A few years ago, I realized that I had run out of namespace in my brain and the only way I could learn a new name was to forget one that I already knew. This notion annoyed me for a little while, then amused me, and then became my reality.
I’ve always been bad at names + faces, but I have a savant like ability to remember stuff that I’ve read, especially numbers. I’m a visual learner, not an auditory learner. Not only can I read much faster, I retain so much more. So it’s not that surprising to me that when someone comes up to me it’s hard for me to associate their name with a face.
This used to not matter much. But in the last decade the number of people who know me, or know of me, overwhelms the number of people I actually know. Part of this is the function of the network vs. the hierarchy where the network is completely dominating in my world.
As I reorient my work patterns to eliminate travel, more aggressively leverage the network, and become one with the machines, I’m less interested in “hi my name is Joe Smith” and much more interested in just interacting with Joe Smith. This can be awkward for some, especially those who really want a physical connection of some sort (e.g. “can we meet for coffee?”) but if you want a magic decoder ring for my life, just start “doing” and remember that my world is a network and a doeracracy.
Please don’t be offended when you come up to me and have to reintroduce yourself. It’s definitely a me problem, not a you problem.
I first heard the word “grinfucker” a decade or so ago from a close friend who was a former investment banker. He said, in response to a meeting we were in with a person who was very polite and charming “he’s such a grinfucker.” I loved the word and, as I found out later, it described the person perfectly.
I had an encounter with someone on Friday that made me think to myself “that person is a grinfucker” and I vaguely remembered a post on the web from someone about grinfuckers. A quick Google search generated a post from Mark Suster titled Don’t be a Grin Fucker. It’s excellent – go read it – this blog post will wait patiently for you to come back.
I was at dinner mid-week with another friend talking about a bunch of stuff. During that dinner we started talking about SOPA/PIPA. He has another friend who is one of the SOPA/PIPA advocates. He told me what the person said about it, which was basically “the tech industry misunderstands what we are trying to do – it’s only about foreign websites – there is nothing bad in the bills.” I responded to my friend that this person was lying. We talked about that for a while. As I reflect on the conversation, it wasn’t simply that the pro-SOPA/PIPA person was lying, he was actually grinfucking our mutual friend. Which, ironically given the specific context, might even be worse than lying.
I try to live my life where I always say 100% what is on my mind. I rarely hold back and, although I try to be polite about it, I’m sure I piss plenty of people off. But I’d rather annoy and piss them off than grinfuck them. And I’d much rather someone be brutally honest with me about whatever they think, especially if they disagree with me or think I’m doing something stupid, since that information is so much more valuable to me than a disingenuous good vibe.
I’ve started doing something new at the end of most of my public talks. I have always ended by giving out my email address and encouraging people to reach out directly if there is anything they want to discuss. But I’ve added on the following:
If I said anything you disagree with, think was confusing, stupid, or just plain wrong, please tell me. I won’t take offense – don’t sugar coat it – just tell me. That’s the best way for me to learn and get smarter.
I suppose I could add “please don’t grinfuck me by saying how wonderful the talk was as you think in the back of your mind ‘wow – Feld is a real moron – he totally missed the point on the blah thing.'”
I encourage everyone to chew on this. Honest, direct, and clear debate is so much more powerful than bullshit. We are living in a very complex era and the information we are trying to process is extremely confusing and contradictory. If you like or respect someone, don’t grinfuck them. And if you don’t like or respect them, don’t grinfuck them – tell them why.
Following is something that happens to me on a regular basis, with a new and exciting twist. I’m telling this story both to vent (maybe I’m grumpy today – I don’t know) as well as for an object lesson on how not to interact with a VC, or at least with me.
First – the normal part. I’ve had an email exchange with an entrepreneur over the past week. We’ve never met, but he started the email thread by asking if I’d be interested in getting together about his company because he’s looking for financing and he’s sure I’ll be interested. I asked for a short description of what he’s doing. He sent me another email telling me all the friends we have in common who will vouch for him. I responded by asking what he was working on. He gave me a vague description and told me I’d love it. I didn’t really understand it, but it didn’t fit in any of our themes and I told him so. He said he’d looked at the themes and thought I’d be really excited about what his doing. I again asked him to be more specific in case I was missing something.
