4 Unexpected Lessons Learned By A First Time VC

It’s been about four months since I started as a venture partner with Social Starts, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Things I didn’t expect – but in retrospect are probably obvious. Here are the top four revelations I’ve discovered in the past few months: VCs DRINK A LOT OF COFFEE. Social Starts is a virtual firm. We don’t have fancy San Francisco or Sand Hill offices, we don’t have receptionists, we don’t have marble, and we don’t have catered lunches. That’s great for our LPs, because it means we’re focusing on investing, not spending, their capital. But it means we end up meeting with potential investors and existing portfolio companies in public spaces. And (at least for me), those are typically coffee shops. And since I’m convinced that decaf coffee is unclear on the concept, I’m downing a LOT of caffeine. Four meetings? Four lattes. Non-fat with sugar-free vanilla please – I don’t want to lose my girlish figure (any more than I already have).

INVESTING IS A LONELY JOB. In most other companies you work in teams to get things done. Not investing – at least not the way we operate. Sure we talk on the phone for HOURS every Tuesday in our partner meetings, but it’s just not like going into an office and working on projects with others. The life of a VC is similar to the life of a California cougar. You track your prey alone, you capture it alone, and then you leave what’s left for the vultures. But even the vultures aren’t your friends, and you never see them anyway. I like working independently, but you really have to be self-motivated to succeed here.

GETTING GOOD AT SAYING NO. We analyze thousands of companies a year here at Social Starts, talk to hundreds, and invest in around 50. That means we say “no” way more often than we say “yes”. Yet even when you say no – when you reject someone – you often leave the door open “just in case” you were wrong, and want to invest later. Saying no without burning bridges was never a strength of mine – if it were, I’d have a LOT more ex-girlfriends in my Facebook social graph. But I’m working on it. Frankly it’s probably a good skill to learn, because my teenage son will soon be going off to college, and I anticipate needing to trot that word out more often – without turning him away from home completely.

SOME PEOPLE ARE REALLY RUDE. Let’s say I emailed you and said I was interested in giving you money. That’s right. I want to give YOU money. You would respond, wouldn’t you – I mean as long as you thought I wasn’t a Nigerian Prince. Heck, I can only think of a handful of emails that I’d be MORE likely to respond to – and most of those involve activity illegal in at least 48 of these United States. Even so, I’ve had lots of folks simply not respond to my emails – not even to say “Sorry, I’m not interested in your money”. WTF. That just seems so rude to me, but it’s commonplace in the investment world. I guess they call that playing hard to get. Well guess what – I have a long memory, and I’m not likely to come crawling back after you’ve so rudely spurned me. Of course that might be part of my next group of lessons to be learned – “Hell hath no fury like a women scorned. But if the Unicorn is strong then our wrath is short.”