I was up at Columbia University on thursday speaking to Steve Blank's students. Steve did a weeklong version his Lean LaunchPad class at Columbia last week. During the Q&A, a student asked me how I engaged with the startups we invest in. I answered that I planned to play paintball with two of our portfolio companies on the coming weekend. That got a chuckle from the class but it wasn't a joke. I don't think VCs should be meddling with the companies they invest in but I do think they should be engaged. And playing paintball is a good way to do that.

I like to stop by the offices of the companies we invest in and have lunch with the team. Over one of those lunches at a few months ago, I told the team that I had been in ROTC in college and that I still had decent skills. I described a paintball game I had played with my son and his friends a few years ago. The next thing I know, Chris Poole, the founder of emails me and tells me that he wants me on his team for a paintball throwdown with Codecademy, another USV portfolio company. How could I say no to that after bragging about my skills to the Canvas team at lunch?

So we trucked out to Staten Island yesterday morning to Cousins Paintball and spent three hours running around the woods shooting each other with paintballs. It was a blast. There are a couple photos of the event here.

I got to know everyone on both teams a lot better and got shot by most of them at least once. Chris and Zach trash talked and beefed a fair bit at the start but by the end it was all hugs.

Great day, great bonding. That's what I call engaging wtih the companies we invest in.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Jasonpwright

    canvas, under, together. 

    1. Jasonpwright

      You make them look like giants.

      1. Dale Allyn

        I love their song “Istanbul (not Constantinople)”. ;P

  2. William Mougayar

    Funny I saw that checkin on your Foursquare yesterday and thought that was a fun thing, but had no idea it was half-business.As you said, it’s the bonding experience that’s the key objective here. And it works. I can think that any number of team sports/games would accomplish similar results. Once you get passed the dinner thing, it should be mandatory to do a game-event between VC’s and startups.



  3. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    Being a VC… The worst job in the world. 😉

    1. fredwilson

      It sure doesnt suck

  4. William Mougayar

    Fun Friday extends into Fun Sunday based on a fun Saturday.

  5. Cam MacRae

    This kind of thing is great: you get bums out of chairs and running around, you get to settle a few scores, and and if you’re anything like me you’ll cool down with a couple of beers.Many moons ago I would take my team for the occasional session of Laser Tag (hurts less than paintball, ouch!), pizza and beer. It was easily the most popular and well attended team building exercise (whatever that means) – even the guys who would *never* come out for dinner or a drink would turn up and have a blast.

  6. Aaron Klein

    Great incentive to do a win-win valuation… 😉

  7. aminTorres

    I don’t need more reasons to want to be a USV company.. thanks a lot Fred. 😉

    1. Drew Meyers eitherand I’m likely looking for funding before too long 🙂

      1. Donna Brewington White

        I can help you with your marksmanship.

  8. Dale Allyn

    Fantastic. I’m sure it was a blast for everyone. 

  9. Mark Birch

    Last one standing gets all the funding…

    1. Matt A. Myers

      This is when you bring paint grenades to the party..

      1. Mark Birch

        I cannot help but think there is a Hunger Games joke somewhere in this…

      2. Techman

        GRENADE!!!!!!! MOVE!!!!!!

  10. Richard

    How is it that staten island can be so close in geographical proximity to manhattan yet so far apart in almost every other measure? It seems almost criminal to have wasted such a precious resource.

  11. JLM

    As you know, I have been advocating for some considerable time the return to dueling as a legitimate means of settling business disputes.I have primarily been advocating pistol duels but I am also partial to fencing though I refuse to consider such light weapons as the foil or epee preferring the saber and perhaps a dagger for the close work.I think that in the future, you may want to insert paint ball as a business dispute resolution technique to determine thorny financial issues amongst your VC brethren and certainly as a Board level tie breaker. The possibilities are limitless.I think that a paint ball war set in a parking lot filled with late model VC cars and the VCs dressed in their finest plumery would drive an equitable solution to many complex issues..

    1. panterosa,

      My daughter’s school has fencing. I see it as so much more fun now, than when I was there. The nickel dropped. My niece is black belt at 12.



