Coming Of Age

I’m out here slingin bringin the drama,
tryin to come up in the game
and add a couple of dollar signs to my name
– Memphis Bleek Coming Of Age by Jay-Z

I'm not going all Ben Horowitz on you. But imitation is the finest form of flattery and I do like how Ben rolls on his blog and in the venture capital business.

I'd like to talk this morning about how hard it is the come up in the venture capital game. I work with a bunch of VCs who are in their early 30s and have less than five years in the business. They work hard, put in ridiculous hours, are on top of all the latest trends, companies, technologies, etc. They meet with tons of companies every week, work hard for their portfolio companies, and are on planes flying around to the important confereneces and demo days. I can assure you they are working harder than I am.

But when it comes to winning deals, they have a distinct disadvantage. They can be working on a deal for a year or more, and then when the entrepreneur decides to raise funds, a more experienced VC such as myself can swoop in, spend a week or two building a relationship with an entrepreneur, and take the deal away from them. I've seen it happen. I've done it myself.

They make rookie mistakes. They let a reporter hang out with them for a week thinking they can trust them. They talk when they should be listening. They overpay for deals thinking that will win the deal for them. They use their phones in board meetings. They fight with entrepreneurs over meaningless things.

When I see these things I cringe. Because I've been there and done that. I spent the first ten years (maybe 15) of my time in the venture business as a young VC trying to make it in the game and not really knowing how. I've made all of these rookie mistakes and more. I feel for them, I often mentor them, and I really enjoy working with young VCs.

When a young person asked me about getting in the venture capital business, I advise them not to. I think VC is an experienced person's game. Startups are not so much. Startups are a great place to be in your 20s and 30s. VC is a great place to be in your 40s and 50s.

I look at Ben and his partner Marc and think "they did it right." They got into the venture capital business when they had all the experience one could ever want working with startups. They don't lose deals to more experienced VCs. They win deals over more experienced VCs.

But of course many young VCs made the decision to get in the game at an early age and are committed to making it work. They are going to have to take their lumps. Make the mistakes. Learn from them. Continue to work harder for less results to show for it. And lose deals they should win.

One of the things I did not do very well that many of these young VCs are doing much better is building relationships with more experienced VCs. As I said, I work with a bunch of them. Teaming up with a more experienced VC can help you win a deal, you can learn from them in the board room, and you can ask them for advice when you screw up.

Going back to where we started this post to end it, I like how Jay-Z and Memphis Bleek partner up in Coming Of Age. That's the way to do it.

[JZ] Hahahh I like your style
[MB] Nah, I like YO’ style
[JZ] Let’s drive around awhile