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February 14, 2012

We’re taking some time this month to talk about the components of our ethos at NextView.  Taking investment from a VC is a very personal decision, and we thought it was important to try to articulate our values and culture in a way that is a little deeper than what you typically see on a VC’s website.

Last week, my partner Lee talked about our focus on Golazo – a beautiful goal. Today, I’d like to expand a bit more on our ethos of the “invited guest”.

Unlike “Golazo”, “Invited Guest” is not our own terminology.  It’s a phrase that Greylock has used over many years, and also a phrase that I’ve heard other VC’s talk about.  That’s a good thing – the goal is to be true, not to be unique.

We use “Invited Guest” to describe the way we hope to conduct ourselves in interactions with entrepreneurs and portfolio companies.  We are invited guests at their table.  Think of a dinner party when you go to someone’s home for a meal.  Basic manners usually dictate that you:

  1. Show up on time
  2. Use good table manners, out of respect for the host’s time and effort
  3. Help clear the dishes, but don’t take over the cooking

A bit more detail on the points above as it relates to VC’s and entrepreneurs.

Show Up On Time

One of the things I admire about my partner David is his commitment to punctuality.  It’s pretty rare in our industry actually.  He diligently blocks time out in between meetings and makes a very conscious effort to get to places on time or ahead of time.  It’s easy as a VC to fall into the habit of being late.  After all, it’s nice to have someone else wait for you vs. the other way around.  When you are usually the one getting pitched to, it feels easy to roll in 5 minutes late (or much more), just say “sorry” and then move on.  The funny thing is, when a VC is chasing a very competitive, “hot” deal you can bet that he shows up on time.

Every time I’m running late (which is too often) I remember something that was shared to me when I was a kid that I’ve always remembered: Being late communicates to the other person “my time is more valuable than yours”.  I think that’s bad form, and no way for an invited guest to behave.

 

Use Good Table Manners, Out of Respect of the Host’s Time and Effort

The sentiment that the investor’s time is more valuable than the entrepreneur‘s leads to some pretty poor table manners in VC/Entrepreneur engagement.  Here are a few examples:

  • Checking email during meetings or being otherwise disengaged.  Boo.
  • Not moving the ball forward between meetings.  How often do entrepreneurs find themselves just pitching things “from the beginning” between meetings?  Or, sometimes, a follow up meeting is more of a random walk through what has already been discussed.
  • Hanging around the hoop and not driving to a decision.  It’s a lot easier for a VC to just say “stay in touch” or “it’s interesting” but never get to a definitive answer.  Even worse, it’s easy to ask for a list of diligence items even if the investor knows that it’s highly highly unlikely that they will ever pull the trigger.  This gives false hope, and also makes it easy to spend wasted time with that VC giving updates or sending due diligence.

These are just a few examples of not being respectful of the host’s time and effort.  We try hard to avoid these.  And most importantly, we try hard to drive to a decision quickly and efficiently.  I’m pleased to say that over 1/3 of the entrepreneurs in our portfolio are people that we have said a quick “no” to in the past.  I think entrepreneurs generally appreciate a quick and definitive answer, and are willing to invite us over again if/when things change.

 

Help Clear the Dishes

We take pride in our ability to help entrepreneurs in the earliest stage of their business.  It’s why we are motivated to do what we do.  It’s also the thinking behind our investment strategy.  Our investment pace is actually slower than most other micro-VC’s or seed investors out there.  The reason we target a smaller number of investments is that we see our capacity as capped, so we try not to go beyond a certain number of active investments per partner.

We also are trying to find better ways to create leverage for our portfolio companies beyond just our own human capital.  I must tip my hat to firms like FRC and A16Z who I think really set the bar here.  We have a few tricks up our sleeves too, but frankly, it’s something we are continuously improving.

But while we help clear the dishes, we don’t try to take over the cooking.  We are believers that most great companies end up being led by their founders, and we try to find ways to empower founders to lead their companies most effectively.  That usually means that the founders need the authority to make the tough calls, and although we try to clearly express our point of view, we are ultimately guests at the entrepreneur’s table.

 

Final thought: As with most components of our ethos, these are largely aspirational.  The risk of writing a post like this is that it can have a holier-than-thou tone.  That’s not the intention – the reason we talk about these is to keep ourselves honest and push us to be better.  Even in writing this post, I cringed a few times as I typed, recalling times in just the past few days that I’ve acted contrary to this ethos.  Still, just because we can’t live up to it all the time doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.

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