Sunday, January 1, 2017

Founders Are My Religion

My parents raised me atheist. The first time I attended a wedding, I felt deeply uncomfortable sitting in the church. I didn’t find my religion until last year and it took several years of experience as an investor to develop a way to articulate it.

I’ve come to realize that founders who I deeply believe in are my religion.
Charlie Munger and Warren Buffet say they like to invest in management teams they ‘love and admire’. I haven’t been able to get that phrase out of my head for years. George Zachary says he ‘backs revolutionaries who are changing the world’. I love that phrase too.

As an early stage venture investor, belief in the founder is really all I have. I back entrepreneurs at the beginning of many years of ups and downs. The product will change a lot, the market will change a lot, the customers will change a lot, the world will change a lot. I can’t predict any of that. What I can see today and what will continue to be true in the future is the grit of a founder and her ability to articulate a big vision.

At the end of the afternoon on Friday, the last business hour of the year, I met a friend whose company I backed. Five minutes after arriving, he had to step out and take a call to close one last deal for the year. When he came back, my friend told me his company had grown 50% in the last quarter and expected to grow 50% again next quarter on multiple millions of annual revenue. Definitely someone I love and admire.

Last month, I caught up with another CEO I backed. I invested a couple of years ago. His company has gotten to some scale and doing well, but ever since investing, I’ve thought that a major inflection point is always 4 to 6 months away. Still do. My job is to give the advice I can, but most of all to suspend disbelief, eliminate the doubts I can, and back the founder to the hilt. 

Sometimes it takes a lot of effort and reflection and self work to steel my belief through the ups and downs in advance of sufficient proof. That helps make me the better person I’d like to be.  

To kick off 2017, I’d like to thank the visionary, gritty founders who let us at 500 Startups join them on their hazardous journeys. You make me a better person. Thank you!

You can follow me on Twitter @matjohnson

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