Stay In Your Overlaps

Your competitive advantage as a maker and/or an investor is your clarity and discipline around the overlaps of your interests and beliefs.

Aspiring entrepreneurs wonder, “how do you decide which idea is worth committing 5–10 years of your life to build?” Similarly, investors ask, “among all the pitches you get, how do you decide where to invest your energy and money?”

In 2005, I asked myself this question as an entrepreneur when founding Behance and 99U. And starting with my first angel investments in 2010, I have pondered the same question as an investor. By no means is my thesis complete, but at this point it is pretty refined. It can be summed up quickly (and graphically):

My best attempt at my own Maker/Investor Thesis. (made with iPad apps Photoshop Sketch and Paper, working together via Creative Cloud!)

The idea of Behance (to connect and empower the creative world) and the team we assembled were squarely in the overlap of the type of company I aspired to work for and the team I aspired to work with. This was true in 2005 and remains true today. We are focused on empowering careers in the creative industry using technology (among other mediums) to accomplish the mission. As for the team, we deeply value design and hire for raw talent and initiative over experience. No doubt, the experience building Behance helped develop my perspective as an investor.

In 2010, I became an accidental angel investor. I was heads down in the ~5 bootstrapping years of Behance before we raised our own first round of investment. Circumstantially, I had gotten to know other entrepreneurs with similar interests. One, in particular, was Ben Silberman, who invited me to be an early Advisor for what became Pinterest. When Ben raised his seed round, I made my first ever angel investment. I didn’t know any better, so I applied the same thesis behind evaluating Behance as an entrepreneur to evaluating Pinterest as an investor. And I have done so with most of my angel investments since.

As I reflect upon my projects and investments that have either succeeded or failed, I realize the importance of playing within “the overlaps.” When some opportunity lures me beyond the overlaps of my interests and beliefs (as displayed in the graphic above), it feels like gambling with my resources rather than investing and leveraging them.

There’s no playbook for this stuff, and chances are whatever formula works for someone else won’t work for you. The world is not advanced by people replaying another person’s playbook. My advice for building your own playbook: Invest your energy and money in the overlap of what excites you (the opportunity), and who you respect (the team).