That was a question posed to me by a new analyst at a venture capital fund.
Admittedly, I finished this person's sentence after their long pause... but the word "jerks" was agreed to as the direction they were taking the question.
While there are lots and lots of really kind, generous people working in venture capital--the recently retired Howard Morgan, Hunter Walk, Brad Feld, and Karin Klein for example--it's really tough to argue that there isn't widespread jerkery.
At least, that's how a lot of entrepreneurs feel.
So what gives? Why do VC's get such a bad rap?
I've got some theories:
1) Don't blame the playa, blame the game.
Entrepreneurship is a very personal endeavor. You sink your savings into something, take a pay cut, risk friends and family money into *your* idea. That's literally your baby--and 98% of the time, a VC will tell you that your baby is ugly.
It shouldn't be surprising that more than a few people are going to take issue with that--no matter how nicely we say it.
That being said, there does seem to be something more going on here than just being a professional party pooper.
2) Self selection for judgemental power seekers.
The media portrays the job of a venture capitalist as one of "picking" a winner. We're "kingmakers" whose investment has the "Midas Touch." Forget the fact that a VC's job is more akin to that of a NASCAR passenger, perhaps occasionally pointing out a track hazard or cheering the driver on, but certainly not the main component of success.
From the outside, VC seems like a pretty cushy job where you give a Chuck Norris-like thumbs up or thumbs down every so often--not exactly the kind of thing that someone who wants to be a social worker, missionary, or early childhood educator might want to do.
That's probably why the vast majority of applications for VC positions tend to be from males. Generally speaking, women are more inclined to listen well, work with others and to offer help--so when the job gets seen as just a lone, final yes/no, where you bark out advice after listening to a founder for five minutes, that might seem less interesting. Perhaps if we spend more time talking about board participation, counseling entrepreneurs on decisions, helping them solve problems and working hard to recruit people, the type of people who apply to the job might change.
3) Access to money.
VC, in large part, is done by people with access to money. Generally speaking, we're a bunch of "haves". We disproportionately hangout with other "haves", too. Not only does that create a filter by which people judge investor actions, but it colors our perspective of the world, too. It can be too easy not to appreciate the struggle of others and to appreciate how hard it is to accomplish the things that we see people do.
"You should just bootstrap this."
"Learn how to code and build an MVP."
"Raise money from your family first."
We're not jerks. We just live in a white privilege filter bubble.
4) We're told we are smart, even if the jury is still out.
Success in venture has a lot to do with luck. Even people who make successful investments over time have benefitted from luck--mostly around timing and scale. To continue to get dollars to invest, you have to get lucky enough, early enough to make it look like you know what you're doing. If Canary hadn't taken off right away, and been within the first year of investing in my first Brooklyn Bridge Ventures fund, I might not have been able to raise a second fund so easily.
It would be super easy for me to think that meant I'm smart--when in reality, it takes *years* for most companies to be built. Most VCs are out there for six or seven years before it looks like you've got more than one surefire hit on your hands. Just because you flip a team six months after you funded it doesn't exactly make you the King or Queen of determining which companies will be the impactful ones.
The industry tends to paint the same picture--calling people "top VCs" without paying much attention to what their track record actually looks like, or understanding that being the last one into Airbnb doesn't make you a genius.
Tell anyone they're smart over and over again and eventually they'll get a big head about it.
5) We *are* jerks.
Some people in VC are, in fact, jerks--both men and women. They're just not nice people and no one ever seems to hold them accountable, unfortunately. The main issue as I see it is that they don't respect an entrepreneur's time and effort enough to be honest--honest about their willingness to invest, their motivations, or their reservations.
Bonus: Founders make it too easy for us to be jerks.
Our inboxes are filled with "I've got the best idea ever, but I just thought about it yesterday and have taken no risks to figure out whether my thing is a thing, so you should give me money." While many founders are super hardworking, thoughtful and have a great story, a lot of them, frankly, are wannabees who are just as egotistical as VCs get accused of. Those founders are insufferable and it often takes a huge amount of patience not to be just a little bit snarky to them.
So that's why VCs are jerks, in case you were wondering.