Friends Are the New Partners

Yesterday, my VC fund in Chicago announced a new partner added to our team.  It’s an exciting time for us as Kevin is a phenomenally hard worker who brings a lot of positivity and energy.  Moreover, changes – while difficult in their transition stages – are often big opportunities for growth, new beginnings, and strengthening.

I’ll be honest: as the Junior member of our team, I wasn’t intimately involved with the selection process for a new partner.  But one thing was abundantly clear – friends mattered more than performance.  Now don’t get me wrong, Kevin’s track record is exceptional…that’s not what I’m referring to.  What I mean to say is that while there was some discussion about a candidates experience or credentials, the discussion was more framed around personality and ability to gel with our team.

That might sound silly to many of you.  Partners at law firms are elected based on performance.  Partners at many financial funds are chosen by their ability to fundraise (aka performance).  But in the VC and Startup worlds, whether you’re taking about partnerships or founding teams, it’s all about complementary abilities and personality.  Because both VC fund managements and startup teams are so small, being able to gel, respecting each other, and cultivating an atmosphere of positivity are literally the most important factors.

And here’s why it matters.  I go to Chicago Booth, a school of 1,100 FT MBA students and who knows how many part-timers (see below):

Booth

All of these kids are smart…really, really smart….intimidatingly smart.  But none of us are likely to remember the valedictorian.  What we will remember are the people who mentored us, answered our e-mails quickly, always seemed to be hanging around, were eternally positive, and easy to work with groups.  I distinctly remember the people who said “your wife just had a baby?  Don’t dare do work for our group this week.”  But I won’t remember which team had the best presentation in any given class.

If you have a goal of being an executive or partner someday, someone is going to have to hire you or appoint you.  So let’s go back to the Chicago Booth dilemma.  At that stage of your career, when you’re up for an executive or partnership level opportunity, everyone is brilliant and qualified.  Face it, your resume simply isn’t THAT much better than the other guy’s (if at all).  What tips the balance is whether people want to work with you.  A VC Fund partnership is theoretically a 10 year cycle.  That’s a darn long time.  So it’s impossible to be appointed or elected by a board if they’re not wholly confident that your personality is the right one for a decade to come.

This is how you need to approach your jobs, both now at a Junior level, and later at a Partnership level.  Don’t be thinking merely about your assignments – be thinking about how you cultivate relationships with the people around you through your assignments (because all networking and no work is also a bad result).  Use your projects and interests as a platform to leverage your own personal brand throughout your company.  Focus on rejecting the label of “Analyst,” and on re-emphasizing and defining the label of “John.”

Best of luck in finding creative ways to spread your positivity and personality throughout your organization in order to build your own brand for the future.

 

 

About the author

Ezra Galston
Ezra Galston

Consumer focused hustling @Chicago Ventures, Young Entrepreneur @Foundation Capital, Class 18 @Kauffman Fellow, and Chicago Booth MBA. Former professional poker player, with 4 years experience doing marketing/biz dev in the online gaming industry. Launched a "poker hedge fund" in 2011, a record label in College, and produced a festival screened short film in 2006.

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