It’s business, man
Yesterday was a depressing day for me. I've been a fan of the New England Patriots (and other Boston sports teams) for over 30 years. And I just can't root for them anymore. [Endnote]
Putting aside the fact that no grown-ass man should be this depressed about a sporting event, it's a cold, hard reminder that professional sports is a business. It's run by billionaires who happen to be (in most cases) die-hard sports fans. I'm pissed off at him and the ownership now, but Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots is not only the best owner in all of sports but also a die-hard Patriots fan. His decision to buy the Patriots was a dumb business decision (at the time) driven by his inner sports fan. Every Patriots fan is grateful for what he did.
I've written and talked before about the parallels between engineers and athletes. Others have made the same points so I won't rehash them here. I think it all starts from the basic idea that professional athletes and top engineers/founders all have a talent that can be learned by many but mastered by few. There are some parts God-given talent, hard work and circumstances. But ultimately only very few the first part. The rest of us can only be fans.
Vinod Khosla was quoted recently as saying (and I paraphrase) that investors aren't your friends. And I cannot agree more. It sounds overly harsh and this wasn't his point but they're called “investors” for a reason - they have a job to make money. If they didn't have that job, then they'd be “donors” or “patrons” or “sponsors.” They are not unlike Robert Kraft - a sports fan who is in the sports business. As an aside, I'm a huge believer in the saying that it's better to make friends through business than doing business with friends.
I was a physics major but I'm no physicist. I have a graduate degree in engineering but I'm no engineer. I realized that in my mid-20's and made the career switch. I wanted to be an advisor to people who were building companies using awe-inspiring technology. I would be a fan. And the best part of my job (and most investors would agree 100%) is being a fan - a spectator to unbelievably talented people create great things.
After a few glasses of wine and sitting alone with Ron Conway one night, I asked him why he continues to work at his current pace. “You're looking into the future!” he bellowed.
But legally I am a fiduciary first. I signed a legal contract to be basically a legal custodian of other people's money. I can be a fan and irrationally support our portfolio companies - but only to a limit. We at SV Angel say that we will always put the interests of the founders first. Ahead of investors', corporate partners' and our limited partners'. One part of this is based in the idea that they are the athletes and we are the fans. Without them, all the other stuff doesn't exist. That's the “feel-good” part. The reality is that we also do it because it's our business model - not because we're good guys. We do it in the same way that “Don't be evil” is Google's business model and “Putting customers first” is Amazon's.
[Endnote] The Patriots didn't resign one of their top players Wes Welker. It was the right business move. But after seeing the hits that he's taken over the years and now knowing that those hits probably have taken years off of his life, it doesn't feel right in this instance that he's not appreciated and paid for his past service.