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The cult of self-hating VCs

February 22, 2011, 10:28 PM UTC
Fortune

It’s time to stop apologizing for being a venture capitalist.

By Matt Harris, contributor



This past weekend a fellow venture capitalist tweeted: “I’m really not sure I like VC’s.”

My reaction went from a knowing smile to mild irritation and, finally, to downright anger. Anger, not at him, but at myself. Anger at the fact that this kind of radical and broad based self-deprecation (and by “self” I mean all of us) was amusing, old hat and totally unexceptional to me, and to all the rest of us who practice venture capital.

I have a clear sense of why this is. The origin story of the VC as black hat is based on the archetype of the entrepreneur as philosopher king, and the VC as necessary evil.

It is a story perpetuated by every entrepreneur who was told “no” by a blue-shirt-and-khakis-wearing weenie like me, and by every angel investor looking to build a brand. It is a story that is fueled every time a VC checks his/her blackberry in a meeting, or says something inane or just fails to return an email.

I get it, and I’m sure I share in the blame for the lasting power of this narrative by my lack of social skills or by the response time implications of my clogged inbox.

But the biggest way in which I contribute to the persistence of the “VC as evil” meme is by nodding knowingly when it is mentioned in my presence. There is a way in which, by agreeing that the phenomenon is real, I implicitly place myself outside of it … “yeah, VCs are jerks, but I’m obviously one of the good guys.”

Just the other day, I was speaking with a successful angel who is considering raising a fund (I know, you’re *shocked* to hear that), who characterized his decision as “going over to the dark side.” I laughed. Here’s what I should have said: “Screw that.”

And that’s my take on this notion from here on out: Screw that. The worst VC in the world spends his or her entire working life providing jet fuel to the entrepreneurial economy. That’s what we do, even in our darkest hour … that is literally the only tool in our tool chest. Remind me what’s so bad about that?

Of all the professions in the economy, what is so “dark” or “evil” about injecting cash into high growth companies? I’m clearly missing something. Every venture capitalists I know does three things all day long: (1) Figure out which entrepreneurs to back and wire money to those entrepreneurs; (2) Work like hell to help those companies; and (3) Pitch limited partners that they should give him/her more money to rinse and repeat that process.

Again, personal foibles and the occasional jackass aside, I think we can agree that these are activities that are massively net positive to the world.

Now, like any insider in any field, I could talk at length about how far short of the ideal I and my compatriots fall. But how unusual is that? If you want to hear something chilling, you should go out for drinks with some medical residents, and hear them talk about the foibles and failings of overworked young doctors. Or discuss food hygiene with an honest chef. Or watch “Waiting For Superman” to learn about the delta between the perfect and the real in the teaching profession. Here’s a quick newsflash: human beings are deeply flawed. The bottom 20% of any field is depressingly pathetic. That fact does not make medicine, cuisine or teaching worthy of wholesale mudslinging, and the same should be true of venture capital.

The other day, my 2.5 year old daughter asked me what I did for work. I said that Daddy helps people start companies. I’m pretty sure she didn’t understand what I meant, but it felt good to say it. I’m proud of what I do, and I think she’ll be proud of me, too, someday (though I’m pretty sure she’ll always be willing to swap me for Dr Seuss.)

Matt Harris is the co-founder and Managing General Partner of Village Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm with over $175M under management. His blog is called For the Win.