Slow industries getting slower

When I was working in venture, my job was to find interesting companies and then try to get a partner at my firm excited about visiting the company and potentially investing. Each monday, we’d have a meeting at 5 pm where myself and my 5 peers would each be responsible for presenting 2-4 companies worth talking about. It was a great way to hone my investment prowess, and a good way to figure out what made a company interesting or not.

One theme was always how fast a company can move. When you invest in startups, you need to have the opportunity to compound your money at 100% a year (and the expected compounding, or IRR, should be around 25% factoring in middling outcomes, and zeros), otherwise your losers will pull down your portfolio and you’ll never have big wins that return your fund.

One key to investing in companies that can grow this fast is to have a fast sales cycle. Basically, you can initiate a conversation, demo a product, and close a deal in a reasonable amount of time. For a freemium SaaS company, a reasonable amount of time may be a 14 day trial. For an enterprise SaaS company selling $50k/year software, this may be more like a few months.

During our Monday meetings, there was always constant push back for a couple of industries because the sales cycle was simply too long to build a company that could compound money at 100%/year (even if things went well!). In healthcare, it’s almost impossible to sell anything to insurance companies (it can take 18 months even if the ROI is extremely positive), same with hospitals. The government is unsurprisingly similar, along with the education system. Telecom companies…forget about it. Non-profits are more of the same.

So, that meant that most companies selling to these industries weren’t even on the table for consideration when we pitched them to partners. These companies were most likely at a similar disadvantage in other venture firms’ deal funnels. This is probably even more exacerbated at the seed level. We saw companies who had at least a few million in recurring revenues and had somewhat figured out sales channels that worked (and in fact some of these companies did have an expected IRR in the 20s, and made it into the portfolio, but sometimes this was due more to the decreased risk of a later stage company rather than the ability for an early stage company to move fast)…For seed stage, I can’t even imagine trying to sell the dream of selling a product to these sorts of organizations before there were any hard numbers.

This dynamic is being combated in part by employee software – maybe you can build something so good that teachers will adopt it, and you can then later sell it to the larger school district after a critical mass of users already exists. Freemium models make it easier for organizations to try these offerings as well.

But, the sad thing is that the reputation of these industries means that many high quality entrepreneurs are not trying to start companies that service them. It’s frustrating to navigate bureaucracy. And, it decreases your odds of success due to the increased operational and fundraising risk. No doubt, the lack of new companies in an ecosystem leads to these industries falling even further behind.

I’ve now seen this play out with friends starting companies and weighing different markets, in addition to investors. If you want to succeed, there is an unwritten list of industries to stay away from.

It’s scary that some of the most important aspects of our society are disadvantaged because of slow procurement processes. In many cases, I’m sure this could change with the right incentives and training. But, it seems like most of these players will have to hit rock bottom before anything changes. Or, maybe a few pioneers can turn the tide. I thought it was really cool when I noticed a developers page on the MBTA site. Hopefully others take note.

Ten tips for MBAs who want to do a summer internship at a startup

Last summer I worked at a growth stage silicon valley startup.  As this is becoming more and more popular for MBAs to do, I thought I’d share a few tips that I learned.

1)   Don’t let your classmate’s job searches stress you out.  McKinsey is on campus in October, and will give out offers before people even come back from winter break.   That’s great.  But, it’s not what you want to do – you want to get your hands dirty this summer, so don’t stress when half your friends have jobs in March and you’ve just begun your search.

2)   Start your search early, like December early.  Make a hit list of the companies you want to work in – think about whether you want the absolute craziness of a seed/series A stage company, or the relative direction that a growth stage (100+ employees) company has.  Identify the industries and geographies you want to work in, and then use crunchbase, VCs portfolio companies, and linkedin to create a target list.

3)   Look at any connections you may have at a given company – alumni from your school, maybe their product manager played the same sport in college, etc.  If nothing strikes you, write a thoughtful and authentic email about what you’re looking for this summer, why you’d want to work at XYZ company (hopefully there is a rhyme or reason to why you want to give up $25k working at Goldman Sachs), and what you bring to the table (sales, strategy, just ready to get into everything and anything).

