Many people say the best thing about being an investor is spending time with the most inspiring and intelligent founders. Today I had this feeling but not with a founder, with a fellow investor. I had spoken to him before, many times over Skype and had instantly appreciated his intelligence and intellectual rigour, however, today was the first time meeting in person. I debated writing this post, in respect for his privacy but as he will remain nameless (Tom for the purpose of this post), I thought it would be an important process for me to codify why I believed he was one of the most impressive investors I have spoken to (and there has been 800 now!). Plus, he told me the most important thing I could do was 'write write, write.'
Investors Are Builders Too
Mission led founders are always seen to be the most attractive to investors. There is no reason this should not be applied to investors. Today, Tom showed that he had this insane tenacity and mission not just to make great investments and return significant alpha to LPs but to build. He had this burning desire to build the next generation of companies, that as he said, 'change the way we live'.
Tom gave me some advice that although seemingly obvious, really hit home for me. He stated 'Harry although you are young, you have to be serious, you can be jovial and playful to an extent but you have to be serious. You want your co-investors and founders to leave a meeting with you thinking holy s*** this guy means business'. This was always an issue of internal debate for me, although you want to be fun and Mr Mojito Man, where is the balance between fun and professional respect? Tom nailed it there. He also reiterated a belief that I have long had, 'if you want to win, it is relatively simple, you have to work harder than anyone else is willing to work', something that he clearly does.
Tom was one of the smartest investors I have ever met. However, that simply was not enough for him. His thought process was one of continuous self-inquisition, this insatiable desire to learn more, to know more, to allow him to not only be a better investor and build bigger companies but as he said, 'serve the founders better'.
A common theme I have seen among some of the more famous names on The Twenty Minute VC is this incredible level of humility from Brad Feld to Mark Suster, there is this air of respect and groundedness. Today I asked Tom, 'how did you look to learn from the best when you were in your more formational years as a VC'. His answer, 'find a mentor that you really respect, think is a great investor and think you can learn a lot from (Teddie that is you!). Once you have that make sure to go to board meetings with them and spend time with them and in that time, SHUT UP! Do not speak, in fear that if you do not it will convey disengagement, sit back, do not talk but really listen. Then after the meeting, write an extremely crafted and well thought through email containing the key takeaways, potential issues etc etc that you deducted from the meeting. Not only will this help you codify all that you have learnt in that time but it will show your engagement and commitment.
I always say that the biggest strength a founder can have is to know what they do not know. Today I sat at lunch and asked Tom, 'what makes a great board member'. His response, 'I do not know'. Not only do I admire and respect his willingness to admit this but it was his consequent actions that impressed me the most. Tom proceeded this statement with all the reasons that he did not know, 'it depends on the stage and sector of the company, it depends on the founder requirements, it depends on your fellow board members etc etc.' His appreciation of the numerous variables conveyed his flexible mindset and appreciation that our industry is anything but binary.
Ultimately I left the meeting with a sense of inspiration that I have not had before. This sense that I could do and achieve anything as long as I remembered the importance of hard work, humility and a never ending desire for self-improvement. To the investor today, I thank you for all you have done for me and I hope we can work together and co-invest together in the future.
*To LPs reading this looking to invest in his fund, you have to stand behind me in the queue. ;)