I was out at Strata, the O'Reilly "making data work" conference. I think that the only VCs there were myself and the IA Ventures team--a stark contrast to some of the other mainstream tech conferences that are pretty densely populated with investor types.
What is striking me to me is how many times I was been asked "What are you doing here?"
Seems that in the absence of a pitch competition or some kind of immediately obvious venture investment opportunity, people aren't used to seeing VCs.
That's kind of odd, actually. I was talking to Kent Goldman this week about deals and pace--and we both agreed that you can't really try to find good deals. Deals just kind of happen. They're certainly a function of the number of interactions that you have with smart people, but it's really not about aiming directly for a live deal. That's why it strikes me as odd if it's true that you don't see many investors circling around off the beaten path explorations of different areas.
On top of that, the reason why I attend a lot of the meetups and conferences that I do is to learn--to hear about industry trends and what the bleeding edge thinkers are doing. It inspires me to think creatively about sectors and the behavior of both consumers and businesses.
It's all about networking building, too. Hilary Mason and I hosted a post conference data hacker drinkup where First Round bought the first round (see what we did there?). It wasn't about trying to source deals so much as it was just about to get to know smart people in the community. I have no idea if any of those interactions will lead to an investment opportunity or not, but I came away with the wheels turning on where this whole Big Data world is going and having made a lot of connections. They could turn out to be people I reach out to in order to ask questions, potential hires for other companies we invest in, or maybe, just maybe, three years from now someone will introduce me to an entrepreneur that we wind up investing in.
That's what makes this job really interesting. I see people doing their best work when they're out talking to inspiring people doing interesting stuff. Sometimes it winds up resulting in a deal, sometimes not. You can't try to hard and you've got to do a little zigging when others are zagging. I don't know how you'd do the job otherwise, to be honest, so it's a really funny thing when you wind up in a room full of smart folks and you stick out like a sore thumb for being the VC.