I’m often surprised by how often I meet VCs/investors who seem to express interest in hearing my personal story of how I ended up going from being a math nerd to working as a big firm corporate lawyer to running a startup. I remember telling Brad Burnham at Union Square Ventures something self-deprecating — like, “Oh it’s boring” — in an attempt to move the conversation away from questions I imagined he was asking merely as a courtesy, but in that moment and moments like it, I forget — I am a young guy living the dream.
I’m reminded of Randy Pausch’s lecture on achieving your childhood dreams and enabling the childhood dreams of others as two of the best things in life.
My dad is a math professor. He loves to do math, but he also drips with pride at his students’ accomplishments. I found out that he recently offered his own summer salary to support his graduate student. VCs exist to make money, but they share a similar, important institutional role — to put capital in the pockets of the next generation of entrepreneurs. One generation enabling the childhood dreams of the next is the process of technological and intellectual advancement.
To be able to relate to a professor, no doubt you have to show resourcefulness and tenacity in problem solving. My dad refused to give partial credit to students who left his exams early. He taught me that if I finished an exam early, I should do the entire exam again on the back of the test without looking at my work. If a student had shown up before at office hours, she’d get the benefit of the doubt.
But most important of all, I think — be pure of heart. For example, there’s no worse student than the one who asks, “Is this going to be on the exam?” Intrinsic motivation manifests an effervescence that’s a gravitational force to investors, potential hires, and customers and users. It makes it easy to speak freely and connect with others with an open heart, and it transforms a pitch into the most natural thing in the world.