Reblog: VC Cliché of the Week

Back in the early days of this blog I had a series called VC Cliche Of The Week. I’m not sure how long I ran it but I did eventually run out of material and phased it out. In continuation of yesterday’s good vibes and with yet another shoutout to Bliss, here’s a reblog of one from March 2006:


The father of this weekly series, the guy who taught me at least half of the cliches I know, is a guy named Bliss McCrum. He and his partner Milt Pappas taught me the venture capital business from 1986 to 1996 when I worked with them at their firm, Euclid Partners.

One of my favorite cliches from Bliss is a rising tide lifts all boats.

Whenever things seemed too good at a portfolio company, in the stock market, the economy, or somewhere else, Bliss would quip, “well you know that a rising tide lifts all boats“.

It was his way of saying “don’t mistake a good market for a good business”.  The insinuation was always that the tide would come back in and so would the boats.  And you had to be prepared to make things work in tough times as well as good times.

And we are in good times in the venture business, the internet business, and for the most part, the US economy.  Consumer confidence hasn’t been this strong since before the Iraq war.  The Fed has raised rates 15 times and may not be done, signalling that the economy remains stronger than they’d like it. Venture money is flowing freely in Silicon Valley and China and in many parts of the developed or developing world.  Advertising dollars continue to move from offline media to online media and that is one rising tide that is certainly lifting all boats.

But we know these good times will come to an end at some point.  Are we in 1998 as Caterina suggests and have another year or two before the good times end?  Who knows?  I don’t expect this run of good times to play out like the last one anyway.

The best we can do is prepare our companies to withstand a business environment that is less friendly.  Companies need a business model, they need a seasoned and well constructed team, and they need patient and experienced financial partners.  With these ingredients, hard work, and some luck, you can survive a downturn.

Some of the best companies I’ve ever worked with were funded at the height of the last bubble and they are doing great now.  So it doesn’t really matter when you start a company, but it does matter that you can make it through tough times.  Because right now we have a rising tide that is lifting all boats and that won’t last forever.

#life lessons#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    Are you running this post again, because you believe that we are currently in a phase where a rising tide is lifting all boats?

    1. fredwilson

      no. that’s a coincidence.i just googled “vc cliche of the week bliss” and that came up first which brings up a good point worth discussing.people read way too much into my blog posts, ascribing meaning to them that does not exist in my brain.i’m not criticizing anyone for doing thatjust pointing it out

      1. William Mougayar

        Ok. just wanted to clarify…but times are good otherwise in tech-vc, no? The good, bad and hyped are getting funded it seems, and many VC funds have recently re-filled their vaults to record amounts.

        1. fredwilson

          VC funds had a ton of cash when the bottom fell out of the Internet market in i don’t think that’s a good measure of healththings are good right nowbut if ISIS blows up something big everything could fall apartso i would say “things are good, for now”

          1. Jess Bachman

            A rising war lifts all aircraft carriers?

          2. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          3. David Semeria

            ISIS don’t have nukes, Putin does.

          4. Cam MacRae

            Indeed. Fear the bear, not the boogieman.

          5. Blake

            ISIS isn’t particularly interested in much besides expanding their Caliphate and bringing the Second Coming:…However there are certainly plenty of other dudes out there that would like to blow stuff up in the West (including a white dude in the Kremlin, depending on how you define “West”)…

      2. LE

        i just googled “vc cliche of the week bliss” and that came up first which brings up a good point worth discussing.So that brings up the question of what made you google “vc cliche of the week”. The Kremlinologists [1] would want to know that.[1]

  2. William Mougayar

    A corollary to this aphorism would be: “In calm water, every ship has a good captain.”In other words, rough waters are truer tests for leadership, success, growth.

    1. Girish Mehta

      Keeping to the tide theme…”Only when the tide goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked”. – Warren Buffett.



      1. William Mougayar

        In the last book I have- The book of awesome?

      2. LE

        You need to put logo bugs (clearly readable not cartoonist wtf who drew that?) or watermarking on your drawings. Each and every one of them.

        1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          1. LE

            Someone’s “always attribute” is not the same as you having your mark, clearly visible, (I have to stress this again) on the cartoon.Preferably “”, lower right corner reversed out.That’s your branding and there is no reason not to be in people’s face (for lack of a better way to put it) about it.This has been discussed before, when I flogged Brandon Burns about something similar.