Now – the new and exciting part. I didn’t hear back from him for a few days and then got an email asking me to respond to his previous message. I looked through my email archive and didn’t have a previous message from him. He responded a little later with the following:
“Kindly, thoughts below…pls recognize that this is intellectual property and disclosure of this information in any manner is agreed to be upon mutual consent prohibited.”
I sent him a simple reply. “I haven’t read past the first sentence of this email and I’ve deleted the original from my email archive. I don’t sign NDAs and have no interest in having you unilaterally commit me to a confidentially agreement of any sort.”
Stuff like this just baffles me. I get some version of a strange interaction like this every few days. Last week it was the guy who had “flown to Denver just to meet me because I said that I’d meet with anyone.” After a dozen emails where I kept asking him to tell me what he was working on, he basically told me to go fuck off and I’d regret not meeting with him because he was going to create a great company and I was going to miss out.”
It’s weird. Advice to all of you out there – don’t be that guy. If I tell you I’m not interested, try to respect that. I’m trying to be respectful of you by passing quickly and not wasting your time. It has nothing to do with you – and I’m often wrong. But thrashing around with weirdness to try to get face to face isn’t helpful.
And yes – I’m having a much better day today now that I’m hiding in my room behind my computer.
It’s that time of year again. Everyone that publishes content and is looking for link bait is publishing a top 10 list of 2011. I’m getting asked daily to contribute – I finally decided to create a blog post so I could simply refer to it instead of saying “sorry – I hate top 10 lists, count me out.”
10. They are boring as shit.
9. Extraordinary selection bias prevails.
8. Clever superlatives like splendiferous are often missing.
7. They always have 10 items. Why not squares like 9 or primes like 11?
6. Google has better things to do than index top 10 lists.
5. Time wasted reading top 10 lists takes time away from playing CastleVille.
4. Ever try to read a top 10 list on an iPhone? There needs to be an app for that.
3. If SOPA/PIPA passes, some of the sites republishing the lists might be shut down.
2. Listmakers, like @abatchelor, are food for the matrix.
1. Very few lists of 10 things fit in 140 characters.
Let’s put this in the category of “pet peeves” around things that are obsolete.
One of my goals as a VC is to help create companies that cause obsolescence of existing products, companies, and industries. As a result I think about what’s becoming obsolete all the time. I don’t just think about this in the specific areas that we invest in, but in all aspects of my life. I find that this frame of reference – namely “will we be doing X in 20 years” is a fundamental part of my approach to what I do.
I’m at DIA this morning. I just spent $13.19 at the “Newsstand” on four Clif Bars, a bottle of water, and two packages of gum. I gave the guy at the register my credit card because I hate paying in cash, having to deal with change, and then submitting an expense report for a cash expense of $13.19. By putting it on my credit card, I don’t have to deal with any of this stuff.
A little piece of paper comes out of the register. Then another piece of paper comes out of the register. He gives me the second piece of paper and asks me to sign it. He hands me a grimy ballpoint pen that I don’t really want to tough and I scribble “pooh bear” on the slip. I hand it back to him. And leave.
Why the fuck does he ask me to sign a credit card slip for $13.19. This is so incredibly obsolete. While I don’t know his cash register system, it looked pretty modern (yes – it was a computer) so I doubt he does anything with the slips at the end of the day other than put a rubber band around them and send them to someone somewhere. And I’m quite sure no one will ever notice that I signed the credit card slip “pooh bear.”
Put this in the pet peeve rant category. I’m tired of “Revenue” being referred to as “Income.”
Yes – I know Quickbooks defaults to “Income.” I know it’s technically correct when referring to “Income accounts” in a company’s “Chart of Accounts.” But it’s confusing, and it baffles me.
I spent a few minutes tonight trying to figure out the origin source of this but got bored. I did find a fun explanation in the source of all truth (Wikipedia).
