Thursday, February 28, 2013

Investing vs. Entrepreneurship

One of the questions I’ve thought a lot about over the past year is whether I consider myself more of an investor or an entrepreneur. At most tech or startup meetings that I go to, I’m usually required to identify myself as one or the other.  During the weekdays, I view myself as an investor since I work at a private equity firm where I invest in mostly growth-stage healthcare, consumer and technology companies. At nights and on the weekends, I enjoy working with early-stage healthcare startups helping out Co-Founders in any capacity that I can, which is typically focused on finance, business development and strategy given my prior work experience.

However, it wasn’t until I recently read Mastering the VC Game that I came across a good way to differentiate how I viewed these two roles. I love the following quote in the book, which nicely summarizes why I view VC and investing as a better long-term career fit for myself:

“I have found that being a VC entails a very different kind of excitement than entrepreneurship does. It offers intellectual adventure, exposure to amazing people with brilliant new ideas, and the chance to make a positive impact on the world. I have found far fewer ups and downs as a VC as compared to being an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, the emotional roller-coaster is such that the highs are very high and the lows are very low. For the VC, there’s greater emotional detachment. I don’t get to personally create products or companies or lead teams. The VC is the backer of a movie in which he never starts, but he prefers it that way. As a VC he would rather be the enabler and facilitator than the builder or onstage performer. The best VCs are people who tend to get bored working on one business at a time in an in-depth fashion. They are notorious BlackBerry addicts and because of their hyperactive minds and love for rapid, varied stimulation, have the attention span of someone suffering from attention deficit disorder.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Becoming an Expert on Any Topic

Like most people, I find that I develop new interests every year.  Topics that I am currently exploring or have explored in the past include: design, programming, product management, investing, finance, venture capital, new languages, entrepreneurship, healthcare, startups, web development, photography, painting, cooking, traveling, wine tasting, running marathons, financial modeling, user experience, nutrition, and quantified self.  Through the process of exploring these new interests, I have come up with a series of steps and resources that I use to completely immerse myself in a new topic in order to understand everything I can about it as quickly as possible.

I know it may seem silly, but I actually still start out learning about a new topic the old fashioned way - by checking out every relevant book I can get a hold of from the library. A quick Google search often helps me narrow down the best books to check out on a topic and I start placing holds on each of the top books. I also search on Hulu and Netflix for any relevant documentaries because these are often just as informative as books and quicker to get through. I then subscribe to new blogs and podcasts (which are great for commutes to work) on the topic and begin following relevant questions on Q&A sites like Quora and Stack Exchange. These often help me get a sense of the main companies and thought leaders in the space and then I begin to follow those people and companies on social media sites including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and AngelList.  I’ve also found that several of the free online education resources like Coursera and iTunesU have great courses on new areas that I’ve been trying to learn more about. The final step I take is to put myself out there and talk to people in the industry who already have a significant amount of experience in the topic I’m interested in. I try to set up a few informational interviews through my network, LinkedIn and websites like OHours and I make sure to keep a look out for local conferences, events or Meetup groups on the new topics.

It's pretty amazing how with all the technology and resources that we have available today, I can go from being a complete beginner to an almost expert in just about any topic I’m interested in. However, I think the one downside to all this information overload and free educational resources is that with the opportunity to learn about so many different topics, it becomes more difficult to become an expert in any single subject because I keep discovering more and more areas that I’m interested in learning more about. Next thing I need help learning – how to focus!