Jul 6, 2020
What does “killing it” even mean? It must be some loose rendition of “crushing it.” I guess if you “crush” it hard enough, you’ll “kill” it? This sounds like an intellectually weak way to gloss over the reality of how hard it is to succeed, ignore transparency and vulnerability, and display the ultimate veneer of success to project a status of #winning.
It feels to me like VCs are the worst at this. Startups are just as bad, but to be honest, they are just following the leaders (VCs). I wonder how much better off we would all be if we just aired our vulnerabilities instead of projecting our desired end state of success over our current harsh realities.
A lot of VCs write a quarterly update to their LPs, boasting of their latest success. Since I don’t have any LPs, or any money, and I’m not “killing it,” I’ve decided to write a regular vulnerability statement and post it here.
I’m sure there is more, and I know there will be more to report next quarter. I intend to write a vulnerability update once a quarter in place of an investor update. Partly because I don’t have any actual investors, which was alluded to in #1 above.
Getting real, and embracing vulnerability doesn’t feel natural for me. I was not always able to see things this way. Frankly, I was the worst offender of the group that pretended to be killing it for many years. As I suppressed trauma, pain, guilt, shame, anger, and other struggles, I found myself wading deeper into addiction as I sought to cope with feeling like what Adam Duritz of Counting Crows describes in the song “Have You Seen Me Lately.” I was continually losing myself and had no sense of who I was.
When I “hit bottom” as they say (I hate that terminology), I found myself in rehab in the summer of 2018. Today, I’m approaching two years of sobriety. As I trudge the road of happy destiny and a way of living that embraces rigorous honesty, vulnerability, and transparency, I find myself hoping that others could find their way here without having to go through the pain that I went through. I realize that vulnerability, is the key and that I need to apply this to my business. Yes, the business of “killing it” in venture capital.
I know everyone applauds Dr. Brene Brown and it’s sort of become a rite of passage in a mental health conversation to say you love her or rattle off a quote or two from her. She’s great, don’t get me wrong, but why is she so great?
She was recently asked by Tim Ferris to theorize why her story resonates so well. Her answer was that people seem to feel most connected to her when they are able to watch her struggle with her own work.
She models vulnerability in a way that is real and resonates with people. That’s her secret sauce. We as investors, as business leaders, and as entrepreneurs need to be modeling vulnerability to our constituents as well, including founders, employees, and other investors.
However, as investors we are often asking our founders to come to us when they struggle, tell us their weaknesses, and be authentic with us so we can help. I just don’t see how we can expect that of them if we are unwilling to lead by example.
“If we want authenticity, we have to initiate it…. We will never know our full potential unless we push ourselves to find it. It’s this self-discovery that inevitably takes us to the wildest places on earth.”
-Travis Rice from the movie, “The Art of Flight”
Why should business leaders demonstrate extreme vulnerability? Here are my thoughts:
Get vulnerable. Find the right way to open up to people about your shortcomings and weaknesses. Yes, in business. Yes, with investors. Yes, with subordinates and peers as well.
Be curious about your failures. Don’t hide from them; rather, turn toward them and embrace them so they can unlock truths about who you are, what you are, and how you are doing and lead you to greater success.
It’s so obvious and off-putting when people posture around their strengths and overplay their hands. It’s a turn off. But the opposite is also true. When people are open and honest about their weaknesses, it draws people in to want to help. This strategy is not just a “strategy;” it’s a way of living, and the byproducts for me have been sobriety and a few people who have decided to work with us.
I’ve found that in radical transparency and rigorous honesty that I often do not get what I want because people turn away, but I’ve also found that the people who matter the most to me react better than I could have ever imagined. It’s really a litmus test of sorts. If I can be transparent with you, and you stick around, then this relationship is going to work out (whether that be an investor, a friend, a founder, or someone at my home AA group).
Right now, text or call someone, maybe it’s a founder in your portfolio, or maybe it’s one of your investors or even just a friend and tell them you care about them, and then share something vulnerable about yourself with them. When you hang up the phone, your life will be on a completely different, and much better, path.
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About the Author: Stephen Hays — After decades of addiction and struggling with bipolar disorder, Stephen was fortunate to receive help and has focused his attention on funding solutions to the problems he lived with. You can read more about his story here.
About What If Ventures — What If Ventures exists to invest in mental health and addiction focused startups. The fund was launched in 2019 by Stephen Hays. Investors can apply to join the deal distribution email list here.
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