4)   Be aggressive about follow up.  Most startups are super busy, don’t hire interns, and won’t think about it until April/May.  Stay in front of your contact person, update them with how your search is going, and try to setup a time when you can fly to your target destination to meet with 5-10 companies.

5)   Some of the best advice I got was to get coffee with everyone at the company – from the person who answers the phones to engineers.  Get to know how each part of the machine works, or doesn’t work.  Why are people here, what motivates them, how is the strategy articulated by the CEO different from the perceptions of the people executing…there are lots of great lessons to be learned.

6)   Don’t be shy.  You have 8-12 weeks, express your ideas (humbly), develop projects you think could help the company and test them in a lean way, make sure you’re learning actual execution skills, not just making models and powerpoint decks for the c-suite’s next meeting with investors.

7)   Be aggressive about getting to work on interesting products.  Think SEO is an important part of your future?  Read the SEOMoz blog and tell the VP of marketing you can help.  Boss not giving you work?  Trust me, someone else in the company would love for you to help.  Don’t be afraid to answer customer service requests, or deliver some organic vegetables!

8)   Learn skills.  Sales, coding, SEO, writing content, customer service…what do you like to do, what are you good at, where are your holes.  How does this fit into what you want to do after graduation?

9)   Network.  Get to know people from other programs in your city.  Get to know PMs and VPs and engineers at other companies – what challenges have they dealt with and what can you learn?  What can you bring back to your company?  Learning from others in this way is maybe the most powerful aspect of a startup hub such as silicon valley, take advantage.

10) Reflect.  Understand why you did/didn’t like the role, city you were in, company you were at, etc and how this shapes your career going forward.  I HIGHLY RECOMMEND taking 10 minutes at the start of the summer to write down some goals, looking at the goals mid summer, write down how your experience is going so far, and then revisit both reflections in September as you get back to campus and start to think about full time employment.  Trust me!

Hopefully these help.  Good luck!




Different VC Structures

A question came up on the founders dating discussion boards about different VC structures, so I thought I’d put together a short model on some typical structures. Mainly, this looks at straight preferred stock vs participation, and allows us to put in a dividend on existing and new investments. Here’s the excel: Participating vs Preferred

Straight preferred stock is the most common type of vc investment. Basically, the investor has the option to get their preference back (how much they invested), or convert into common stock at an agree upon ownership percentage. So, if I invest $10 mm for 20% of the company, if the company sells for $10 mm, I can either take my $10 mm back, or convert for 20% of $10 mm, which is $2 mm. Obviously, I will keep my preference. I’m indifferent whether to convert or not at a $50 mm exit where my preference is worth $10 mm, and my common stock is worth 20% * $50 mm = $10 mm upon conversion.  Above a $50 mm exit, I’ll want to convert to common and take my 20%.

Participating preferred basically means you take your preference, and then convert. So, in the case of the $50 mm exit, I take my $10 mm off the top, and then get 20% of the rest. This is clearly worse for the other common stock holders who now get 80% of $40 mm, not 80% of $50 mm. It’s worth noting that if you do a series A with participation, you’ll be pressured heavily to continue to have follow on securities that have participation.

Another confusion was on how the equity conversion is calculated. Basically, is it the amount invested divided by the pre or post money?  The short answer – it’s the post money. Here’s why.

The value of stock = the value of your assets (IP, people, future cash flows, etc) + cash on hand – debt. For people with finance training, this is simply the equation for enterprise value (EV = stock + debt – cash) rearranged.

The value of your assets is your pre-money. What is your company worth right now given it’s future prospects. If you add cash, this adds value to the stock in a 1:1 ratio (every dollar going in adds $1 of value since as stock holders we could theoretically liquidate and get the $$ back.  You can see the advantages of being a value added investor here, your dollars are worth more than 1:1, hopefully).  So, the ownership percent = money invested/post money valuation.

One note, if money invested doesn’t go to the balance sheet, but instead goes to a shareholder’s pocket, then the post doesn’t go up for those dollars.

Check out the excel Participating vs Preferred – I always find this an easier way to understand this stuff.  I also wrote a post a while back on convertible notes which is another common security for early stage companies.

If there’s an error in the excel, please let me know!! Enjoy!

