An Unpredictable Reopening In Venture Capital

In the inconsequential world of venture capital, the past few weeks have been illuminating and unpredictable, with a particular focus on the human dimension.

Folks reading this likely are in-tune with the realities of today’s markets — we all know technology and startups are attracting more capital, we all know there is more capital entering the sector, we all know the sector itself is expanding globally, and we all know that the past two years of public offerings and market expansion has created wealth for those holding tech stocks, including venture investors and their limited partners.

More specific to early-stage tech investing, that market has moved to Zoom/video, combined with an influx of angels, syndicates, new funds, and others providing capital to creators. To many VCs, this new mode can feel great, more efficient, a wider aperture — it can also feel faster, more transactional, and as a result, potentially less rewarding. Put another way, wallets can grow inversely with personal fulfillment.

It’s easy to cast recent news as typical turnover in a dynamic industry. That would be too easy and miss deeper seismic shifts under our feet. It’s the fall of 2021. We are supposed to be fully open and over the pandemic, but the pandemic is still here. Parts of the country are fully open, other parts are sort of open. Even the most dysfunctional public school districts are back in class with kids (thank heavens!), but we are just weeks away from district-by-district debates about vaccine mandates for students. While we are re-opening to a new world, we are all realizing that, over the past 18 months, some of our best friends, neighbors, teachers, or favorite stores have moved — some voluntarily, many non-voluntarily. During that time, a mixture of West Coast soot and/or Gulf Coast rains invaded our air supply, adding to other aerosols floating around like disinformation or deadly mutations. If this wasn’t enough, the next Presidential Election will begin earlier than previous campaigns, setup to be an epic clash with big bumps along the way.

Now, let’s briefly dive into VC-specific challenges in 2021. Let me state upfront, no one is going to cry for VC, that is not the point. The reality most may not appreciate is that partnership structures can really exert a personal tax on participants — the weekly meetings, debates or fights, not to mention travel, events, dinners and missing tucking in their kids at night. Some have hit it so big there’s no reason to continue. Some don’t love it and shut downs helped shine a light on that reality. The battery of meetings lined up every week, though entirely self-inflicted, can clog arteries.

These folks have all been blessed in their own way. I always remind myself, I have the best job in the world. It is amazing and I can never take it for granted. I know many friends I work with feel this deeply. At the same time, these folks face human challenges that are independent of luck or fortune, all amplified during the darkness of shutdowns. And they take their commitments seriously. Committing to a new fund is like saying “sign me up for another 10 years.” That’s a daunting amount of time when cast against the past 18 months of being cooped up, examining every bit of our lives under the most intense microscope. There are countless blessings, but no one can escape the curses that come their way.

Stepping back from venture, we all have likely discovered cracks during the introspection of Covid. Now that we are on a path to re-opening and getting a lay of the new land ahead of us, we will have to face these new realities and assess “How do I want to deal with this?” Some of these are tactical; many of these are deeply personal. Where do I want to live? Who do I want to spend more time with? What I have sacrificed on this path that I need to repair? What is important to me that I have to protect? What is ephemeral or everlasting? No one has experience with “How do you reemerge after a pandemic?”

I’ve been extremely lucky to have spent time sitting next to and working with folks who are very successful at this role in our ecosystem. One trait shared among many of these folks, they are quietly insanely diligent and thorough in planning for their loved ones, friends, and fellow collaborators. They also realize time cannot be earned back, and so they’re making bolder moves to take care of items they want to focus on, mistakes they want to fix, things that need to be repaired. We will see much more of this over the next 12 months. And it’s not as simple as a “generational transfer” — its roots run deeper into relationships with spouses and kids, how our economy is bifurcating, how our neighborhoods are changing composition, how fragmented the American experience can vary by state, how unsettling a life in the Zoom metaverse can be, and so on. In the early stage of a post-pandemic world, we are realizing the last 18 months affected everyone, sometimes in unpredictable ways, and those who have the luxury to remake decisions are taking out the cocktail napkin, dreaming up new dreams, and looking for new adventures in a new world that will unfold in ways we can barely imagine today.