How to succeed as a venture or growth investor

5 actionable things to think about, particularly for associates early in their careers

  1. Focus

Every day in venture you can run in 15 different directions — there’s always a new trend, a new space, new deals, new people to meet. But what’s most valuable is your ability to pick an area of focus and have the conviction in it to go deep. You need to be able to say “no” to all the distractions. Some days it will be hard — you see your friends doing deals and you will think you chose the wrong area, but you need to stay committed. In a business with long feedback loops, you can’t change course too frequently. If you’re constantly changing direction, you’re going to go in circles.

Palantir famously would do quarterly planning sessions — they’d lay out the thesis, build product, and test it, but only at quarterly intervals could they change direction. Governments and large companies (their customer base) move slowly — trying to take week by week engagement or lack thereof as any real signal would prevent any meaningful progress.

Pick an area, go deep, really feel like an expert in it, and then move on to the next one.

2. Ignore the noise

Investors are great at many things, but they are often poor managers of people. You will ask yourself why your partnership is dysfunctional, and it probably is, but it doesn’t matter. As long as it’s a firm that’s getting good deals done, and it’s a platform where you can build your career, ignore the noise. If you think too much, you’re going to get depressed and always be on the lookout for the next thing. And in doing so, because you have one foot out the door, you’re taking brain cycles away from your ability to execute.

3. Make yourself a scarce resource

Rid yourself of any sense of entitlement. You do not deserve a promotion because you’re smart and work hard. You do not deserve to be a principal or partner just because your friends are at the same age. If you need to ask for a promotion, you probably don’t deserve it.

You need to build yourself to the point where you are getting promoted because your firm is so afraid to lose you, because it would be a loss to the partnership to not have you on the team.

If you are well-respected by entrepreneurs, are respected as a carrier of unique knowledge in an important area, have a good network, and have sourced good deals, you better bet you will get promoted. And if you aren’t, there will be plenty of firms that would love to hire you.

4. Trust your gut on people

When you meet someone smart and hard working, you’ll know it. Stick close to those people. And when you meet people that feel like social climbers, or that are highly transactional, you’ll know it. Be kind, but move on. Your network is not built on its scale, it’s built on its quality, and while you probably think you can manage a big network of a lot of people, you probably find most value in just 10–15 with whom you’ve built strong personal connections.

5. Give more than you get

After meeting someone important or interesting, ask yourself, “who else would enjoy or find value in meeting this person”. People will appreciate this, but be targeted because you don’t want to be known as making connections for the sake of making connections / wasting peoples’ time.

If you’re doing this the right way, the people you connect at the very least will enjoy the conversations. And if you’re lucky, you’ll end up creating some real long-term value for others. This will pay dividends.