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You Can’t Have All the Answers

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Venture capital people are human even though they don’t want to appear human.  They want to appear like Carnac the Magnificent.  They want to have the answers before the questions are asked.  They speak confidently.  Almost in a tone like you were stupid to ask the question in the first place.  Then they will tell you that there are no bad questions.

Of course, this isn’t true.  They are human.  They don’t have all the answers about everything.  Some situations are the same, but some are different.  A good VC will recognize when they don’t have the answer.  It’s what they do next that is important.  Which Ghostbuster do they call to get the answer?

A psychological counselor told me once that males have an interesting characteristic.  They try to fix stuff or make it better right away.  It’s a fire drill.  Generally, females don’t have this characteristic.  Males get into a lot of trouble in relationships when they constantly try to fix stuff.  Instead, they would be better off taking a step back and listening.  Talk to people and work through the problem several times before acting.  Move slower.  Ask questions.  Of course, often that’s how females solve problems! These are generalizations of course but if you take a step back and think about certain situations you might have witnessed this.  Maybe even with your parents.

A good VC will tell you that they don’t have the answer.  Donald Rumsfeld referred to this as “known unknowns”.  Instead, they might ask a lot of questions to help the entrepreneur try to think differently and help them work through the problem.  There is no skeleton key that fits every lock to make the issue go away.  Humility is a good character trait in a venture capitalist.  You have to be able to admit when you are wrong-and confess it openly.

Do they dig in?  Or, do they shy away.  Do they keep their sense of humor in the heat of the battle, or do they start laying blame?  Everyone wants to work with the winners.  No one wants to spend time with losers in the portfolio or ones that are treading water. However, the real key in VC is taking those companies and turning them into something.  The winners execute so well, they almost take care of themselves.

When an issue occurs is the time when a venture capitalist must have a network to bring to the forefront.  It’s why they get a carry and a management fee on the fund.  They can’t be all things to all people so they have to be able to quickly send an email, pick up the phone and make a call on behalf of the entrepreneur.  If they can’t, they are commodity money and not earning their keep. Or even worse, they have given up on you and they see the cost of bringing the network to help you is greater than the cost of not helping. That’s when you know the boat is taking on water and you better have a life jacket handy.

Everyone says they have a great network.  Everyone says they know everyone and you can look on sites like LinkedIN to see if they are connected.  But, are they really connected? Do they help or do they just make it worse?  The only way to tell is to talk to other startups that VC has invested in and ask them how they worked through problems with them.  Hopefully, they will tell you.

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