“We don’t see things as they are…. We see them as we are.” —The Talmud
So what does the Talmud, a book of Jewish law, have to do with venture capital? It’s not a Silicon Valley text. It has nothing to do with Union Square Ventures in New York City. It’s totally foreign to Route 128 in Boston. Yet, I find relevance in this ancient text when doing business in all of these places. Let me explain.
I’ve participated in well over 100 venture investments, both personally and on behalf of my firm. In our ventures, I continually seek to identify replicable routes to success and find myself often contemplating the real meaning of success. Is it a happy, challenged staff? A welcoming, cooperating community? Satisfied investors? Great rates of return? Growth platforms for young entrepreneurs? I’ve decided it’s all of the above and then some.
It’s also about looking past our own needs so we can see a situation as it really is and do the right thing.
Can we look at examples of seemingly thriving, profitable corporate powerhouses and assume the leaders of those companies must not only be doing something right, but also doing the right thing? Not necessarily. They have firms to run. Investors to please. Communities to uphold. Reputations to protect. Complete transparency and the quest for always doing what’s right can be a challenge when you have a leading venture firm to operate.
No, sometimes these company heads, under so much pressure to exceed the last great achievement, operate from a place where their vision is clouded by seeing things not as they are but as they want to see them…or more specifically, as they need to see them. Although there’s nothing wrong with need, it can get in the way of accurate assessment and choosing to do what’s right.
Let me put this idea into an every day application. Someone is bringing you a business plan they want you to consider for capital. As a caretaker of your company’s bottom line, you, in many ways, have as much riding on their presentation as they do. So, there’s a tendency to come to such meetings with your needs and your view of the world at the fore — applying a filter to the presentation that the hopeful entrepreneur has no idea is clouding your perception of their plan. Your filter is congested with questions and concerns like “Will this guy bring me that gem I’ve been waiting for?” “I have to find a winner soon – it’s been a while since I’ve had a win.” “Our overhead is up – we’ve got to see faster returns so we can keep the lights on.” The presenter has no idea how much your internal noise may be drowning out the carefully constructed pitch he’s delivering to you. He doesn’t know your expectations and need has you fully hearing only snatches of his artful presentation, reducing it to the static breakthrough of a rural AM radio station.
In this scenario, let’s consider the Talmud. In fact, let’s try reversing the Talmudic prophecy. Let’s attempt to see things as they are and not as we are – full of need, preconceived expectations, pressures to perform. Let’s go so far as to try to remove ourselves from the equation. Try the Bhagavad Gita rule – “Perform your duties selflessly…..serve without expectation.” (What could be wrong with mixing the Talmud and the Bhagavad Gita?)
Honor the presenters – try to see them as they truly are. Give him or her the benefit of the doubt and listen. Listen carefully, selflessly, and, if possible, without expectation.
Don’t listen from behind the filter of what you want, what you need, or even what you know. Listen deeply to grasp what the presenter really believes and what they and their team could accomplish, with or without you. If your listening is clear, honest, and if the Rule of Ws discussed in an earlier post are lining up like three apples on a Vegas slot, move forward.
And if you move forward, partner — really partner — with the presenter. Help them and theirs and you and yours achieve a win win for everyone. When the conflicts arise – preferences, minimum returns, voting rights, etc. – reverse the Talmudic saying; see things as they are and not as you are. Don’t come from your past mold. Don’t come from past term sheets. Come from what the situation demands. Come from what will truly satisfy all those criteria we’ve established for success, and achieve real partnership – partnership with the brave, courageous presenter, partnership with the new management team, partnership with yours and other investors, and partnership, dare I say, with the truth of the situation.
I don’t know what that IRR is, but this kind of success perhaps achieves Talmudic and Gita returns. And achieving that success is my kind of venture.