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Everyone talks about how the learning cycles in venture are way too long. Including us.
True, knowing if you’re good or not is on a delayed fuse. But the question I’ve struggled more with in this job is, if you want to be good then what is the best way to do it?
There are seemingly hundreds of different ways to be a great VC. You can bet on markets, you can bet on people, you can bet on technology. You can be a specialist or a generalist, stage focused or stage agnostic. You can always lead rounds or never lead rounds, be opportunistic or rigidly thesis driven. There are great examples of VCs who come in every variation of investment style.
You can have an operational background or become an investor straight out of college. If you want to be a GP at a16z you’re going to have to have some serious operational chops. Benchmark or Kleiner Perkins? You might have been an investor all your professional life (although, FYI Stanford/Harvard MBA – OxBridge + LBS, IE, INSEAD are all pretty common paths into the junior levels while founder + exit is a tried & tested route to GP).
You can prize things like proprietary deal flow or you can get comfortable with a level of market visibility and hone your picking skills.
You can be on Twitter or you never go near a tweet. Go to conferences, never go to conferences. Blog prodigiously or never write a word. You can even get away with not having a website.
Any permutation seems to offer a potential route to success. Since realizing this I’ve been thinking about what are the things that seem to tie all the great VCs together? Is it respect for the founders? Being an incredible judge of character? Or do you just have to be really lucky once and things compound from there? (if you’re not at a T1 firm then you do need an element of luck or be willing to take a massively elevated level of risk to see something truly special IMO)
I think pondering this question has led me to a frustratingly obvious answer. The reason there’s so many variants of successful VC is that it’s a hyper competitive industry – there is always someone somewhere who can and will work harder than you, there’s no one who can be you. Finding your own unique flavour of VC that works your strengths is the only way to be truly great, that and having a high appetite for risk.
Having the conviction to go all in on your decisions and being willing to take risks when no one else will has a compounding effect on top of your unique style to produce great returns. However this risk proposition is a double edged sword, to have a chance at being great you have to take on an increased probability of being terrible.
So, there’s no set formula to become the next Peter Fenton and I feel if you try to find one you’ll probably end up mediocre in the end. Forging your own path based on your strengths is frustrating at times as there’s no book you can read or person you can talk to that gives you a sense if you’re getting closer or further from the ‘right’ answer. You just have to work at it and stay self-aware.
tbf I’m only really just getting going in VC. When I started I didn’t think I’d stick at it for more than 2 years. But in the past 18 months the team at Frontline have given me the latitude to go out and learn at a pace I didn’t think possible. I get to work with incredible founders and spend time theorising what the world will look like in the future as technology driven change accelerates. I’m still a long way from figuring out what my ‘style’ is, but Frontline have taken a chance on me and as of this week (woo) I’m moving into a principal role at the fund.
It’s a lot more responsibility, more autonomy and a huge chance to forge my own path at Frontline in this industry.
I am very excited.