          2. FAKE GRIMLOCK


    3. Floklore

      exactly the point I was about to make: Over the years, I have also learnt that it means “don’t mistake a good company for a good manager/leader” In a growing company, nearly everyone will look good. Take them out of their growing company, in a mature or worse, turn-around company, and you will see the organic managerial competence and leadership of the people in question. Shrewd execs know this and avoid difficult companies and/or sign huge golden parachutes.

  3. JimHirshfield

    Ha… it was like 1998 back in 2006, right?…”another year or two…” Ouch.

  4. Richard

    A rising tide replaces all boats (that can’t handle the new tide).

    1. William Mougayar

      you’re sure that wasn’t a storm that did that?

      1. Richard

        As Fred has discussed the rising tide is mobility, technology and networks.

        1. Joe Cardillo

          I want to see that cartoon..

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK

            SEE ABOVE.

          2. Joe Cardillo

            You’re the best, Fake Grimlock

          3. FAKE GRIMLOCK

            ME KNOW.

          4. fredwilson

            yes he is



      1. LE

        Nice use of phallus perhaps you can work some ice cubes into that cartoon as well?

        1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


  5. William Mougayar

    How about inviting Bliss to write a post here about his 10 years with Fred Wilson, circa 1986-1996.

    1. BillMcNeely

      That would be an awesome guest post. Maybe some of the USV interns who have been gone 5 + yrs as well?

      1. Vasudev Ram

        No, that would be Bliss #SorryCouldntResist

    2. JimHirshfield


    3. Guest

      Well I was there with both of them

    4. Rick

      That would be good..I’ll tell ya’ another thing. I’ve been hearing this kind of stuff more and more from people: “The best we can do is prepare our companies to withstand a business environment that is less friendly.”.Is the end coming soon? Are we gonna’ see that much needed down turn in the markets that will send the US back into a depression? Hmm…

    5. ShanaC

      I’d be so curious about that

  6. JimHirshfield

    “A rising tide lifts all boats”Unless you’re Noah, then…”He who laughs last, laughs longest”Unless the cat’s got your tongue, then…”Silence is golden”

  7. Elia Freedman

    Nostalgia week here at AVC.

  8. awaldstein

  9. Steve_Dodd

    History does repeat itself……..classic Fred! Thanks for keeping everyone’s feet firmly on the ground.



    1. Richard

      Yep, since 1980 the difference between the CPI of the television industry and educational industry is 100X!

  11. Matt Kruza

    Although I think the markets are generally overinflated, perhaps a case can be made that technology and certainly venture capital is in for an impressive decade plus run from here: 1. Total US equity market capitalization (between 20-25 trillion $)2. Total Venture capital funds managed: between $200-$300 billion (aka ~1% of public market equities) Lastly, structurally we are in a 20 year deflationary period (ala Japan for the last 25 years – certain govt. policies could counteract this.. but very difficult to do). With that being said the size of the pie (equities / wealth) may not get bigger in the next 10-15 years, or at least very slowly by historical standards. And the one asset class who will “take” from existing industries is venture capital and the businesses who “disrupt” (gag me on the buzz words but they apply) existing equity / profit streams

  12. jmb

    Prefer Buffett’s variation — “only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked”

    1. pointsnfigures

      this is funny, three people thought of this quote at the same time

      1. David Schachne

        It’s one of my favorite Buffet-isms.

        1. pointsnfigures

          I think it also applies to startup buyouts and funding. If you are invested in a startup that does X and it has competitors that all do X (or similar to X), if they get bought up or funded and yours doesn’t, you are the naked one

  13. David Schachne

    Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.Warren Buffett

    1. JamesHRH

      flip side

  14. pointsnfigures

    I had to reread this several times. “The Fed has raised rates…” thought I was in a time warp. I jumped to the left. And stepped to the right.Another one I like that is similar to this is from Warren Buffett: “IT’S ONLY WHEN THE TIDE GOES OUT THAT YOU LEARN WHO’S BEEN SWIMMING NAKED.”