    3. leigh

      I’ve never tried paintball bc i think i’d get addicted. (have shot a rifle on many an occasion and it’s scary how much fun it actually is….)

    4. karen_e

      They had a real old-fashioned fist fight in the executive war room last week on Mad Men. Good times!

  12. John Revay

    Saw this photo on yesterday – did not see your mug center back of the photo – looks like all had a great time. Perfect day for battle.#hardknocklife

  13. testtest

    they should be working. i’m a fan of Daley Thompson’s attitude. He was reputed to train 3 times on christmas day. when asked why he replied “Because NOBODY trains 3 times on Christmas Day, and that’s why I’m Number One” Daley Thompson on wikipedia:”a former decathlete from England. He won the decathlon gold medal at the Olympic Games in 1980 and 1984, and broke the world record for the event four times.With four world records, two Olympic gold medals, three Commonwealth titles, and wins in the World and European Championships, Thompson is considered by many to be the greatest decathlete of all time.”

    1. fredwilson

      I think they work most weekends

    2. jptucker

      And I might argue that paintball with business contacts is work.  Company outings boost morale, build culture, enhance teamwork skills, etc. etc.Not work in the traditional sense, but certainly not time wasted.

      1. testtest

        if morale, culture, and teamwork needs to be built outside the context of work then there’s issues imho. it should be built in. and built in to the appropriate level.

        1. jptucker

          No one implied that in this situation culture needed to be built outside of work.  I simply made the observation that it was being built outside of work.And who makes the rules that culture should only be built within the walls of the office, anyways?

          1. testtest

            well, imho, the goal of that the team should bind them. consume their every thought, as they dream of the a better future, a symphony of skills working together, the trade they sweat over to find perfection in every detail. others may not know the beauty of what they’ve done, but they know. every line of the design, the concise algorithm that’s more effective, the emotional connection and benefit of the product messaged by the keen-witted marketeer.the idea they pursue so blinding that day-to-day worries fall away. they come together because they must, to achieve what they set out to.the individuals become reborn, elevating their game. the greatness of their creations drive them and eclipsing the trivial.culture created with the goal in mind. effective because its aim is to get them to their creation. forged in the furnace of passion and skill.and i just don’t think playing with guns can match up to a destiny fulfilled; a distraction at best.  

          2. Donna Brewington White

            Is that all it is, Chris? Playing with guns?Also, I would say that while I have worked well with people that I didn’t play with, I think I’ve done my best work with people that I could play with.

          3. testtest

            @donnawhite:disqus “Is that all it is, Chris? Playing with guns?”probably. i’ll have to think about it some more donna

  14. JLM

    This activity says some very interesting things.My favorite observation is that you are comfortable mingling w/ the folks. As Rudyard said:”If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,”I am a huge fan of managing by wandering around as you can learn such interesting things. Plus you understand why soldiering is so much fun. And you didn’t have to write any letters home.All the right moves.

    1. William Mougayar

      Managing by wandering around (or walking). MBWA…A Hewlett-Packard classic I was schooled in from my first job at HP at age 23.As Yogi Bera later gave us his version “You can observe a lot…just by watching”.

  15. Richard

    Take the game to the school yard with some ny style stickball.

  16. J Nicholas Gross

    Paintball is great at building camraderie, and also teaches you another humbling lesson: you’re dead if try to go things alone. The Rambo-movies are soooo far off reality.

  17. K_Berger

    Activities like this are great.  I often find the challenge is getting everyone to participate (you will have fun whether you like it or not). In the Chicago area there are a few venues for a game called Whirlyball (imagine a combination of bumper cars, lacrosse, and basketball).  It’s hard to explain how much fun Whirlyball is, and the few videos I’ve seen of it do not do it justice, but trust me, it totally rocks!  Also, it works nicely for a mix of drinking and eating in between games which only enhances the fun.

    1. fredwilson

      do you have to go to chicago to play whirlyball?

      1. K_Berger

        I couldn’t find anything in NY after a bit of searching.  South Windsor, CT is as close as I could find.