My Takeaways from HBS’s 2013 Entrepreneurship Conference

Below are some random notes that I wrote down today at the Entrepreneurship Club’s annual conference at HBS. This is a bit free form, but I think there are some gems in here. I’ve taken out attribution to protect the innocent, except in the case of Dharmesh Shah because I think the comments are important in the context of Hubspot.

    Overcoming Adversity
    “Never ask an entrepreneur what you’d do differently, it will take up the entire panel.” This was nice to hear, I guess all entrepreneurs make lots of mistakes.

    “Good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement”

    Embrace the challenges you face, don’t spend time thinking about what you did wrong, keep moving.

    Love the tough things – like slowing growth, HR issues, getting rejected by VCs.

    Failure is part of the process, especially in fundraising. Therefore, it’s not failure.

    Advice on Raising Capital
    Most investors, especially angels, are afraid to make the first move. You need to get the ball rolling.

    Social proof is important in seed stage capital raising. Get some high profile people to use your product, or partner with you, or recommend you.

    When talking to investors, think about your trophy case – what are you actually proud of about your biz (customers, awesome senior hires) – not just the fact that you got some feature done.

    Most companies don’t get multiple term sheets – just the guys being chased by the big VC firms.

    VC firms structurally take a lot of time to get $$ from. A past entrepreneur can write you a check after coffee.

    Don’t ever actively fundraise. You should be in the early stages of getting to know investors, or at the end of closing a round, but never actively seeking capital. “Passive fundraising.”

    Trying to raise VC is a good way to check your idea and strategy. They may not want to invest because it’s simply a bad idea. But, it can be tricky to figure out if this is what they truly think, and even harder to figure out if they’re right! It’s just a proxy.

    Other Nuggets

    You need someone with a tech background on the founding team or else you’re dead. eCommerce is the exception.

    There is a point where a founder becomes CEO – and they are very different roles that can cause a lot of confusion when you make that transition. The biggest difference is that a CEO takes a step back and thinks about the business from a higher level.

    The benefits to not being in SV – lack of turnover, especially for engineers. But, there are lots of knowledgable founders in SV to leverage. If you’re a founder in Boston, you know all other founders and VCs.

    Intelligence is pattern recognition (not in the VC sense, just patterns generally).

    “You’re a harvard MBA, you’re going to be ok. Play the 30 year game. Learn the most right now. Doesn’t mean starting something, but could” – this is targeted towards anyone thinking they need to take a job at McKinsey right now.

    When you’re feeling “on tilt” after an entrepreneurial failure, maybe take time and get a job and make some $$. Don’t go back to starting something for the wrong reasons.

    When you fail, you’re in some senses at the height of your power – you just learned a lot. You probably failed for some structural reason, or bad early decision, that you can circumvent next time.

    Dharmersh Shah on Culture

    Culture is not perks (beer/ping pong), culture is how you work together.

    Hubspot didn’t think about it for 3 years. Their CEO went to a “CEO group” – like group therapy – determines they should focus on it. Dharmesh put in charge despite being introvert. They were 75 FTEs.

    They did a net promoter score (NPS) survey of employees – “Would you recommend Hubspot as place to work?” – people loved working there => main reason was other people at Hubspot. But, what do you do with this info?

    Culture debt is like tech debt – really hard to get over. Start with the right culture.

    If you hire a schmuck – you send a signal that it’s ok to be schmuck, even after you fire that first guy because they were there for 9 months.

    Every hire should raise the average of the team…hard, but good goal. Every hire should also do something you can’t do yet. Hires ELEVATE the team, aren’t just there to be delegated to.
    Good interview question: “What can you do that none of us can?”

    The better the culture, the easier recruiting is. Save time. They put their culture deck online. 1 mm views. 2nd ever most read culture deck to netflix. Imagine the resumes they got…

    Better culture => don’t have to worry about stupid stuff – like where people sit and what that implies about their power.

    Most companies have a purpose (except maybe Zynga). Theirs is to reduce spam and sketchy marketing tactics.

    Dharmesh has made 50 angel investments (only met 12 people in person, mostly online DD- looking you up online, playing with product, etc). Ideas don’t matter a lot – they will change.

    There is a currency with titles. People want a narrative when sharing “what they do” with others…this is a really interesting point!! Plus, it hurts people’s chances to succeed after Hubspot if there are no titles (they didn’t have titles for 3 years).

