I stopped making lofty New Year’s resolutions a few years ago. A full-time job in VC, two young kids, a busy husband and an overexcitable dog, all the while living in Eastern Europe—this could not be endured without plenty of chocolate and wine.
There are many suggestions of resolutions out there for venture capitalists (seriously, do a Google search) and most of them sound pretty good. But I’m convinced most will end up in the trashcan before February, just like those made for personal reasons regarding food or exercise.
Here are five resolutions for VCs that stand a fighting chance, at least with me.
I mean really present.
Visit your companies. This will involve having most board meetings there and not at your office or over the phone.
There is nothing like being able to “sniff the air." To have a frank chat over a latte or a glass of wine with the VP of Sales about those forecasts or the premium customers just around the corner. To check in and make sure that product people are not trying to build a Maserati when a Yaris will do (at least for the time being). Or simply to look at your CEO in the eyes and ask him if he has a plan B that does not require more money.
It also means no multitasking during meetings (no Blackberry, iPhone or other “smart” toy while trying to nod convincingly). I know… This is very hard for me too.
ASK YOURSELF: HOW CAN I HELP MY ENTREPRENEURS?
You know the pattern. It was such a hot startup and you wooed them with your claims of being "smart money" and having gazillions of connections in the Valley or among the C-suites. Now you are an investor and the honeymoon is over. It starts feeling like a tired marriage where you take each other for granted and talk less and less.
But some entrepreneurs never let their VCs go, and will keep you on your toes. Kudos to them.
The others will think you are too busy and will be reluctant to come to you for help. Do not be that VC.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH SMARTER PEOPLE
It is said that “’A’ people hire ‘A’ people and ‘B’ people hire ‘C’ people.”
I have taken this maxim seriously when building my teams, current and past, but this is often easier said than done for emerging companies. Particularly in Canada where there is a shortage of talent or experience in some key functions (marketing and sales, for instance).
A “virtual bench” of talented people is truly a valuable asset for an entrepreneur. As a VC, commit to meeting more people this year, search for excellence, pass your contacts on to your companies. Be a walking matchmaker.
SIMPLIFY THE LEGAL STUFF
I’d better come clean: I used to be a corporate lawyer in New York. Then I climbed the ladder of financial redemption, going through investment banking and finally seeing the light, some 15 years ago, of the more socially acceptable field of venture capital.
Trusted lawyers and good agreements are important. But be simple and be standard. Negotiating complex arrangements like “participating preferred shares” is probably too much trouble when you and your entrepreneur are just trying to get a great product out fast.
SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE
Talk to a teen and explain what you do for living, what it means to help build companies. Make him or her see entrepreneurship as a great career choice.
We need more entrepreneurs tackling the big problems with energy, healthcare, climate change and education. Innovation is the fastest path to solving these issues, and it is entrepreneurs, not governments, who are going to lead the way.
With a little help from us, the modern day VCs.
Best wishes for a great 2013.