In Defense of Venture Capitalists

As an eternal optimist, I wake most days with a bright perspective. Today, I woke in a particularly good mood and before heading out for an early-morning workout, I sat down at my computer with a cup of french-pressed to scan the morning’s stories.

One thing I came across was a blog post by Ben Horowitz, a tremendously successful entrepreneur who recently became a venture capitalist, partnering with Mark Andreessen to form Andreessen Horowitz. Now by all accounts, Ben’s a terrific guy who is passionate about building great businesses and I think it’s fantastic that guys like Mark and Ben have chosen to use their vast experience to help a whole new generation of entrepreneurs build their companies.

However, as I read through Ben’s post, my sunny mood went downhill. I read it twice and I grew ticked off that Ben chose to rant about things that VCs do that he doesn’t like. I chalked it up to the fact that Ben probably had a bad experience with a VC yesterday and decided to vent a little bit. I jumped on the bike and began to pedal. As the miles went by, I couldn’t get Ben’s comments out of my mind. It bothered me that a prominent guy like Ben, after only nine months as a VC, took time on his bully pulpit to rant about the behavior of his colleagues.

From my perspective, he was self-aggrandizing and somewhat cowardly. While he started his message with a disclaimer sentence about the “great” VCs he’s worked with, he spent the rest of the time unloading on the unwashed group of VCs who in his words are “fake, confused and psuedo-tough.” I wish I had a dollar for every new VC who came into the business preaching about how he didn’t like the behavior of his fellow VCs and that he was going to be “different.” Ben even goes so far as finishing with advice to VCs on how they can improve their behavior.

Like I said earlier, by all accounts Ben’s a high-character guy and like most of us perhaps took his new blog platform as a method to get a little preachy. Fact is, I’ve been investing in startups for fifteen years now and I’ve worked with many dozens if not hundreds of VCs along the way and in all that time, I’ve only worked with a handful who exhibit the type of behavior that Ben describes. The overwhelming majority of VCs I’ve worked with get up in the morning and think about how they’re going to help their portfolio companies that day. They build close and often times personal relationships with the management teams that they work with and their input is both welcomed and appreciated by the entrepreneurs who they work with.

Ben’s message could have been about any professional. There are entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors and people from all walks of life who don’t prosecute their jobs as well as they could. In most professions however, those people represent a very small percentage, just like the venture capital profession. Calling out VCs because they wanted to have a cup of coffee with you without an agenda? C’mon pal, I understand that we’re all busy but is that really necessary?

Remember Herb Brooks’ famous line in the dressing room when he was talking to Team USA before they went out and played the Russians? “I’m sick and tired of hearin’ about what a great hockey team the Soviets have”! Well I’m sick and tired about hearing about how lousy my friends and colleagues are. I love being a venture capitalist and enjoy the noble pursuit of helping great entrepreneurs build great businesses and I’m not going to sit around quietly when a guy like Ben takes his big platform and dumps on this profession and all the great people I know involved in it.

Ben, you end your post with some advice for your peers so I’ll do the same. Because of who you are and the platform you’ve got, you have the ability to influence many people. Entrepreneurs and VCs alike are listening to you. Lead by example and influence by your actions. You were a great CEO. Use the skills you developed there. I’m sure you didn’t call your employees out in public. If you see a VC (or an entrepreneur for that matter) behaving in an unproductive matter, talk to them one-on-one about it. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it and thank you. Oh, and here’s a last piece of wisdom I learned from parents a long time ago. Don’t shit where you eat…

Mark Solon is a managing partner of Highway12 Ventures, a Boise, Idaho-based venture capital firm. He regularly blogs here. Or, you can follow Mark on Twitter @hwy12