Income is the consumption and savings opportunity gained by an entity within a specified time frame, which is generally expressed in monetary terms.
For households and individuals, income is the sum of all the wages, salaries, profits, interests payments, rents and other forms of earnings received.
For firms, income generally refers to net-profit: what remains of revenue after expenses have been subtracted.
I’ve decided this is a confusion being promulgated by Quickbooks. Since many first time entrepreneurs use Quickbooks before they learn basic accounting, they end up referring to “income” (instead of revenue) and “net income” as “income minus expenses.” Factually true, but confusing, especially when “net income” is often referred to by many as simply “income,” since those same people will refer to “income” as “revenue.”
Confusing? You bet. Whenever I ask “do you mean your bottom line or your revenue” I’m often surprised by which answer I get, including “I’m not sure what you mean.”
Help stop the madness. Call the thing at the top of the P&L “Revenue,” not “Income.”
Recently I’ve been on the receiving end of a bunch of due diligence calls. Some of them are for companies I’m involved in, some are for entrepreneurs I’ve worked with in the past, and some are for other VCs I’ve worked with who are raising new funds. I view these differently than reference calls (I won’t do reference calls for anyone) – these are not about “employment”, they are about investment and a long term working relationship.
I experience two types of due diligence calls: (1) confirmatory calls and (2) investigative calls. The confirmatory calls result when someone has clearly made their decision and is just checking the box of “I’ve made my due diligence calls.” The investigative calls tend to be much more substance – these often happen well before a decision has been made and someone is in exploratory mode.
In most cases there is either a script or standard set of questions. The interesting calls are the ones where the person on the other end clearly knows how to interview or uses a method like five whys to really get at the core of something they are interested in. I especially enjoy the ones where the person on the other end of the phone is actively developing a relationship with me, rather than just collecting data.
But on many of the calls, there is a weird question at the end. It goes something like “Is there anything I didn’t ask you that I should be asking?” For a while I used to try to be polite and engage with the question. But at some point I realized it was a stupid question that someone included on a “how to do due diligence” form from 1961. So now I answer it simply with “nope.”
Here’s why I think it’s a stupid question. You are calling me for diligence on someone. Presumably you have specific things you are interested in. You’ve either done research on our previous relationship or you want me to fill you in on that. You then use this to pursue whatever line of questioning you have. If you are inquisitive and capable of reasoning, my answers will open up more questions. Eventually you will have enough information or will have reached a conclusion. If I’ve been doing my job I’ve been concentrating on answering your questions, not trying to follow your path of inquiry.
Now, while we are at the end of the inquiry, you ask me an open ended question in search of something magical. Maybe I’ll finally tell you the deep, dark, negative secret about the person that I’ve been withholding. Or I’ll come up with some incredible insight about the person that hadn’t come out in your previous line of questioning. I suppose this happens occasionally, and maybe it’s worth asking the question just on the off chance that something yummy will pop out. But I just find this an annoying way to end the conversion, so my answer from here on out is “nope.”
In the last month I’ve had the chance to make about 50 new friends. I’ve suddenly become very popular with investment bankers and have been on the receiving end of over 50 emails that look something like the following:
“We met once a long time ago when I was with firm X. I’m now at firm Y. We are the blah blah blah best at blah blah most successful blah blah tied into blah blah working with blah blah blah connected with blah blah blah. Congrats on all the success at Company W. We are very interested in talking to them about blah blah strategic blah blah – can you introduce us to high-profile-CEO.”
At first I felt compelled to respond as part of my “answer every email and try to at least be polite / responsive to everyone” approach to life. After a few days, I started getting annoyed when I realized I was simply viewed as a conduit to an introduction. When I saw a few similar emails to my co-investors in at least one company, I realized that there was a complete lack of sincerity in many of these emails – it was no different than a random salesman emailing me asking if I wanted to buy a random widget.
Now, I have several good friends who are investment bankers and we have a handful of trusted ibanking relationships and folks who are our go-to ibankers. These are people who have developed a long standing relationship with me and my partners, have worked with us in good times and bad, and have always been reasonable and thoughtful about their fees, especially in situations that didn’t work out.
