Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down

For years, I regularly contributed to our firm’s blog at Highway 12 Ventures. Some posts were timely, others more timeless. I had an experience recently with an entrepreneur who was dejected over the challenges of fundraising and it reminded me of this post I wrote a few years ago. I think the advice still holds true.

And you can dream
So dream out loud
You know that your time is coming ’round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down
 – U2, Acrobat

After literally thousands of meetings with entrepreneurs in my career, one of the lessons I’ve learned is giving an entrepreneur a quick “no” is much more beneficial to someone than stringing them along. Even better is if I can give them some honest feedback about why I wouldn’t invest. Saying “no” over and over and over again isn’t the most pleasant part of my job and it’s taken me a long time to learn how to do it gracefully. (It’s hardest when I like the idea, but don’t think the person pitching me is the right one to execute on the idea…). Given the sheer number of opportunities that I look at (and a better sense at this stage in my career of what I’m looking for), if I know right away that I’m not interested, I’ve taken to give an entrepreneur a “no” in the first face-to-face meeting instead of false hope about conducting some “due diligence” and getting back to them. It’s been rewarding to see how well that’s been received.

Last week I met with a young entrepreneur who pitched me on his idea for a startup. I knew fairly quickly that it wasn’t something that I’d be pursuing and after 20 minutes I spent some time explaining to him the reasons why. This particular young man took it fairly hard. He kept trying to re-convince me and his body language suggested that he was pretty defeated. It was at that point that I said to him (rather forcefully) “Who the hell do you think I am to tell you that your business won’t be successful?”  His eyes widened and I could tell that I had surprised him. I went on to tell him about some of the great companies that I’ve passed on in my career and how often I’ve been wrong.


I happened to grow fond of this young man during our meeting and after some reflection, decided to share the following story with him which I haven’t told very often. When I moved to Boise in 2000 and decided to start a venture fund, there were an awful lot of folks I met with who thought that my idea had little merit and they were very willing to share their thoughts with me. As a matter of fact, I had over 300 meetings with potential investors. Given that we only had a couple of institutional investors and about 30 individuals who invested in our first fund, it’s safe to say that I had a few hundred respectable people tell me what a bad idea it was to raise a venture fund in Boise, Idaho (Now that I think of it, I’m certain that some thought that the idea might have merit, but that I wasn’t the person to execute on the idea!).

There were many days where I’d come home to my wife after a day of “nos” fairly dejected. She’d kick me in the ass, tell me how much she believed in me, and send me off the next day to pitch a few more people on my idea. Raising the fund wound up taking 18 months. That’s 18 months in a new town with two toddlers and no income. There were more than a few days when I thought to myself that it would never happen. On the other hand, I believed in it and with each person who told me that they thought my idea didn’t have merit, it added fuel to my fire. I’ll even share with you that today, thirteen years later, I remember almost everyone who said “no” to me and proving them wrong still motivates me to this very day.

So my message to this young man and every entrepreneur who reads this is simple: Don’t let me or any other investor who tells you that he doesn’t think your idea is worth investing in dampen your enthusiasm. I guarantee you that anyone who regularly invests in startups has said no to many entrepreneurs who went on to build wildly successful businesses. You and only you will know when and if it’s time to shift gears. Until that time, don’t let the bastards grind you down…

We Are All Complicit

Like everyone else, I was shocked, saddened and outraged at the tragic shootings in Newtown, CT last month. The aftermath was predictable. Paid talking heads and everyone with an opinion took to the airwaves and social media to vent, opine and debate the merits of gun control and the dear price we pay for mental illness in our society. What surprised me though was the relative lack of attention given to what I believe is the single biggest root cause of these tragic events: The glorification of violence in our society.

Over Christmas break, I took my 12 year-old son to a matinee movie. We sat through the obligatory previews and I was dismayed that we sat through six previews and nearly 20 minutes of massive gratuitous violence. Every single preview was filled with graphic and glorified violence – each with smartly crafted and glib one-liners for kids to repeat over and over again with their friends. No preview was more offensive to me than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Stand (no link provided because I’m not going to promote it). Consider yourself warned that if your kids go see it when it opens this weekend you’ll be hearing “Consider yourself deputized,” “Nice shootin’ Sheriff,” & “You effed up my day off” for weeks to come.

What’s so disturbing about Arnold’s latest is that he was a Governor for cripes sakes. He knows what’s going on. He’s been privy to the dark side of violence. Yet the first thing he does is make a film that is a two-hour homage to gun violence, all for a buck. I think he should be ashamed.

Look, I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve enjoyed a good deal of violent films in my life. I also don’t think my 12 year-old son is going to go postal some day because he likes this stuff. He’s a mentally healthy, thoughtful kid and we have regular conversations about the glorification of gratuitous violence in our society. What worries me is how many kids out there that don’t have engaged parents. Impressionable kids that might have undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues. Kids that play killing games for hours and days on end on their computers and TVs.

I don’t remember films and games with nearly the degree of gratuitous violence when I was a kid, and I surely don’t recall killings like Virginia Tech, Newton, CT or Columbine back then either. Call me crazy but I believe in my heart that there’s a connection. So I’ve decided to take a stand. I think that every time we go to one of these movies, or buy our kids another shoot ’em up game, we become complicit. Every time we buy a ticket, watch a TV show or play or a game which glorifies guns and killing, we’re telling Hollywood and the gaming companies that this is what we want – more guns and more killing. The feedback loop is simple: we stop buying and they’ll stop making – I can promise you that.

I’m not getting on a soapbox here. I subsequently took my son to see Lincoln – plenty of violence but certainly not glorified – quite the opposite. I’m not even forbidding my son to see these movies or play these games. I won’t buy him the games or play them with him but I believe forbidding a kid to do something is the surest way to get them to do it. All I can do is stay engaged and teach him to make good decisions. The rest is up to him.

I can do one more thing though. I can vote with my wallet. I’m done with gratuitous violence in my life. There’s a plethora of alternative movies and games out there. If enough of us do that, I really believe we can turn the tide.

Startup Life

pi4dca7bf13f7b9a28@largeI just finished reading Startup Life by Brad Feld who collaborated this time with his lovely wife Amy. Pam and I contributed a section to the book and it’s a great collection of wisdom from folks who have navigated the tricky waters of running a startup while trying to maintain a healthy relationship.

Whether you’re considering working for a startup or already work at one, I’m confident you’ll find some great ideas about how to do a better job giving your family the love and attention you know they deserve.

You can pre-order the book now on Amazon by clicking on the link above.