I’ve had two amazing experiences in the last 48 hours that really highlighted the role of gratitude in being an effective investor . . . and professional . . . and human being.
First, I met with Phil Wickham, CEO of the Kauffmann Fellows program. We were talking about some of the characteristics that are important raw material for young venture capitalists whether going into his program or joining the team at Costanoa Venture Capital. After hitting on all many of the obvious skills and characteristics (smarts with intellectual curiosity, love of the product and technology, ability to identify and partner with talented entrepreneurs and executives) Phil started, “but the hidden ingredient is . . .”
With a pause hanging there, I responded “Humility,”
Instead, he said, “Gratitude.”
We reconciled that they are two sides of the same coin. Humility is needed not just because some investments will inevitably fail, but also because entrepreneurial teams are truly the ones risking their professional lives. They are the ones making product, finding its market and servicing customers. They are the proverbial Man in the Ring. With that recognition, what follows is gratitude for the amazing community to which we belong in Silicon Valley. We are surrounded by people who make the extraordinary happen every day. Entrepreneurs, angels, venture investors, thriving growth companies, and universities all play critical roles in the ecosystem. Although, it is easy to take for granted the entrepreneurial culture that was built over the years, I am grateful for it and I recognize that we truly stand on the shoulders of giants.
Second, I met an entrepreneurial team yesterday morning for coffee. One of them reached out his hand and said, “I think I’ve met you – or at least your kids.” Pregnant Pause . . . “I’m on ski patrol at Sugar Bowl.” I could only bow my head in gratitude. Two years ago, my then 12 and 8 year olds were skiing first run together while I sipped a cappuccino. The afternoon before had been warm and it got very cold over night, freezing everything (even the groomers) into a dangerous sheet of ice. They went into a gulley and immediately started sliding, bouncing over moguls, barely missing rocks and trees, for 900 feet. My coffee partner yesterday was the First Responder. He checked them out and calmed down two terrified kids. He and his partners got them out safely. I’ve never had the chance to thank him personally – until this morning.
Knowing what crazy things live can deal us and how much entropy (tendency toward chaos) there is in life and business, what an extraordinary village it takes to things happen that we in Silicon Valleys sometimes take for granted, provides me ample humility and gratitude. In the immortal words of Jim Harbaugh, “Who’s got it better than us?!”
* I’d also like to acknowledge inspiration from a couple of other veteran VC bloggers. Recent posts by Brad Feld on vulnerability and Scott Weiss on Authentic Leadership convinced me that this was worth writing about.