Yesterday, I sat in a conversation with a potential investor in Brooklyn Bridge Ventures and he asked me "How do you get dealflow?"
I know I've gotten asked this question a million times over during this process, but for some reason, it just sounded different this time. I usually talk about being visible, knowing a lot of folks, etc... but in a moment of clarity, I realized that everything I get--dealflow, fund investors, opportunities to hire people, etc.--comes from one thing:
I can't tell you how many times something has come through for me that I can trace back to things I did for someone years before. Investments of time made for others always seems to come back to me in spades.
It's not always a 1:1 trade. There are some people who have never been able to do anything for me and there are others that I have no idea how I'm ever going to repay them because they've done so much for me.
In part, it's how I was taught:
"On July 31, 1973, the feast day of St. Ignatius, Jesuit Superior General Fr. Pedro Arrupe coined the term “Men and Women for Others” in an address to the Tenth International Congress of Jesuit Alumni of Europe. This has become the foundational element of Jesuit education worldwide. The term has come to mean that if one person graduates from a Jesuit school lacking a sense of social justice, the school has not achieved its primary mission. "
So perhaps what I learned at Fordham that benefited me post wasn't necessarily my Finance classes--it was trying to live my life for others. Is it no accident, then, that one of the founding fathers of venture capital, Don Valentine of Sequoia, also came from Fordham? Maybe a key to being in venture is a desire to help others? Makes you wonder how many social workers might have made excellent investors.
Getting something back isn't why I do things for others--I like teaching and helping, particularly if I can connect awesome people or prevent others from making mistakes, but nowadays it also feels like a prerequisite for my job.
To be a good VC, you're going to offer up a lot of time to companies that may never pay back a dime--or even to deals you never wind up doing. There's no magic flow of great deal flow. You're going to spend a lot of time helping people that just aren't going to make it with their business. In NYC in particular, you're also going to have to give a lot of your time in public. There's a lot of money flowing to startups and so if you're going to run a fund, you're going to have to get out there in front of a lot of people. That means speaking, judging, mentoring, blogging...
...ie if you're not the accessible type who gives pretty freely of their time, early stage venture capital may not be for you.
That's also why when I talk to people looking to break into this industry, or startups in general, my advice generally revolves around "Start giving."
That's basically the way in. Start helping. Share advice. Learn what other people need and get it for them.
It's really hard to be the smartest person, and it's really unclear sometimes whether or not you need to be smart or lucky--but you can always strive to be more helpful. The return on investment for the time you put into others is extremely high--and will reap benefits for years to come.