teams. It's absolutely critical to get those relationships right and sustain them for the long haul.
A marriage is not an easy relationship by any means. The stresses of children, finances, families, and a shared living space (and many more) wears on the partnership and causes tension and friction. It takes work and a lot of communication to make it successful. But in addition to constant effort and communication, I think there are two other critical factors – tolerance and shared vision/values.
Rabbi Niles Goldstein told a joke in his last shabbat service at the New Shul. He asked a woman to explain the success of her marriage. And she replied "shtick tolerance". I've tweeted and told that joke a few times publicly since hearing it a few weeks back. I like it very much. I know that my shtick gets old and nobody has heard it as much as the Gotham Gal. She knows how to mute it. And I can do the same with hers (and yes, she has a shtick too). Tolerance is critical to a successful long term relationship. You need to be able to tune out certain stuff that gets old and let it pass you by without getting annoyed or upset. I've had to work hard on that and it has paid dividends in both my marriage and my business life.
Even more important are shared values and vision. Milton Pappas, the man who taught me more about venture capital than anyone else also taught me a lot about marriage. When we got married, I was working for Milton. When our first child, Jessica, was born, he told me, "make one night a week date night. do it every week without fail. and when you are alone, don't talk about the daily grind, talk about your hopes and dreams, what you want to do together and what you will do together". That was very sage advice. I must admit that I don't practice it enough, but I do practice it (like many things in my life).
Tolerance and shared vision/values are critical in business as well. This past thursday night, I talked to Prof. Ari Ginsberg's class at NYU's Stern School Of Business. In the Q&A after my talk, a young man asked me "when you are in competition for a deal, how do you win the deal?".
I replied that we compete on cultural fit and shared vision/values. I explained that we don't compete on price, terms, "value add" or any other of the typical things VCs talk about. We focus on building a relationship with the entrepreneur that makes them comfortable with us and that convinces them that we will have tolerance for their shtick (and man do entrepreneurs have shtick). And most importantly we talk about their hopes and dreams, how they plan to get there, and why we share those hopes and dreams and want to help them achieve them. That is the only way I know how to win a deal and it works when both parties are sincere and open and honest with each other.
Like a marriage, a venture investment is a long term relationship. None of mine have lasted twenty-two years and none will be as important as my marriage. But if you treat them like a marriage (on both sides) and work hard at them, communicate early and often, are tolerant, and most importantly share your vision and values, it can be a very rewarding experience, both emotionally and financially.