July 27, 2017 John Tough 0Comment

I like to joke that if I could, I might just go back to a younger “me” and punch him in the face.

I had a dream job as an associate at Kleiner Perkins. I was working at a storied firm, had access to world class mentors and investors, and had premier investment opportunities literally walking through the door.

One of the main problems I faced? Saying no. Saying no in venture capital is hard. I saw hopeful, brilliant and dedicated individuals dedicating their lives efforts to potentially transformative ideas. And as a VC, you have to say no to most individuals and companies you meet with. But saying no when I had not been on the other side of the table as an operator myself felt disingenuous. I was giving advice to entrepreneurs, and passing on investments, without having my own personal start-up peaks and troughs. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, “the credit belongs to the man actually in the arena”. And while I was respectful to each entrepreneur, I believed that to give better feedback and to better earn the entrepreneur’s confidence, trust, and counsel, I too needed to have my own experience(s) in the arena.

There is an ongoing debate about whether you need operating experience to be a great VC. There is no correct answer to that question. What I do know is that I personally needed the start-up experience. I felt I needed to earn the entrepreneur’s respect and that my advice and feedback would carry more weight if the start-up management team knew I had been in their shoes. I want my entrepreneurs to know that I have experienced those growth problems… been told no before (many times) and have personally felt the rush of success and the dreary despair of failure.

And now, with over 5 years of experiencing managing the growth of a start-up I am both proud of and humbled by the lessons I learned along the way.  I’m thrilled to deliver those lessons (and new ones!) to the firms I will meet with and invest in going forward.