I spent a few days in LA this past week and attended the UpFront Ventures conference. It was a fun, high-quality event and I was glad to learn a lot about the great stuff happening in LA and catch up with a bunch of friends old and new.
In particular, I was glad to begin to deepen a couple digital-only professional relationships that I’ve had for a while. First, I was able to finally meet Manu Kumar at K9 ventures. I’ve respected his approach from a distance (he was doing hardware investing before it was hip, and also is very principled in what he is and isn’t interested in), and we’ve interacted quite a few times via Twitter and other channels. It was great to be able to at least have an in-person dialog with hopefully more to come.
I was also glad to be able to meet up for a second time with Hunter Walk at Homebrew. As a firm, we find Homebrew to be very similar from an approach and ethos standpoint, and although I’ve known Satya for quite a number of years, I’ve only gotten to know Hunter more recently, and largely via social media. Hunter and I were able to grab some time together in person a few weeks ago in SF, and it was fun to be able to get better acquainted when we sat at the same table for dinner on Wed evening in LA.
These encounters and others have gotten me thinking more about professional digital relationships. I’ve benefitted quite a bit from these sorts of relationships, and it’s great for someone like me who is fairly introverted. I probably would not have had much of an opportunity to really get to know Hunter and Manu outside of digital relationships, since our focus areas are a bit different and we are realistically unlikely to co-invest more than a small handful of times. It also allowed us all to get a very good, baseline understanding of our investing approach and how we view the world, given what we’ve said publicly on the internet over time. I kind of knew that I liked them before even meeting them, and that was pretty cool. If business opportunities do come our way, I think that our digital relationship allows us to bridge some chasm so it seems like we’d be working with people we have some familiarity with.
At the same time, there is an interesting false intimacy that is developed digitally vs. in person. It’s kind of weird to think that there are people online that probably know a lot more about an important subset of my thoughts than most of my close friends and family. It’s also pretty easy to be disingenuous digitally, which eventually does come to roost at some point, but probably takes a lot longer.
To tie this together, one of the speakers at the UpFront event was the founder of Tinder. And although Tinder is largely focused on dating, I’m sure I’m not the only VC that has been pitched multiple versions of “Tinder for Professional Relationships” at some point or another. Although I have a visceral negative reaction to the analogy, there is something to the idea of reducing the friction of creating new productive professional relationships. I’m not exactly sure how one would do it effectively, and I think that meaningful relationships and friendships do require quality and quantity in-person time. But I think these sorts of relationships can be (and have been) really positive for me, and I hope that I’ve been able to be a positive contributor to others as well. It will be interesting to see how these evolve and whether there will be meaningful businesses built off of making these sorts of quality professional connections.