Mentored by Silicon Valley Luminaries
But had a hard time answering, “What have you been doing lately?”
Time has always been my scarcest resource, but in the past few months one career change led to the next… and suddenly I found myself having free time in abundance. What’s a 23 year old to do?
I read a lot. A book a week, blogs, tweets. I absorbed knowledge — mostly all startup and entrepreneurship related. I also discovered that YouTube is the biggest source of untapped knowledge out there. Specifically, long form content, hour+ long fireside chats, panels, interviews, talks with accomplished entrepreneurs, investors, thought leaders. (Specifically: PandoMonthly, This Week in Startups, Foundation, Startup Grind)
Never have I learned so much valuable knowledge in my life. It felt like I was being mentored by the world’s greatest influencers. I was inspired.
Although I still couldn’t answer the question “what do you want to do when you grow up?” — I was able to articulate the changes that are happening in venture capital. So I narrowed down my newfound enthusiasm to a single sentence: “the private market was becoming more efficient, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
I learned a lot — now all I wanted to do was talk to people about it. My initial instinct was to start a blog, and I wrote a few posts to get things started. But midway through my eagerly (self) anticipated “Efficiency in the Private Market” draft; where I would finally get to proclaim my understanding for all this insight; I stopped. There were already enough blog posts about startups and venture capital, and I didn’t want to narrate someone else’s story that I was not yet a part of.
So I started reaching out to people. Only problem was, I didn’t have a network. But I did know somebody that knew someone that once made an angel investment. Growing up in Silicon Valley, this was the absolute base level to start.
The next two months I spent meeting people. The agenda basically consisted of: “Advice?” But all I really wanted was to have someone to talk to about AngelList, the JOBS Act, and the effects of equity crowdfunding in an increasingly transparent private market. At one point, I remember reflecting on the fact that I had just spent the past hour pitching AngelList Syndicates to my surgeon — while he was operating.
That Sunday, Fortune broke the news of AngelList’s $24 million round. This caught me a bit off guard, as I’ve been meaning to reach out to AngelList for quite a while… It felt like it was the day before Christmas, and Twitter was making me watch, as my older brother opened all the presents. Only that I am Jewish, have a younger brother, and the next day was proudly marked “General Solicitation Day!” on my calendar. All the sudden, everybody was talking about my favorite topic. It was time to take action. I emailed Naval.
There is a passage in “The Crowdfunding Revolution” that talks about how the increasing pace of technological innovation expedited the time it takes to reach a level of domain expertise. In other words, technology is advancing so quickly that it doesn’t take decades of experience anymore to put yourself in a position where you might be considered an expert.
For example, the other day Adam Draper and I were having a conversation about Boost VC and his first investment in a Bitcoin company — at the time, everyone still had a lot to learn... Fast-forward one year later, the price of Bitcoin passes $1,000, and the mainstream media starts to take notice. Now, with a portfolio of Bitcoin investments, Adam has positioned himself as a Bitcoin expert. Who do you think reporters turn to when looking for an article quote?
This is not to imply that all the sudden I was some expert on the evolution of venture capital. I did however, develop a good understanding for the changes that are taking place — and didn’t shy away from sharing my viewpoint (comments section of Chris Dixon’s excellent crowdfunding blog post).
Building a Network
What started happening was that “just asking for advice” turned into mutually engaging conversations. Offering to help out, without asking for anything in return also didn’t hurt. Soon enough, one introduction would lead to the next, more meetings, even more cold emails.
My friends and family were starting to get worried; I didn’t have a job and wasn’t interested in looking. Technically, I couldn’t even be considered part of the unemployment rate!
When people casually asked, “what have you been up to lately?” In 3 months — I’ve done nothing that I can point to. I could see that the only satisfying response had something to do with the words “interview” or “job” and when that didn’t happen… the typical suggestion of finding something part-time, “even if it’s only temporary” soon followed.
Looking back, that was the most productive time of my life. More productive than the first 3 months of this year, when I worked just under 1000 “billable hours.” More than the 2 months after graduation, as I passed all 4 parts of the CPA exam. More than the 2 weeks of “vacation” I took this time last year as I studied for (and passed) Level I of the CFA exam. All of these experiences were very beneficial, and certainly “productive” in the typical sense of the word. I am glad I did them.
Nonetheless, the past 3 months have been more productive because I learned how to build a network. I‘ve added value, extracted value, and interacted with some of the smartest and most interesting people I ever met.
The biggest takeaway, having been on both sides of the 3-person “intro email” is that sharing your network, when done properly, can provide more value to you personally than actual currency. Excluding partially diminished $TSLA gains and cashed-out-too-early Bitcoin profits, I’ve earned zero dollars the past few months. Yet somehow, I feel more secure and better off than ever.
The Future is Here
Is the name of my blog. It has more to do with paying tribute to what Elon Musk started with SpaceX and Tesla, than the efficiency in the private market topics I intended to cover. That future has not yet arrived.
Bringing efficiency to the private market is a broad goal. So saying that I’m determined to play a role in making that future a reality isn’t necessarily closing too many doors (no Med School pivot anytime soon).
Having said that, I am now working with a startup that’s focused on solving the very inefficiency I encountered.