    They had an unlimited vacation policy. People weren’t taking it. Now 2 weeks min vacation. Still don’t track it.

    If you don’t know what your culture is (and can articulate it), you are probably just hiring people like you and telling self you’re hiring for culture.

    They like humble people. Humble people spread credit and take blame. They have questions to flesh out culture fit for each of their principles.

    Dharmesh on raising money
    When raising angel round:
    Get good at marketing yourself/your company.
    Angels will:
    -Look at your website
    -Play with product
    -Look at demo video
    ==> before taking meeting

    Have someone who doesn’t know what you do go through site and speak out loud as they use your product. Do they get it?

    Design of slides matter in raising capital. It’s dumb, but it’s true

    Don’t talk to VCs too early. Too much time wasted, can make you think your idea is bad.

One last note: Many of the people at the conference are clearly people you’d want to work with: hard working, smart, humble, genuine. But, there are always a few people on these panels that come off as arrogant and abrasive (especially VCs it seems) – just a warning to those on panels. If a bunch of HBS people walk out of a room and note how arrogant you were, you’re an outlier on this scale!

I hope these notes are helpful 🙂

How a useless business guy learned to code

The summer after 8th grade, I went to computer camp with my brother and cousin. We learned BASIC, and had a lot of fun playing Starcraft with the other campers at night. For one reason or another, none of us continued to program (I didn’t know anyone who did it, and just kind of thought it was a cool thing to do over a summer…what a loser I was).

My brother eventually taught himself Matlab, R, Python, and turned that into a job as an algo trader on wall street. I played around with some python a few times, but never really sat down to learn anything useful until about 6 months ago.

I want to work with technology, and maybe even start my own company. So, I thought it made sense to learn the basics of programming. How do you do this? There are lots of opinions out there, here’s my story.

Last march I had an idea I was pretty passionate about (it still pains me how ugly this site is). I didn’t know anyone that wanted to work on it with me who had technical skills, thought it would be simple enough to hack together, and so did a lot of googling to build It was a lot of brain damage, a lot of missed opportunities to socialize at HBS, but also an amazing sense of accomplishment when it was done and actually worked! Plus, some people really loved it and wrote me some inspiring emails. Lastly, I got to learn some VERY basic HTML, PHP, MySQL, and Drupal. If the second part of that sentence made no sense – don’t worry, it didn’t make any sense to me either a few months ago!

This summer I put a goal in front of me – I was interning at TaskRabbit in a general management role, but wanted to commit to coding every day in my free time. It didn’t matter if it was 5 minutes, or 3 hours, I wanted to sit down at a computer, open a terminal or SublimeText, or whatever, and write code.

I wrote “code everyday” and put it as the background of my phone. I also put it over my bed. Every time I went to text someone or check my email I was forced to remember my goal and forced to think of whether or not I was hitting it.

I didn’t just want to code, I wanted to learn something useful. I picked the django framework for web development (tough choice between that and rails). I first needed more of the python basics, so I took the codecademy course, which was fun and useful. I also ended up taking the jquery course on codecademy which was pretty solid too. Afterwards, I started with chapter 1 of the Django book. The first 8 chapters are really what you need to build a site. You can do one in a few hours, if you’re being very diligent, or you can do one in 30 mins if you are coming from rails or another MVC framework.

To be honest, it was a bit painful. Programming can be REALLY frustrating, especially when you’re already good at the stuff you do at work. Learning from scratch is tough. But, it expands your mind. I always thought that engineers thought differently. It’s hard to explain, but now I have some insight as to why. As a general rule, it’s good to regularly push your brain to think about problems in new ways!

So – I now had the basics to build something and at least host it locally on my computer. Wahoo! Time to work on a passion project – this is when you really start to learn. I’m embarrassed to say that the project I started mid summer was never completed….I got back to school in September and starting working on something entirely different, and the old project died. But, I think that’s ok. I was still coding every day and continuing to learn. It was now a habit.

The last few months have brought more challenges: hosting, databases outside of sqlite, sending/receiving emails, security issues, actually writing good code with comments that can scale…The learning curve hasn’t really flattened yet.

