Know Thyself, Venture Capitalist: Thoughts on feeling open or closed.

It’s very easy to think that there is a clear cut difference between the really great ideas and the really bad ones.  You believe that no matter when you get pitched, you’ll usually do a good job of telling the difference between the two.

Sure, most of the really low chance of success stuff–things in unworkably small markets, unprepared founders, or ideas that lack a clear user value proposition–falls away pretty quickly.

But there’s a lot that “could be”.  I think, if I’m not careful, my own personal feelings of being open or closed to new deals could impact my willingness to invest.

That’s a very dangerous thing for an investor–to have a major factor in decisionmaking be completely unrelated to a driver of success.  

It happens, though.  It’s undeniable.

Sometimes, you feel like things are slow, and while you’re not obligated to make a certain amount of investments year, it’s difficult not to “look for something”.  On the other hand, good opportunities sometimes come in bunches.  You can feel a bit overwhelmed with your time and less open to writing new checks.  

If the amount of time an investor spent with a company was a major factor in its eventual success, it would make a lot of sense not to make investments when you don’t have much time.  As much as any of us think we make an impact, factors like the team, the market, and the idea are going to dwarf anything we can do.  You’d rather be a time-crunched investor in Uber than be able to spend a lot of time on a mediocre idea. 

How an investor feels about their current portfolio can also have an impact.  Maybe things in their fund have taken a turn for the worse and they get conservative.  That might be the worst thing you can do when that fund-returning potential company shows up and requires an extra bit of guts to invest in.  

Similarly, fund timing has unintended consequences on investor mindset.  Some investors come out of the gate a little too fast when they raise a new fund, feeling like they have all the money in the world.  Others slow down after trying to finish out a previous fund that will do whatever it is doing to do, regardless of what the last two deals are–or so they think.  

It’s a bit like relationships.  Undoubtedly, you look back on some perfectly great people that you’ve met over the course of your life and you wonder why things didn’t work out.  The best explanation is usually that you just weren’t open to it at the time.  Understanding why is the best way to be more open to a great person in the future–or at least to be conscious about the hesitations that close you off.

Staying self-aware is one of the best things I can do to eliminate my own tendencies towards openness or closedness.  Those aren’t factors that should be impacting my decisionmaking.  I’ll also try and compare what I was thinking or feeling at different times over the last few years versus what deals I did to help figure out where my center should be.  

You’ll never eliminate all of your emotions in the process, nor should you.  You have to get excited about the potential of an idea to back it and empathetic to the customers as well as the founders if you’re going to be a helpful investor.  You just want to be conscious of which emotions are present when you’re making a decision and how they’re impacting your mindset.