Why We Changed Our Company Values
Simplicity promotes transparency and fairness
Before the Covid pandemic changed the way business was conducted over the last few years, I published in article in early 2020 about how Touchdown “crowd-sourced” our values from our entire company. At that time we employed about 25 investment professionals growing a unique corporate venture capital model, and we opted for a non-traditional and inclusive approach that resulted in approximately 75 values.
As we grew our firm to more than 50 venture capitalists during the pandemic and transitioned to a hybrid work model, our team provided feedback that having so many values was confusing and potentially unfair. This was based on how we said we would use our values:
- Our values would form a code of conduct for how we interact with entrepreneurs, co-investors, and our corporate partners
- Our values were intended to be a screening mechanism for what types of hires we would make
- Our values would be a critical reference, supplementing quantitative job performance metrics, when deciding whom to promote
The concern was that with 75 values, we might pick and choose among our values to reinforce decisions that should be objective, but instead were being made based on gut or popularity. We understood that having so many values could actually reinforce unconscious bias when hiring and promoting.
Armed with this insight, we determined it was time to simplify our value set to ensure that everyone in the firm was clear on what criteria are actually most important to doing the job successfully at Touchdown, and therefore how to hire and promote our team.
We reviewed all 75+ terms that had been generated by our founders and our team, and rationalized them into six core values:
It’s often said that “what’s measured improves” and this accountability principle has always been at the heart of Touchdown’s value system. We keep track of what we say we’ll do, and we also do our best to ensure that what we say we’ll do is worth the effort.
Touchdown managing director Eric Budin describes what accountability means to us:
“Accountability isn’t just about doing what you say you’re going to do. That’s table stakes. It’s setting key performance indicators (KPIs) and gauging how we do against them. Accountability is central to everything we do, and is how we bond ourselves to each other and our partners; it allows us to evaluate ourselves and improve.”
Respect for expertise is a foundation of how Touchdown works with corporations, by partnering. Partners require trust, patience, and recognition of skills and knowledge that have been gained through experience and hard work.
Touchdown’s venture capitalists learn quite a bit about our corporate partners, but no matter how closely we work together, we will never know as much as our in-house counterparts do about their own businesses. Their scientific, product, and market expertise is their high ground.
Similarly, we believe corporate venture capital requires training and expertise, and our team has dedicated itself to be world class at this discipline. In the same way that our corporate partners will always be more expert at their own businesses, we will always know more about the venture business and its best practices, based on years of experience.
As Touchdown co-founder Rich Grant explains:
“At Comcast, we used to talk about the importance of telling your audience something they don’t already know. While we never want to come across as “know it alls” or egomaniacs, we do want to demonstrate that we are experts and that we have skills or knowledge that can provide benefit. After all, this is why corporations work with us, and this is why start-ups want corporate VCs in their companies. If we aren’t telling you something you don’t know, we’re probably not doing our job. So that’s an outward signal of expertise.”
Growth is relevant to everything corporate venture capitalists do. We invest in startups that need to grow to become more valuable. We work with corporations that must grow to maintain their leadership positions. And at Touchdown, our unique “corporate venture capital as a service” business model requires that the individuals on our team grow in their skillsets, confidence, and responsibilities. All of this necessitates a relentless focus on growth and improvement.
Touchdown venture partner Beth Kearns details our firm’s philosophy of growth mindset:
“Corporate venture capital is a business of constant ups and downs. We generally fund less than 1% of the deal flow we see, which means a lot of our effort doesn’t result in a closed transaction. Our portfolio companies face regular threats to their survival and sometimes don’t make it. Our corporate partners experience frequent re-organizations and their own financial troubles. The wins are great, but they don’t happen every day. So growth mindset at Touchdown requires the ability to deal with disappointment and bounce back, learning what went wrong and whether we can use that knowledge to be better next time.”
At the end of the day, all the effort in the world is meaningless if we don’t deliver impact in the form of results that matter. “Runs on the scoreboard” in corporate venture capital can take multiple forms: financial returns from equity investments in startups, financial returns from strategic relationships with startups, learnings that can help defend multi-billion dollar core businesses, sending a message to the market that the corporation is planning for success across multiple horizons, cultural improvements in the parent company, and more.
Touchdown co-founder David Horowitz focuses our entire team on delivering impactful results:
“Impact means to have a strong effect or influence on someone. At Touchdown, we strive to achieve that for both our corporate partners and the entrepreneurs we invest in. Impact is arguably the single most important driver for reputation. Both corporate partners and entrepreneurs are more likely to want to work (or continue to work) with a firm that continuously generates results.”
Venture capitalists have garnered an unfortunate reputation as privileged, elitist, and out of touch. Many investors convey a “top of the food chain” arrogance. In venture capital, however, investors (excepting angels who invest their own money) are actually just doing a job for someone else.
This recognition that venture capital investing is a service requires that we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, listen, and care. This type of empathy sometimes means setting aside our own goals to prioritize the needs of other stakeholders.
Touchdown director Deborah Zajac explains service mentality:
“We can deliver value to startups and our corporate partners by rolling up our sleeves and supporting their objectives. We embody service by putting in maximum effort and ensuring these constituents’ goals are viewed at least as importantly as our own. Service also means using our influence to support startups and corporates working to address climate change, health, and societal inequity.”
Of course, none of our company’s other values are possible without teamwork. In many ways, teamwork is an underrepresented value in venture capital, where individuals identify opportunities, execute transactions, and manage investments.
In corporate venture capital, however, much more coordination is required to drive mutually valuable relationships between startups and big companies. Teamwork can be a bit of a paradox, because most teams require an investment period before they become truly productive.
Teamwork means not letting each other down, developing a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities, and helping those in the greatest need. According to our head of operations, Jane Simons:
“Teamwork is a muscle that needs to be worked out intentionally and consistently. To be a great teammate means proactively dedicating time and focus to help each other, so that we’re more than the sum of our parts. Teamwork requires active listening, effective communication, flexibility, support, problem solving, and most importantly — a positive attitude. Together, a team should be able to achieve far more than all of the individual members working alone.”
Now that we’ve simplified Touchdown’s 75+ values, we’ve begun articulating objective descriptions of how our team can embody these six core concepts. Our goal is to remove as much bias as possible from hiring and promotion decisions, providing the best possible venture capital experience for our team, our corporate partners, and our entrepreneurs, and other venture capitalists.
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