What do I get for my efforts? For the “brain damage” and missed opportunities to watch Madmen or some other show? It turns out, a lot. I can build MVPs…check out which a classmate and I are working on. Isn’t that cool? I can talk to engineers and not get lost – maybe even have some credibility. I can recruit other technical people to work with me – I’m no whiz but I can contribute on that front now. And, I generally feel like a much more powerful person. This summer at Task Rabbit I re-wrote a piece of our mail merge script to make it A LOT more effective…that’s cool.

Net/net is it worth it? From an ROI perspective….who knows? It depends where life takes me, who I meet and get to work with, and what I do. I enjoyed the process, even the low points where I thought I’d never figure out a problem. And, the highs of getting something to work are pretty incredible too.

I’m relating my story because I know many people out there are trying to learn to code for a variety of reasons. Here’s my advice:
-Get the basics on a language through something like Codecademy.
-Pick a web framework (django, rails) and do the basic tutorials to learn how to create pages and host them locally.
-Pick a PASSION project – something you think the world desperately needs, and figure out a way to hack it together. Break down every step into googleable queries and put it together piece by piece
-Do it EVERYDAY. Don’t let it go 3 days because you’re busy or on vacation, you will lose steam.
-Write down your goal and look at it at least twice a day. It helped me during my wrestling days, and it definitely helped me this summer coding.
-Enjoy the experience. Life is short!

Working in venture capital

A year ago, I started business school at HBS. Since then, I’ve been talking to a lot of classmates about my experience working in venture capital. I thought it’d be useful to share the highlights of some of those conversations for other people interested in landing a job in venture capital. As a disclaimer, what follows is highly colored by my experience as a pre-MBA sourcing analyst at Bessemer Venture Partners.

There are two main roles for junior people at venture capital firms. You are either focused on sourcing new investment opportunities, or supporting more senior professionals in screening their inbound deal flow, executing transactions, and helping existing portfolio companies. I’ll focus on the sourcing role as that’s what I know best.

Sourcing involves splitting time between researching interesting areas of innovation where there may be hidden gems (great companies that people don’t know about yet, typically outside of hot sectors and geographies. Think enterprise SaaS based in Nebraska and focused on dog food manufacturers, as opposed to consumer internet in silicon valley). You may read a blog post about the Turkish eCommerce market, and develop a list of the best companies there. Or, you may hear a lot of buzz about a silicon valley company that is “crushing it.” Chances are, you can find a company in Virginia, or Berlin, or Sao Paolo that is doing the same thing and a lot further along, that no one knows about yet. Or, maybe you meet a really dynamic entrepreneur at a party who just happens to be raising a round. There are lots of ways to find great companies!

Beyond research, you’re also spending time getting to know companies either through meeting in person, or talking to entrepreneurs over the phone in hopes of building a relationship, and understanding where an opportunity to invest in the firm is. Having 4-5 one on one conversations each day is an amazing way to grow your network, develop pattern recognition, and learn about all the areas of innovation around the globe. It’s an addicting flow of information, and comes with insights into how companies succeed in changing markets.

At the beginning of each week, expect to pitch 2-5 of your best ideas to your firm’s partners. In an interesting twist, you are now an agent of sorts for the entrepreneurs you’ve talked to the previous week, trying to get your colleagues’ interest in follow up meetings. Of course, while every sourcer is incented to drum up interest for your deals (typically there is a bonus if a deal you sourced is invested in), you have to maintain objectivity in order to gain credibility within your firm, and grow as an investor.

It’s an incredibly entrepreneurial job where you are constantly trying to figure out new ways to source deals, determine which are the best companies, and then get internal buy-in for a deal. The last part of the job is the diligence of new investments including some light modeling, writing up investment memos for internal use, talking to customers, and doing anything else needed to make the investment. This is where you work in a small team to dig into a company over the course of a few months to figure out whether it’d be an interesting investment or not.

Overall, it’s very hard to think of a better job. It’s rewarding, fun, and stimulating. It gives you a lot of insight into the bleeding edge of innovation across lots of sectors. And, you literally have to pinch yourself when you’re talking to CEOs all day long. Plus you get to learn from great investors in a culture that is typically 100x better than PE/hedge funds. There’s just one catch, it can be a tough job to land!

Why Business School?