It amazes me that 50+ people could suddenly come out of the woodwork in an effort to “build a new relationship that’s not really a relationship” thinking it would give them an opportunity, or even an advantage, in the context of a set of hot companies.
When I think about the relationships I’ve developed, whether it be with investment bankers, LPs, co-investors, or anyone else, they evolve over a period of time. They don’t require boondoggles or fancy things; they require sincerity and substantive interaction over a long period of time. Then, when there are moments of opportunity, these are the people that I go to (and hopefully who come to me.)
There suddenly seem to be an abundance of “transaction relationships” out there. Entrepreneurs beware.
Suddenly the VC/entrepreneur meme for Q1-2011 is “The Quora for X.” Here are two examples from the past few days:
Lest you think this is a TechCrunch phenomenon, I’ve received a half dozen emails in the last week pitching companies as “Quora for X” or some derivative of this (often “The Quora for X”). Of course, Joshua Schachter very cleverly suggested last night via Twitter that we create the “Quora for XXX“. Given the presence of PornoTube and YouPorn in our universe, I expect some clever porn purveyor will quickly figure this one out.
This meme goes around regularly. Here are a few built off of success cases (which bodes well for Quora if you view meme development as a leading indicator of success. “The Youtube for X”, “The Facebook for X”, “The MySpace for X” (oops), “The Google for X”, “The Twitter for X”, “The LinkedIn for X”, “The Groupon for X”, “The FourSquare for X”, and “The Zynga for X.”
You’ll probably infer that “X” in each case is a specific (often tightly defined) vertical market. Each of the companies listed above are arguably several of the very few companies that have actually established enough critical mass of users to declare themselves a true platform. The “X’s” presume that specialization in a vertical market will result in unique functionality that the general platform can’t create.
Ironically, this thought process runs directly counter to another massively overused entrepreneurial meme – “I’m creating a platform for X.” Think about it for a sec – are you creating a derivative of a platform that is vertically focused or is the vertically focused derivative of a platform that you are creating going to also be a platform?
Now, step back and think about how many huge companies have been created using “The BigSuccessfulStartupNowPlatform for X” approach? While modest companies emerge out of this (and there’s nothing wrong with that), there aren’t very many really significant companies that emerge. The platforms – if they are real platforms – usually either extend into the vertical segments nicely or quickly acquire “The BSSNP for X”.
As an investor, I’m not really interested in any of the verticals that are derivatives of platforms. Other than a few specific cases, where we actually believe a platform company can be created, we stay away from vertical markets. And often, the driver of the decision is the entrepreneur and his obsession with and experience in the particular vertical market in question.
I expect that we’ll see many “Quora’s for X” get created and talked about in the next quarter. If I was an investor in Quora, I’d be encouraging the team to be focused on expanding quickly into every vertical that appears which seems like it would be easy given their existing infrastructure. And if I was an entrepreneur, I’d already be looking past “The Quora for X” meme for what’s going to be next.
I nominate “platform” for overused tech word of 2010. Yeah, I whined about this a few months ago in my post Your Platform Is Not In My Space.
I hear the word “platform” in over 50% of the short pitches I get. A friend of mine who is working on a new startup that isn’t even funded yet (and he’s grinding on the financing) described his goal of “creating a platform for a-phrase-that-only-73-early-adopters-will-userstand.) Entrepreneurs everywhere describe the first release of their MVP (“minimum viable product” – for those of you that haven’t intersected with the Lean Startup movement) app as a “platform”. The first three pages of a google search on “platform” are 33% tech, 33% politics, and 34% other. At least Google image search is more accurate, for example:
Ahem – give me a fucking break. Yup – I get it – it’s great to be a platform. I give you Facebook and Twitter as examples. But real platforms are few and far between. And creating “a platform” is not necessarily the right first move for your brand new consumer facing application. Why don’t you start by being super useful to a bunch of consumers first.
I know I’ve been overusing the word “platform” lately – it’s like a weird brain infection that is hard to diagnose and then eliminate. I’ve found it – now it’s time to remove it from my vocabulary.