Brad definitely needs to start blogging. I’ve learned a lot from him in the short time I’ve been at Union Square and I think he needs to be propagating that wisdom throughout the Blogosphere. He’s very direct and he has a very no nonsense way of cutting right to the heart of an issue, while at the same time being very thoughtful and curious.
So, last week I had a call with someone from a major IT services company. I was doing some research on a space, trying to understand the market and look for interesting new technologies. The call was very productive and this person pointed me in the direction of a relatively new startup company on the west coast. Now, we’re primarily east coast focused and probably wouldn’t lead a west coast deal, but I still wanted to talk to this company, if nothing else than for informational purposes and to discuss the market.
When I was at GM, I had my intro/setup to any call or meeting down pat. I had clear definitions of exactly what we wanted out of any interaction, and for the most part, it was kind of easy, because we did pretty much everything. No matter who I was talking to, they pretty much wanted to talk to us, because there was always the possibility that we could invest. Now I have a much narrower mandate and need to realize that I can’t just flash a deep pocket around to get people to share information. In fact, there are lots more complicating factors for me now. For one thing, this east coast/west coast deal made me unsure of exactly how I was going to position our conversation with this company, since we couldn't exactly be that agressive in pursuing them. On top of that, we had looked at another deal in the space, and while it got funded by someone else, I wasn’t sure exactly how much I could say about the other company, since it hadn’t launched its product yet. But that all together, and add in the fact that Brad sat down with me on the call to listen in, making me really conscious about what I was saying and how I was positioning USV, and I totally flubbed the intro and found myself scrambling to explain why the heck we wanted to be on the call in the first place.
Brad later referred to my intro as “World Class Sucky”. He was totally right, but we had a great discussion about it today. He said that he never surprised himself how smart he was. In other words, when he was doing an informational call, the idea that he was going to play it close to the vest and not share info, but yet expect to get info from the other person, or to say something the other person didn’t know, just never played out that way. We may have seen a competitor, but in all likelihood, the entrepreneurs that we speak to have already seen their competition. It just doesn’t work to try and be too clever. He basically said to just lay out what I knew and acknowledge the limits of our awareness of the market. “Here’s what we know.” That’s all you can say, and either the person you’re talking to is going to share or he’s not.
Plus, that’s not the way we believe information creates value. We’re not fans of closed systems of information. We believe that information sharing in a mutually beneficial way is the best way to create value. I should know this. Not only that, I should be listening to myself when I tell students not to try and fake what they know on an interview. Either you know finance or you don’t, and if you don’t you’re never going to pull one over on your Citibank recruiter. Brad said, and I agree, that it’s better to come off like someone aware of their limitations, and yet still intellectually curious. Very rarely are you going to say something the other person doesn’t already know, and even rarer will be the case that you say something you shouldn’t for ethical reasons. The thing you do want to make sure you do is that, whatever you say, you give the other person the impression that it would be ok for you to speak about them in the same manner. In other words, don’t violate the trust of Person A when you speak to Person B to make Person B feel like they’re “in the loop.” All that does is make Person B feel like you’re the type of person that can’t be trusted, and if it ever does get back to Person A, then you’re really screwed. Of course, that wasn’t the issue here, because it wasn’t that I said too much… it was that I couldn’t figure out what the heck to say. It was a rare occurrence for me and I appreciate that my boy Burnham had my back.