  15. Salt Shaker

    Milt Pappas was an MLB pitcher in the 60’s and 70’s. 17 yrs. and 200+ wins. Not the same guy, I presume?

    1. fredwilson

      not the same guy

    2. JamesHRH

      Wouldn’t it be awesome if he was though?

  16. andyswan

    This is why I support Global Warming

  17. LE

    a rising tide lifts all boatsThis is similar in a way to my saying (and it is my saying) which is “business is about taking advantage of the low hanging fruit of opportunity”.For example if you are in a market that is growing and expanding, all you literally have to do is stick out your hand and grab the business (by proper execution of course).However if the market isn’t growing the task becomes much more difficult since you have to work so much harder and steal customers from competitors. (This is what I had to do back when I started in business after college and I can assure you it requires a vastly different approach to gain business.)Part of the problem with taking advantage of the low hanging fruit of opportunity is that when that ends you may not have developed the skills to be able to execute business in the traditional way.

    1. Rick

      I like your “low hanging fruit” concept. It’s all about making money and if it’s there for the taking… Well then take it!.We don’t give two shits HOW technology works. We just want to get rich!!!.One of the things I find most of the time when people in business aren’t talking about money is they have some kind of cushy situation and all they need do is justify their position and salary..Like college professors they have a job with salary. They aren’t out in the business world. Their goal is to sell more classes. So they talk all about things that don’t apply to the “real world” business. This is one of the reasons you see me asking the hard and direct questions instead of dancing around the issues.

      1. LE

        A corollary to this is that when people with money say money isn’t important, or they start to spend money on charity causes, [1] it’s typically because they feel guilty in some way with their fortune realizing that a large part of it came as a result of luck. And that they really aren’t that different than people who are just as smart or just as hard working (and I don’t mean “scrubs floors” hard working) who don’t have the same money and success. My guess is this phenomena is probably more prevalent in people who earned their money after a time of toil and are older, rather than young people.An example of “young people” might be the google guys. I am sure they really do believe they are 1000 times more special than other equally smart people. Simply because they got into the net at such a young age and happen to have a good idea and the help of major VC’s to make it click.Probably the same thing exists in the entertainment industry. Someone who didn’t make it until their mid to late 30’s is not the same as someone who made it at 19 and doesn’t know the role that lucked played in that large success.[1] If not to meet other wealthy people which for sure is a reason along with tax advantages.

  18. Twain Twain

    “Time and tide wait for no man.” — Geoffrey Chaucer.“Watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma. There it is before you, smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always mute with an air of whispering, “Come and find out”. — Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.”Everything in life has some risk, and what you have to actually learn to do is how to navigate it.” — Reid Hoffman.

  19. LE

    The best we can do is prepare our companies to withstand a business environment that is less friendly. Companies need a business model, they need a seasoned and well constructed team, and they need patient and experienced financial partners. With these ingredients, hard work, and some luck, you can survive a downturn.That’s all business school stuff.The problem is that business is always a crapshoot because you don’t know what the future will bring. Preparing for the downturn is a great idea but does that mean that the company should sign that long term lease on more space which will be a fixed expense? Or not sign the lease because if there is a downturn how will they pay the rent? I mean there have, as you know, been many companies that have succeeded or failed depending on how they threw caution to the wind or their money. In my first business I had to sign a lease on an expensive machine without knowing if I would get or keep the contract. I just knew that if I didn’t have the machine I stood no chance. So I took the gamble. It was the right gamble but the outcome was in no way assured. In business this is one of the many longer term gambles you take everyday if you want to get to a better place. It’s also one of the reason that if you have something to lose you tend (unless you are a true gambler) to take less chances.With business decisions it’s easy to be a hero or zero depending on how much risk you take combined with outcomes that are definitely positively not under your control. That’s at least one of the reasons that real estate developers can go belly up. They keep placing bets and then if the market turns they go bust. Up until that point they look like geniuses though.

    1. Rick

      One thing to keep in mind is that seasoned business people don’t like to “gamble when it comes to business”. They like to bet on a *sure thing* so to speak. Doing business properly is about people who sit down and pound out agreements that are acceptable to both..You’ll hear stories about people who walked along the edge and it worked out. But you don’t want to do business with those types. They can bring you down as well as their self. Remember you’re counting on them to fullfil their end of a bargain. If they go belly up then you have a problem..So while around here we talk mostly about new innovations and start ups living on the edge. It’s not good business.

