“Success rests in having the courage and endurance and, above all, the will to become the person you were destined to be.” – Dr. George Sheehan
When I heard that presidential VP candidate Paul Ryan said something like he had run a “2-hour-and-50-something” marathon, I knew immediately he was lying. I don’t know a single person who has ever run a marathon who doesn’t know the exact time it took him or her to do it. The 2-hour-and-50-something language didn’t ring true to me and I smiled when I read Andy Burfoot and George Hirsch’s essay in the NY Times titled The Honorable Clan of the Long-Distance Runner.
This isn’t a political post but my disclaimer is that I have no time or energy for Paul Ryan so my bias is out of the way. But I simply hate when people lie. As a kid, my parents made it painfully clear to me that lying isn’t acceptable. I remember being punished a few times before the age of 10 – once was for stealing baseball/football cards (my cousin Kenny’s OJ Simpson card and another friend’s cards – a bunch of them) and once for lying about where I had been. In each case, I was grounded, but also had to admit I had lied and then tell the truth to the person I had deceived, which was even more painful than being grounded.
Those are the two lies I remember. I’m sure there have been other white lies or lies of omission since then, but I feel confident from about age 10 forward I turned off the “it’s ok to lie” switch in my brain. It’s part of my approach to life – I am honest and direct, even if the information is painful to hear or to say. I try to say it in a soft way when it is painful, but I don’t dodge it.
If I make a mistake, which I do often, I own it and correct it. I view making a mistake as very different than lying. I used to exaggerate more and my first business partner Dave Jilk would often call me on exaggerating and we’d have long conversations about the difference between exaggerating and lying. I ultimately agreed with Dave and now I try not to exaggerate – I’ll be optimistic in the face of an uncertain outcome, but I try never to exaggerate about historical or factual data, and when I do I correct myself publicly.
I hate lying. It’s a non-starter for me. I have passed on investing in companies that I wanted to invest in because I thought the entrepreneurs had lied to me about something in the deal process. I’ve disengaged from companies I’ve been involved in because I’ve been lied to, even ones that were doing well. I’ve stopped interacting with people who I had developed a relationship with because they lied to me. I’ve ended friendships, including long ones, over deceit. The stimulus for my first divorce was a lie from my ex-wife (an affair that she had.) And I simply have no time to develop a relationship with someone who I think lies.
Marathon running is the ultimate example of this. You can’t lie about running a marathon; you will eventually get caught if you do. Every marathon I’ve been involved in (now 22 of them), including several with under 250 people in them, has a tight set of rules around finishing that are easy to understand and are recorded diligently. I think I can, without looking, tell you the time of all 22 marathons I’ve run. I can’t get it to the second, but I learned after my first marathon when I was a teenager that you get to drop the seconds – a 5:07:40 marathon (my Boston time) is 5:07; a 4:05:27 (my Chicago time) is a 4:05. But there is no such thing as a 2-hour-and-50-something marathon (which turned out to be a 4:01, which is still super impressive in my book.)
Just finishing a marathon is a huge achievement in itself. Paul Ryan’s 4:01 is faster than my PR over 22 marathons (4:05) – it’s beyond me why he would feel compelled to lie about this. He should be proud of his 4:01!
Don’t lie. It’s simply not worth it. And if you are going to lie, don’t bother wasting your time with me.
Rajat Bhargava and I have been working together since 1994. We’ve been involved in creating seven companies together (the most recent ones are MobileDay and Yesware) and, while most have been successful, we’ve had a huge number of positive and negative experiences along the way. We’ve mostly had a lot of fun and, when we haven’t, we always made sure we figured out what went wrong.
Minda Zetlin just put up an interview with us on the Inc. Magazine site titled 4 Signs You Should Say ‘No’ to a VC which I thought was excellent. She explores the entrepreneur – VC relationship and suggests four warning signs for an entrepreneur when interacting with a VC.
The paragraph on “you can’t be completely honest” is a seminal moment in my relationship with Raj. It also was a key point in my work career where, upon reflection, I completely and totally grokked the importance of being honest in the moment, clear about my reasoning, and willing to change my perspective based on new information, rather than feeling stuck in simply delivering a message. The section from the article follows:
“The important thing is to be completely transparent,” Bhargava says. “It’s very, very difficult to be transparent about your business, but it goes a long way toward building that relationship. ‘Here’s what I’m going through; here’s what I’m struggling with; here’s what I need help with.’ You have to know if that will spook the investor or if they’ll want to dig in and help you.”
That ability to be honest was a great asset in Feld and Bhargava’s relationship when they worked together on Interliant, the only one of their ventures that did not survive. After some politicking by a different executive, Feld removed a part of the company’s operations from Bhargava’s oversight. Bhargava took a few days to calm down, but then he explained forthrightly how disappointed he was and why he believed Feld had made the wrong decision. “Being open and directly confronting the issues, you get through it,” Bhargava says now. “I felt hurt, but I think our relationship is that much stronger.”
As for Feld, he recalls returning to his hotel after discussing the matter over dinner and feeling physically ill. “I knew I had completely screwed up,” he says.
I count Raj as one of my closest friends and trust him with my life. He’s had an enormous influence on how I behave as an investor and how I interact with entrepreneurs. Raj – thanks man – I look forward to many more years working together.