One of my favourite TV shows to rewatch is Community. Creator Dan Harmon, who's also behind much-loved Rick and Morty, broke a lot of sit-com conventions over the show's first three seasons, with a cast that delivered with aplomb.
The character of Abed Nadir is suspected to be somewhere on the autism spectrum throughout the show. This, combined with a childhood starved of affection, makes for a character that is eccentric and original, a perfect medium for Harmon's more experimental ideas.
The most experimental of these ideas was breaking the 'fourth wall'. This concept was most recently popularised by Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool.
The fourth wall is an 'invisible, imagined wall' that separates actors from the audience. As an audience, you're meant to be so engrossed in the fictional world that for that 2 hours you've suspended disbelief. It is such a transcendent convention that when it's broken, it's pretty memorable. Remember all those times that Deadpool talked to the audience? Funny, right?
Well, when it comes to a specific form of breaking the fourth wall, meta-references, there is only one King: Abed Nadir.
Before I go too far down this rabbit hole and lose you as a reader - after all, you subscribed to a tech blog - let me assure you that I'm coming to my point.
The importance of a network in VC
One of the most important assets a venture capitalist can have is their network. A strong network can be the source of deal flow and intel about live rounds, a value-add to your portfolio companies, knowledge about market dynamics, and much more. As much as data science and technology is permeating the industry, nothing trumps the power of a strong network.
For the fresh crop of Analyst and Associates entering the industry, this point is driven home right at the outset - it's not worth listing out too many famous examples here, but one of the most recent examples of this was revealed by Luciana Lixandru, Sequoia Capital's first European Partner. Discussing her famous investment in UiPath's Series A when she was at Accel, she revealed that the introduction to CEO Daniel Dines came from another investor, Earlybird. Was it a surprise? Not really. For those with some knowledge of UiPath's topsy-turvy route to their Series A in 2014, it would be fair to conclude that most data-driven sourcing initiatives wouldn't have placed UiPath high on the priority list.
I digress. Networks are definitely one of the most important assets a VC has, if not the most important. The end is clear: building strong relationships across the ecosystem, may that be with investors, founders or frankly anyone who pollinates the rest of your network. It's the means to do that which are less clear. This is where juniors in the industry have come up with all sorts of creative methods - this blog is itself a means to do that. Yes, it is an opportunity to learn and think, but I would be lying if I suggested that the networking benefits weren't important to me.
Building a network
See! That whole introduction was worth it! I've broken the fourth wall and am now speaking directly to you - how meta!
This blog has already won me the time and attention of people I hugely admire, so it has served that purpose. If we step back slightly, the proliferation of content from junior VCs is hard to miss - new substacks, newsletters, podcasts, market maps, events, interviews and more content are appearing on your social feeds than ever before.
I'm one of those people, as are some of my friends. Hey, don't blame us, this is a competitive industry! We're all working hard to stand out from the crowd and offer more value to our respective funds by developing and leveraging our networks.
The content strategy is probably one of the best ways to go about it, just because of the compounding effects over time as more people discover your content. That, coupled with the one-to-many transmission of your ideas, makes for a very high Return On Investment of your time. This isn't a revelation and I won't pretend as such.
The other means of building your network is the old-school way: build relationships and add value thereafter. It's an extension of the mental model of reciprocity - you get what you put out into the world.
Bringing it back to the world of VC, this can be in the form of sharing deals, exchanging knowledge, making introductions and just being an all-round helpful person. I'd like to offer an example of the latter: Random Acts of Kindness.
A random act of kindness is a nonpremeditated, inconsistent action designed to offer kindness towards the outside world.
Do you remember the last time someone did something nice for you, without your prompting? You probably do, because it's just so rare. That's not anyone's fault - we all have so little time that it's hard to find even a minute of your day when you can even begin to conceive of nice things to do for others, let alone catching up on the backlog of actual requests made of you. That being said, I think it's important to carve out a bit of time for exactly these good deeds - and not expect anything in return. It's tempting to prioritise transactional exchanges, but the long-term goodwill that you build by giving more than taking is far less brittle. That's my hypothesis anyway.
If you're not a gregarious social butterfly and are more like me, you might actually be exhausted after exchanging business cards with dozens of people at networking events. As an introvert, I know that's not my strength. It's important to accept this and focus on what you are good at. Sharing knowledge is one of the things I like to think I'm good at - that's where reading comes in handy. But ultimately, I'd like to think that some people think of me as helpful, as well. I make a conscious effort to share as much as I can simply because I feel indebted to the people who helped me when I knew little or no one.
I didn't know about Tony Hsieh until the news of his passing, but the outpouring of tributes struck a chord with me. A common thread running through them was admiration for the selflessness of the man. If you have time, do read this Forbes piece which includes interviews with individuals who were close to Tony. I'll leave you with this quote from one of Tony's co-founders:
Tony taught me that business isn’t about making money: it’s about helping others. He put other people’s interests ahead of his own, and that was the secret to his success
“The first 10 people you hire…are so important is because you’re not just hiring those first 10 people, you’re actually hiring 100 people…you should think of each one of those people as bringing along sort of 10 other people with them." - Patrick Collison