  20. Matthew Perle

    “Trees don’t grow to the sky.” I heard this in finance around 2007 and always liked it. Similar sentiment.

  21. Kirsten Lambertsen

    My first boss was a master of cliched metaphors, too. I still use them all today. A favorite: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Might be the truest thing I know.I learned a newer one circa 1998 that stuck with me ever since: Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.Related: my dad had a million weird metaphorical sayings. When he was hungry, he’d say, “My big ones are eatin’ my little ones.” Ask him how he was doing, he’d answer, “Sittin’ up and takin’ nourishment!”

    1. ShanaC

      I do what your dad does

  22. Steve Goldstein

    I learned “a rising tide lefts all boats” as “don’t confuse brains with a bull market.”

  23. kirklove

    That saying has always been a favorite of mine, though I’ve always viewed it as a positive. If my good fortune can help us both rise up or vice versa let’s try to make that happen. It’s the opposite of stepping on someone to get ahead.

  24. LE

    Another interesting phenomena happening here is what happens when you drop a cool saying or an idea into a young person’s head.The guy that calls you “Buster”‘s former boss (Morris Ballen of Discmakers) was a customer of mine in the 80’s. I’ll never forget the day that he said to me “LE if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck it’s a duck”. To this day I remember that he told me that because I had never heard it before and it sounded so cool.

  25. William Mougayar

    You know I was checking the Euclid Partners website. It looks like they haven’t changed the design since 1996. http://www.euclidpartners.c

    1. Rick

      If it’s not broke… Don’t fix it.



        1. LE

          #ALWAYSBEITERATING may be in conflict with”make hay while the sun shines” and “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. [1]You know why many companies and people become complacent and keep doing the same shit and don’t change?Because they are busy in the current day filling orders and making money. That is not to say that’s a good strategy (long term) but typically people that are busy and “full” are less likely to take the time to have to think about the future. On the other hand if you have a situation which is going south you are compelled to take a look at things and an urgent need (let’s call it “urination urge”) to do so.Nice to say “GM should have sold small cars or seen the threat” but quite honestly from their perspective it didn’t seem like they had to take a piss no “urination urge”.As a one small example let’s take my suggestion that you put your logo on each and every cartoon that you make. You said in reply something that roughly equated to “I don’t need to do that”. Meaning that in your mind it won’t move the needle and you are doing well enough. If on the other hand you weren’t busy at all (needed opportunity and/or work or connections) you might have thought “leave no stone unturned that’s a good idea and what do I have to lose vs. what do I have to gain” and taken the advice.Look at Fred. He’s out in LA and his life is almost certainly easier. He can’t take meetings in NYC. While I don’t know if he is doing as many meetings in LA it’s quite possible that he simply doesn’t have the need to think about the future and work as hard. Hopefully Fred won’t become like GM. While some new guy who was him 15 years ago is coming up from behind taking any and all meetings that he can.[1] Which is the problem with many of these cliches. Details matter and the cliche only takes into account a small part of the total situation and nuance.

          1. Glen Hellman

            Startups..if it ain’t broke…. break it.

          2. FAKE GRIMLOCK


    2. LE

      This is from 1999 (courtesy of (just random date check there are other older examples as well)…

      1. William Mougayar

        Looks like they started it in 1998. I liked this:What Venture Capitalists believe make businesses work …3 Things You Often Hear … – Management, Management & Management3 Things That Are More Helpful …- Very Large Market Opportunity- Management Team’s Ability To Adapt Rapidly & Successfully To A – Changing Environment- Escalating Barriers To EntryTechnology Is A Necessary But Not A Sufficient ConditionClearly Definable Exit Strategy

  26. JamesHRH

    “Don’t mistake a good market for a good business” is a far more plain spoken way to express this maxim.Thats a keeper.In 2001, in Calgary (of all places) I was getting harassed @ a tech industry BBQ by the EA to a buddy who was a Sales VP @ Compaq. She was gloating about the stability of Compaq (that seems pretty funny, today) and how “everybody who jumped shipped to a Dot Com startup was totally f*&ked now” (these things tend to stick in one’s mind).My acquaintance – a good guy – was visibly uncomfortable as she totally forgot that I had not jumped shipped, but had always been a startup guy.My first response was ‘I see as many good opportunities today as I did in 1998, just not as many patently stupid ones.’FWIW, that didn’t shut her up. I had to take a more pointed approach.

