For a solid six or seven minutes, I was pretty pissed at Fred Wilson for his last post on the age of venture capitalists. I even started writing a post defending the new crop of younger investors and why they can be value-add to investors. I was writing against his argument that it's better to take money from an investor over 40.
Only... that's not what he wrote at all.
Ever since my time well spent with the Yoda of Silicon Alley, I've tried to avoid "biting the hook"--quickly getting into arguments that probably won't have a good outcome for anyone involved. After I wrote the first sentence, something clicked in my head and I decided to re-read his post. It didn't say that older investors are better or that you shouldn't work with young investors. For some reason, it felt like that, but those weren't actually the words. Surely, I was being oversensitive to my own personal context of being a younger investor with a new fund in the shadow of a more experienced professional at the top of the industry.
How many times do we do that? We hear things that weren't actually said and argue points that weren't made. We box shadows--especially on the internet. Instead of just e-mailing people and dealing with them directly, as we do in person, we're a blog post away from a flamewar.
What Fred really said was that less experienced people do a bunch of dumb stuff that more experienced people have learned not to do--and they could benefit from working closely with those who are more experienced.
Yeah, that's not that controversial. In fact, I agree. I stand firmly in the camp of having a lot more to learn--we all do. I hope I never stop. I also (as Fred describes us youngins) "work hard, put in ridiculous hours, are on top of all the latest trends, companies, technologies, etc.... meet with tons of companies every week, work hard for their portfolio companies, and are on planes flying around to the important confereneces and demo days".
It's like saying that diversity of perspective in any business is a good thing--only if you say "We should hire/fund/promote more women" that's when you stir up the peanut gallery into a tizzy.
Age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc are all topics that are deeply emotional for people--and, by definition, personal. If you make a comment about age, it will always be taken in the context of how old you are versus how old your audience is. For me, I can't escape my young white male status and so that's always the way things I say are going to get taken--and depending on who I say things to, there will be a whole lot communicated before I say word one.
So the next time you read something that you have a viceral reaction to, re-read it. Try to think about why the person said what they said. I think Fred was trying to offer some friendly advice to young investors that you're going to "take lumps" and that it's worth learning from those who are more experienced. It's exactly what he did--and he still occasionally takes a lump or two. So, after some thought and careful reading, I went from pissed to grateful. One more read and a little less navel gazing. Doesn't take much.
What I would offer to entrepreneurs is that you should know what you're getting from each investor you let into the round. When Chantel at chloe+isabel was getting offers from VCs, one of the things I said to her was to try and get as experienced a VC as possible--because she already had the younger product focused/community networked guy on her board. I thought having that experience in a scaling company was important--and it was someone I looked forward to learning from as well. Of course, you don't always need that experience from a VC. An experienced entrepreneur who has raised money multiple times can be a great board member as well. As long as everyone knows their strengths and weaknesses and you check off all the different things your company needs, your focus should be on finding people you trust that you feel like you can work with. Age and experience is one criteria, but not the only one, and it comes into play differently at different stages.
As an "inside baseball side note, I kind of stand in both camps on this argument. I'm the first one to say to myself "Why does that guy have a fund... he's only been in venture for two years and only through one market, an up one!" And I'm sure, everytime I think that, people say the same thing about me and the extent of my track record. I've been in venture capital (with the exception of a year in product management and two years as an entrepreneur) since 2001, when I started doing late stage venture and fund investing at a big financial institution. The first due diligence I ever did on a company was a late stage December 2001 investment in a company called Bridge Medical--helping medical professionals avoid double dosing and other medical errors with in room hardware and software. It's only been two years of leading deals, but venture isn't new to me--it's what I've done with most of my career, including a very long apprenticeship. So, when Fred talks about the mistakes of 30 somethings who are new to the game, I see it from both sides. I just hope my lumps are small because I don't have any hair to hide them.