        1. fredwilson

          Thats not close but a lot closer than chicago!

          1. K_Berger

            True, but Chicago is definitely a more interesting place to be. Let me know when you are game and we can do a Chicago AVC Whirlyball Meetup.

        2. John Revay

          I grew up in East Windsor, CT#SmallWorld

    2. John Revay


      1. K_Berger

        Things can get a little out of hand.  For example, opponent reaches for ball with his scoop so you figure the best way to prevent said opponent from acquiring ball would be to whack him (or her) on the hand with your scoop. It gets somewhat problematic when the client you take out for an event ends up bleeding (I didn’t hit him, I promise).  🙂

  18. Rohan

    ‘A team that plays together stays together.’

  19. ShanaC

    *shrug* I’ve never played paintball, and it isn’t on the top of my to do list at all….

  20. Donna Brewington White

    I haven’t yet tried paintball. A bit messy for my tastes. But I have engaged in a couple of airsoft battles.My son and his friends started out thinking of me as a mom but as the battle ensued they became merciless. Lost a pair of favorite sunglasses to a 13 y.o. sniper.The best compliment is that they wanted me on their team. You see, my dad thought that his daughters should learn to type in case our (to his thinking) nontraditional career aspirations failed or took some time to be realized, but he also taught us to shoot. (He was full of wonderful contradictions.)I don’t own a gun and don’t want one in my house but I confess that I am a little bit proud that I’m a pretty good shot…as long as the target isn’t moving.

  21. Conrad Ross Schulman

    I one day hope to be sky-diving with u Fred 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      Thats where i draw the line

      1. Carl J. Mistlebauer

        Exactly where is this line?  Before getting on a plane or after jumping from the plane?

        1. fredwilson

          before getting on

  22. george

    You’re rewriting the VC playbook with your passion and communal approach!

    1. Dale Allyn

      I have a lot of respect for Fred because of the way he interacts with people – and not just his portfolio people. One can be cynical and suggest it’s all about “deal flow”, but that’s not my view at all. From my point of view (and I know that many here feel the same) Fred is a really “good human”. Deal flow is important to any VC, and it should be a product of good behavior and community conduct, but as you say, Fred is “rewriting the VC playbook”. Except I think it’s deeper (better) than that even. 

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Well said, Dale.

      2. george

        To clarify, wasn’t implying anything cynical, it was a compliment! Deductive logic…sorry, if for some reason you’re reading more into it.

        1. Dale Allyn

          george: sorry, no, I was not taking your comment in a negative way at all. I was agreeing with you, and adding my feelings to suggest that, in my view, it involved more than just the VC playbook. Sorry if my comment caused confusion. 

          1. george

            Thanks Dale!

  23. Donna Brewington White

    Your comment about meddling vs. engaging tapped into my ongoing thoughts about the role of VC firms in supporting their portfolios — something I think about a lot. I recognize that this thinking is “from a distance” and flawed.Also, my thinking about your industry has matured since I first clicked on whatever link led me to AVC. My initial interest in VC started because of the unique and unparalleled role VC has in promoting the success of entrepreneurs. Since then, I’ve put aside much of my naïve idealism and also have a greater appreciation for the fiduciary responsibility of the VC to LPs and find this to be exciting as well.One of the reasons I initially became a barfly at AVC is that you more than most VCs tap into that initial idealism — you combine being a shrewd investor with tangibly caring for the well-being of founders and their teams. I imagine that it must be a fine line at times. But your enthusiasm for your portfolio is contagious.Yet, I still wonder if there are ways that VCs — especially those with large portfolios — can better support their portfolios without “meddling.” There are common needs and concerns that portfolio companies have that can be met from some centralized place while also achieving economies of scale by combining forces. I think about this a lot from the standpoint of recruiting. Something that is second nature to me is mysterious and formidable to many new CEOs and yet their success depends on their ability to recruit and build their teams. Yet, most cant afford my services or services like mine — or they end up using discounted recruiters who are discounted for a reason — and this mars their perception. This troubles me.I was encouraged when USV created the General Manager role. This seemed to be a step in the right direction. I am also encouraged that more and more VC firms are building internal recruiting teams in support of their portfolio companies. I’ve even seen some VC and PE firms create other types of shared services such as marketing. One of my mentors was the head of HR for a private equity firm…his role inspired me. He did a great job of empowering without meddling.I wonder where you draw the lines between meddling, creating unhealthy dependency and empowering success. Of course, there is immense long-term value in the “sink or swim” approach. And, yet… I wonder if some sinking that happens is unnecessary. I think a lot depends on how the support is provided. Teaching to fish, rather than just handing over the fish, for starters.