Last week I was hanging outside on a bench, getting some work done and enjoying another beautiful day on campus. As the day wore on, I was approached by a stranger as I was starting to pack up my things.

“Hey – do you go to school here?”
“I’m a prospective student, and I just wanted to know….why did you come here? I know it’s a great business school, but what drew you besides that?”

It was a good question, and I appreciated his guts to walk up to a random person on campus to quiz them about their life choices.

Over the past year, a lot of friends and friends of friends have asked my why I went to bschool. It’s a question that weighs heavily on a lot of people’s minds, especially as they get 3-5 years of work experience and start thinking if the opportunity cost of 2 years in school is worth it.

I looked back at the stranger, and related that a year ago I wasn’t 100% sure about bschool, or HBS. I want to start a company, and there is no MBA required for that. I went to undergrad business school, and have been interested in this stuff pretty much forever (I started investing in stocks when I was 11). So, it was unclear what I’d learn in the classroom…I also found myself talking about HBS’s insane track record of developing CEOs and entrepreneurs, the great people you’ll meet, and the power of the brand.

When people ask me if they should attend business school, the answer usually comes down to this: If you want to live your life around happiness, then you should go. People told me it’d be the best 2 years of my life. I didn’t really believe them, but it’s been pretty darn close so far. The people are great, classes are fun (and I hate school, generally speaking), and you get unparalleled opportunities to interact with people who are running companies, top investors, etc – every day of the week and in small group settings.

This is not to mention the people you get to spend time with in and out of class. I remember pinching myself one day last year when I realized I’d worked out with two Navy SEALS in the morning, and negotiated against two people who’d won the national championship in debate that same afternoon. The resumes are impressive, but the character of the people and insanely friendly atmosphere make it just plain fun. When I came back from my summer internship this fall, I’d forgotten how warm and fuzzy being on campus makes you feel – it’s just awesome (and yes, I’ve clearly had a bit of the cool-aid here).

So, happiness is at an all time high (which is what I think we should all be optimizing our lives around anyways). And, if you’re in the majority, b school will have a positive ROI for your career as well – with very few exceptions. Not too shabby.

I’m not sure if the stranger internalized what I said or not. I respected his lack of satisfaction with the mean salaries, GMAT scores, and rankings that you can find on the internet. I appreciated his desire to dig deeper, and hope he found what he was looking for.

Lessons from Wrestling Part III

Back in highschool, I would run on a treadmill a lot. I’d run to stay in shape, and more importantly I’d run to sweat off those last pounds of water weight before a tournament or meet.

I remember one time I was running and overheard someone telling a teacher that so-and-so had just won a state championship in wrestling. The teacher replied: “that and a buck will get you a cup of coffee.”

I didn’t slow my pace. I remember thinking “that guy’s an idiot.” Even still, there was a voice in my head that was wandering “is all this work worth it?”

Of course, there is a philosophy that doing something you’re passionate about is worth the effort no matter what. I subscribe to that…but it’s still nice to know there is also a return on investment!

So – has my wrestling translated into anything career wise? Has it equaled more than $0 in value? I think so.

When I was interviewing at Bessemer Venture Partners, one of the most respected venture capital firms in the world, they wanted to get it through my head that this was not a glamorous role. This is not flying on a jet and casting the tie breaking vote in board meetings. This is hard work, and on the junior levels where sourcing is the focus, it can be VERY hard work. The question came up again and again (I had nearly 30 interviews) – “what have you done that’s hard in life? Why do you think you can do this job?”

I relayed the story of cutting 12 pounds one night before a big tournament. To cut a long story short, it required a lot of running and sweating and not replacing those fluids until after the weigh in. That was good enough to pass their bar.

Wrestling gave me confidence in my ability to do things I didn’t think possible, like cut 12 pounds in a night, or work 40 hours straight (something I had to do twice as a banking analyst). It let the fear about my abilities dissolve, at least a little bit. When you go into a week and you’re already tired, and you know that you won’t get more than 8 hours of sleep by thursday (and that the weekend will be spent working), it can be very daunting. The hardships you endure through wrestling allow you to focus on the task at hand, not on the fear that you may not be able to cut it.

