Independent Conviction

It’s easy to obtain independent conviction, hard to sustain it, and subsequently it becomes very easy to let go of.

It’s easy to obtain independent conviction for two (related) reasons:

Rose-colored glasses:

I used to talk a lot about life plans at my first job with my boss. I was 21, fresh out of college, with too many thoughts about how my life was going to go. My boss would always say to me that I hadn’t been “beaten down by life” yet. When you haven’t had those sobering moments it’s easy to see life through rose-colored glasses, and drastically misjudge it.

When it comes to venture, VCs can be easily sold on the bullish picture that a Founder paints. There are countless stories of VCs falling in love with deals early on in their career, and it’s hard not to!

Those rose-colored glasses unfortunately block some of the most blindingly obvious light that those without them notice.

Climbing Mount Stupid:

When you’re young there are times when you have this feeling that you know everything. And even if you know that data says you’re probably wrong, you believe that you are what will disrupt past results. And sometimes that’s true, but sometimes you need more data.

When put in the position of “power”, many VCs become egomaniacs and/or get some form of a god complex where they are happy to pass judgment on who is and is not worthy of their fund’s money, often with just minutes of time spent. This condition also allows VCs to forget what they don’t know, and overemphasize what they do know.

You have just enough data points to be dangerous, and that gets you to the top of mount stupid.

It’s hard to sustain independent conviction because:

Well, eventually it turns out life does beat you down. You realize that in every situation there are flaws and that sobering realization shatters your previously held views of the world that you thought you knew so well. When you once were positive your world was the center of the universe, you now realize you are just another planet orbiting a larger sun, doing its best not to get burned.

Once the shine wears off, every company has its flaws. There is always a reason to pass. Nothing and nobody is perfect and thus keeping the conviction to say “yes” when countless others have decided flaw #5 is the deal-breaker for them is difficult. If VCs are sheep, then this is like choosing the path with either 10 or 0 wolves, and not the path with just 1. Or to put in more famous terms, “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.

In our personal lives, many of us let these types of emotions rule our choices. Think about how many times you and your friends have told a close friend to quit their job/get out of a relationship/stand up for themselves/do something else risky. Instead of following what everyone is saying, often people defy the advice of the people closest to them and trust their gut (whether it’s right or wrong is irrelevant).

Independent conviction happens when you blend passion with thoughtfulness, intelligence, and ignorance.

When bridging that gap to VC, an industry that some critics claim people “retire into”, that thought process can get stripped out.

Maybe its because the feedback loops in venture are much longer than other parts of our lives (ironic that the VC to Founder feedback loop can be less than 10 minutes), maybe because everyone in this industry is so focused on proving that they know how the future might play out when in reality none of us do, or maybe it just is the type of people that this industry attracts?

I previously had written a more concrete ending to this but it didn’t get my thoughts across so here are the stream of consciousness thoughts.

In life, it’s really hard to go against what people tell you, and continue to trudge along without any confirmation of what you’ve been doing for the past 1, 5, 10, or even 20 years. My friend Ryan is famous for saying “confident about the inputs” and that’s kind of all many of us have. Take your inputs, your external data points, and your internal thoughts, and iterate on your stances.

In VC, we need more people to think independently. This isn’t just a “frontier tech” thing either. Don’t be afraid to lead a deal without another big fund in the round. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to tell the world what you do know and why you love a person/product/market. And don’t be afraid to then learn more and completely change your stance!

Don’t be afraid of independent conviction.

This post originally appeared in my notes