  27. Kenny Fraser

    Great point. The companies that survive the down swing will become very strong. These will be the Apple and Google of the future.

  28. Conrad Ross Schulman

    JFK knew how to ask questions and think logically! Like us.

  29. Sam

    “Advertising dollars continue to move from offline media to online media and that is one rising tide that is certainly lifting all boats.” Except the newspaper and magazine boats, of course. Industry disruption and value capture.If we get a correction, it’s going to be a lot more interesting than the late 90s/2000 bubble deflating. We have a lot more substance and cash generation in the Internet sector this time around. Some folks swimming naked, for sure, but nearly the same percentage.I believe there are at least a couple decades ahead of us where we will continue to see value creation and capture through Internet-enabled industry disruption.Legal counsel… Radiology… Will we really have highly compensated professionals in these fields dispensing subjective judgment 20 years from now? Difficult for me to see that future.

  30. fredwilson

    and “that dog won’t hunt”

  31. Supratim Dasgupta

    And what did he mean by that? Stay humble?Feet on the ground?

  32. Supratim Dasgupta

    And what did he mean by that? “that dog won’t hunt”?

  33. Supratim Dasgupta

    Cool.My mom keeps telling me a variant of that! Most of the times I dont like it.But most of the times she is



  35. THOM K. SHEA

    Hey Brotha, that line came from a movie staring Pat Swayze and Sam Elliott called “Road House.” In the flick, Sam Elliott and Swayze were at a restaraunt and they were discussing something from the past, when Elliott told him that you can believe what you want, but, “That dog won’t hunt!” Which means that it is a dead end subject! It is what it is unless you do something different!Peace be with you brotha.



  37. THOM K. SHEA

    I certainly believe in remaining humble and definately with my feet planted firmly on the ground, however, the meaning that I get from “that dog won’t hunt” is that if one continues to do the same thing, over and over, wouldn’t it be insane of us to expect anything different to happen? Hence, “that dog won’t hunt,” in my feeble understanding so far of life, is that unless I begin to re-think my belief in something, and only then, can I expect my life to begin coming out any differently, ie, “That dog won’t hunt” to maybe now, “that dog WILL hunt!

  38. Supratim Dasgupta

    Thanks for helping me understand! Peace be with you too and the rest of the world!

  39. THOM K. SHEA

    Hey brotha, ther is no need to thank me as it is me who should thank you! Why, you say?? Because it was an honor just to be asked for my help. I believe whole heartedly that my purpose in life is to be of service to any and all who would ask of me! It is my belief that by helping others, I, in turn, help myself!! It is a win win situation, if you will! It allows me to turn my personal experiences and knowledge into WISDOM!! Now that is a powerful feeling and if I can just learn more about how to expand that wisdom, then, my friend, and only then can I expand upon my wisdom and grow spiritually, not religiously, but spiritually, from within, the heart, or as I believe-the soul! think about that and give me !reply letting me know your thoughts! PEACE!

  40. THOM K. SHEA

    I am looking to have conversations with anyone who IS serious about themselves, their aims, their goals, in self-improvement and generally a honest, serious, yet, someone who can see the lighter side of life. A human soul, if you will.Don’t forget we are all human beings, of one origin, and somewhere along the line, I believe that we have lost sight of that simple fact! I belive that we are ALL spiritual beings and in order to be truly human beings, we must first learn to be beings first that inhabit a human form, which, by the way , is only a temporary passing thing!Let me close with this: I hope all become happy with who they are and may peace, joy, and happiness be with your every step and with your every breath in and on this journey of life. My we all focus on our very next step and learn to live in th moment by letting go of our past and overcome our extreme fears of the future! The “what if’s?” The but maybe, or the sould do a could do. We tend to focus on the unimportant issues and forget to live NOW!!! This very second. Beath!!Adversity introduces a man unto himself!!!!