When I interviewed at Harvard Business School, wrestling came up again and again. Ever have interpersonal issues with team members? What goals have you set out and achieved? What have been the most defining moments of your life?

So, in the end, I think that teacher was wrong. A buck and a state championship will get you a lot more than a cup of coffee. In fact, I’d say that the pursuit of something challenging, where you have to push yourself and strive, will get you so much more than you ever bargained for. It just so happens that wrestling is one of the best ways to have these sorts of experiences.

Vote here if you think wrestling should stay in the olympics:

Lessons from Wrestling Part II

I was driving home from the annual holiday tournament as a high school freshman. I’d gotten beat twice in a row, and was eliminated on the first day. My assistant coach was good enough to give me a ride home.

I was asking about the #1 guy in my weight, Barry Wilson, and how anyone could be so good. Coach responded that someone like that “eats, sleeps and breathes” the sport. I didn’t know what he meant then. Looking back, I honestly didn’t really know what it meant to be dedicated to something, let alone what the word passion meant.

Something happened in the next year, I started to focus on wrestling, and being as good as I could. I had embarrassingly high aspirations that I didn’t share with a lot of people. I started waking up before school to run, workout after school, go to open mats wherever they were in driving distance, shadow wrestle by myself when I couldn’t find a partner, and think about winning big matches almost all the time – especially in class.

I started to understand what it was to be dedicated, what passion was, and how to focus a maniacal drive towards something you wanted.

This concept of dedication may seem a bit obsessive to some. But, I strongly believe it’s what has allowed me to achieve the majority of what I’ve done so far in life (not that it’s been much in just 27 years). I’m not the smartest, most charming (by any means), or most talented. But, I have used dedication/passion/focus to achieve goals I’ve set out – getting a job in venture capital, getting into a top 5 business school, learning to program. This drive was shaped on cold winter mornings at 5 AM, running and thinking always about one thing: winning.

If you think wrestling should stay in the olympics,

Lessons from Wrestling Part I

Wrestling is on the chopping block.  It may not be a sport in the 2020 olympic games.  Lots of people have written about how it’s the oldest sport in the world, one of the most diverse in the olympics, and generally about why it should stay in the games.  I thought I’d share a few things that wrestling taught me, and why I think it’s so important.

Wrestling taught me to be humble.  It’s easy to believe your own hype, it’s easy to think you’re impregnable when on a hot streak, and generally this mindset is suboptimal to meeting goals, and keeping strong relationships with the people you care about.

In 2012, David Taylor had just capped off an undefeated sophomore season, and won the Hodge trophy (wrestling’s Heisman).  He looked absolutely unbeatable.  Then, he ran into Kyle Dake, another current collegiate wrestler, who showed him there is always someone better out there:

Lincoln Mcllravy won the NCAAs as a true freshman, had an undefeated season as a sophomore and another national title.  As a junior, he seemed indomitable, and crush his opponents all year long, until the NCAA finals:

Of course, the best example is Dan Gable.  Gable hadn’t lost in highschool, and had gone unbeaten all the way through college, until his last match, when he failed to Larry Owings.  He used this to fuel a grueling training regimin that ended in a dominant Olypmic run.  During his final 21 matches, he pinned 13 opponents, and outscored the rest 130-1, with the lone point going to Larry Owings.

There is always someone out there who is better.  There is a Larry Owings dropping two weight classes because he wants to take a shot at beating you.  There is a Steve Marianetti who knows they can put together 6 minutes of great wrestling to knock off the returning champion.

I’d say the same lesson is applicable across life and business.  If you’re complacent, you forget to be a great friend or family member.  You don’t call to catch up with your old college roommate, or wish your grandmother a happy birthday.

In business, you forget that what you’ve done can be accomplished by others, and that there is always someone out there waiting to knock you off.   I always liked this video of the RIM (Blackberry) CEO as he starts going on about how the company is a “iconic” “leader” in 2011.  He seems like the type of person you’d want to try and disrupt as a startup.  Check it out:

Wrestling teaches you there is always someone better out there, always someone who can pin you down.  I learned this time and again on the mats.  Nothing is more humbling than getting beat physically by an opponent in front of your friends/teammates and family.  But, learning that you can pick yourself up and learn from your experiences is worth the pain.

If you think wrestling should stay in the olympics,