When people ask me the hardest part of being a VC, I have a pretty canned answer. It’s one I’ve used a lot over the last 10 years that I’ve been doing this, tho it’s grown more nuanced over time.
The hardest part of my job is that we are one step removed from making the actual things we fund. We don’t actually build the products, we don’t actually close the big sales, we don’t actually make the decisions that drive the businesses we fund. We give input at varying degrees of forcefulness. We make introduction and dive into back channels for feedback. We play a roles as supporting cast in the companies we fund, never getting to play the lead.
And sometimes that’s hard.
It’s hard when people you fund, people you genuinely care about, ignore your advice. It’s hard to watch them step on landmines you told them were there. It’s hard when you see something broken they choose not to fix. It’s hard when the company you thought you were funding becomes something entirely different. It’s hard when the cash runs out.
In the early days of developing a response to this question I would often say that VCs don’t actually make anything, we just fund the makers that do. I’ve since changed my tune on that, and this video taps into why.
It’s a short clip of a slam poet, Taylor Mali, recounting an exchange with a lawyer who questioned him about how much money he made as a teacher by asking “what do you make?”. Taylor flips that question into a moving riff on what a teacher makes that might surprise you. It might even inspire you.
You see, there’s a lot of noise out there in startup land. Caterina touches on this in her excellent post from last night:
I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs in their 20s who are knowledgeable about the valuations various Y Combinator startups have attained, know the names of all the angel investors in the Valley, have in-depth knowledge of the Facebook diaspora and their doings, have opinions on various Zynga acquisitions, and know exactly how to get Andrew Mason on the line…it boggles the mind. These are good things to have in your tool kit. But I want to hear about things out there that they love. About loving the thing they’re building.
So, no, as a VC I don’t actually make the products we fund. I don’t make the headlines our founders do. And I don’t make the companies that change the world.
But I do make things.
I make palms sweat when I step into a conference room to hear a first pitch. I make questions that cut through you like a ginsu knife through a soda can. I make hearts sink or swoon when my number appears on caller ID. I make it rain for some and rain on the parades of others. I make founders question every. single. thing. about their business then fund it anyway based on the courage of their conviction. I make parents proud of kids they feared could never keep a job. And I make it possible for moms and dads to put bread on the table when their ambition outstrips their savings. I make founders find their limits then step past them. And I make lifelines for cubicle cowboys and girls swimming against swells of the status quo. Sometimes I make a difference. Sometimes I just make a mess. And, sometimes I make a leader by being someone’s first follower.
Now. What do you make?
It’s labor day weekend. Some will relax and unplug. Some will hunker down and work. But I hope all of you who watch this video will take time to think about what you are really making which is why it’s required weekend viewing here on BRYCE DOT VC.