    1. Rohan

      ‘To meddle or not meddle. That is indeed the question.’;)

    2. Matt A. Myers

      Some things just make sense to be centralized due to the value of specialization. Marketing I am not so sure about in most cases. Shared office space or shared brainstorming sessions I can see being something that could provide lots of benefit – including the cost reduction of a shared space..

      1. Donna Brewington White

        I agree that much of marketing could not be done in this way. The marketing person I was thinking of is “responsible for influencer marketing, content, and social media” for the VC firm and portfolio.

    3. leigh

      A friend just left his job in HR to join a recruitment firm who will be providing HR outsourced service to small companies who can’t afford a FT person but have needs (initial contracts, difficult terminations etc.)While it’s not a great model for things that need to be proprietary in nature (ie marketing) it could be brilliant model for other things (HR, Operations) etc.

    4. testtest

      “Is that all it is, Chris? Playing with guns?”probably. i’ll have to think about it some more donnai was being a bit of a prick on this one. i’m still not sure of the value gained from playing paintball, but perhaps that’s my bad.(replied to this thread to make sure you saw it)

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Thanks, Chris. I did see this comment earlier but was rushing.I’m glad you responded because I neglected in my earlier response to acknowledge that you made some good points in your “mini-treatise” on building culture — quite poetic, actually. You were inspired!I’ve always been quite intense where my work is concerned. I am one who has underestimated the value of play as part of building a team and even in building relationships — and in creating culture. I am a believer now, but I still sometimes forget.

        1. testtest

          helping people shine and achieve something they can carry around is important. fun is fleeting. it’s almost a con to try and fill people’s days with fun to make them forget about the work. lifting them up to become who they can become is what they really deserve.

  24. Mark Essel

    “There’s two kinds of people in this world, the ones with loaded guns, and the ones who dig. You dig.”The Good the Bad and the Ugly…

  25. John Best

    I was always the pop-up sleeper. I’ve even got a marker stored away somewhere. I doubt I could get it through customs easily, but if I’m ever in the vicinity you can always give me a shout if you need an objective held.

  26. panterosa,

    Have always been fascinated by the bonding exercises at companies from the foosball tables to the corp outings my GE black belt friend used to lead. He’s Italian so he thought it was American craziness. Europeans don’t blend their lives so much from work to personal.But I would like to play paintball with my painter friends. I used to get painted, physically, by a painter, so it would be a fun extension of that, and with other painters who paint differently.

    1. William Mougayar

      But there are some really fun and elaborate game competitions in Europe as you well know. I haven’t seen these in NA.

      1. panterosa,

        Most Europeans I know work for their family businesses or themselves, not for corps. So I’d love to hear what fun game competitions there are.

  27. Jonathan Lerner

    only one chick???

    1. fredwilson

      two and a third who bailed on the outing to stay at the office and work

      1. jason wright

        There’s greater value in hunter gatherer than hunter killer.

      2. Jonathan Lerner

        My bad.

  28. Ben LeBlanc

    That’s awesome. Paintball is a great bonding activity. We played as a fraternity when I was a pledge, and it was great to be able to shoot the older guys, especially the jerks. But also a ton of teamwork and strategy involved too. And then when the day was over, we definitely had a closer connection to everyone who played.Also a cool reminder of how many awesome outdoor activities you can still do within New York city’s borders.

  29. Facebook App Developers

    Paintball is an interesting game, but sometimes it becomes very annoying when you are missing most of your shots.

  30. Buy Stickers

    I cannot help but think there is a Hunger Games joke somewhere in this…