So much ink has been spilled on how difficult entrepreneurship is.
And rightfully so! The more I talk to entrepreneurs, the more respect I gain for them. Living years without a paycheck, managing investors who are telling you to run fast in 10 separate directions and working with a team who is there because they believe in you when you aren’t sure if you believe in yourself is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. Yet, much of the VC rhetoric I hear praises someone’s ability to go through this process. They glorify the struggle. They say that if it was easy, everyone would do it.
But I think there is a fundamental problem in the entrepreneurship ecosystem today.
It is becoming so hard and so irrational to start companies that the people who we need the most (i.e. rational, smart people) are opting out. I am inspired by this post on Why More Women Don’t Run for Office. So much of what Raina Lipsitz discusses can be applied to entrepreneurship.
It doesn’t make any sense for highly qualified women (particularly women of color) to start companies.
After foregoing wages that they need to feed their families and communities, they are going to go through a round of disappointing interviews with VCs that will give them a 1-2% chance of receiving funding.
If we continue to structure a path to successful entrepreneurship as we do, we will continue to get the egomaniacs to enter and succeed.
Do you only want Travis Kalanick 2.0 running the companies of the future? I don’t. So how do VCs make entrepreneurship easier? I think there are a few fundamental things that VCs can do to make entrepreneurship more friendly. We should normalize taking a meaningful salary.
- I have seen burn rates all over the place. Entrepreneurs I’ve talked to are everywhere between living at the poverty line to living in the SOMA Grand. This is crazy.
- Why isn’t there more excitement amongst VCs to help entrepreneurs meet the lowest rank of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Why isn’t there more acceptance of the fact that the opportunity costs to these individuals is high already – with or without a salary?
We should treat entrepreneurs with humility.
- As Kanye put it – You Ain’t Got the Answers, Sway. Entrepreneurs are building from scratch. Yes, we may have seen things similar to what they’re creating in the past, but almost everything since then has changed. The timing, competitors, funding environment.
- We have so much to learn from each and every entrepreneur that walks through our doors. And the only way we’ll succeed in our jobs is if we take each opportunity to soak up the knowledge from these founders seriously and respectfully.
We should not ask entrepreneurs to sacrifice their lives for their companies.
- When we’re doing this, what we’re saying is – making me money is more important than anything else you could be doing.
- NYTimes describes this phenomenon in a recent article: “The guy is developing an app that lets you visualize how a coffee table from a catalog might look in your living room. I suppose that’s cool, but is it really more important than seeing your kids? Is the chance to raise some venture capital funding really “the ultimate reward”?”
What is the ultimate reward is deeply personal to each person. But I hope that as VCs, we empathize with entrepreneurs who may have thoughts, lives and dreams outside of building the company we invested in. They are better entrepreneurs for it.