Applying Pressure Doesn’t Make Everything a Diamond: On VC & Fatherhood

Several months after starting our Homebrew seed fund I’m often asked “what are some things that surprise you?” My answer doesn’t have to do with dealflow or investment strategy. What really surprises me is how many similarities there are between being a parent and being an investor. And it’s about control.

As a product manager one of my fallbacks was the notion I could always do the task myself if necessary. I knew how to solve those problems. Of course I had a great team of product managers who owned their own scope of responsibility but if they had trouble, I would step up and help them finish it, or just do the work myself from the start. The liability to this style – documented in some of my 360 degree reviews – was that I could be hard on my team, that I sometimes needed to be more clear about expectations and then get out of the way. I recognized these issues and over time improved, but still hung on to the mantra that on my watch, I’d put it all on my shoulders if necessary. I thought I could make anything into a diamond if I just squeezed hard enough. If I applied enough pressure.

Fast forward to 2011 when we found out my wife was pregnant. Eschewing the dozens of new parent advice books I promised myself one thing: that I would approach being a dad differently than I did building a product. That I would try to provide guidance, support, a consistent point of view, stern feedback when necessary, but that I wouldn’t try to plan my daughter’s life. As parents we’d give her all the love and resources she needed to find her passions but it was ultimately her freedom. We are heavily invested in the outcome – with all our heart – but that her life was her script to write, not ours to hand over.

Six investments into Homebrew there are some similarities. Our mantra is to provide seed capital, operational expertise and love. Of course the founder<>investor relationship is much less paternal than the one I experience with my daughter but there’s a commonality. Namely that the most successful companies find their own path, not one I – or any investor – prescribes. Our investment is made with conviction that a great outcome is possible – fulfilled founders & employees, enriched backers. And as investors, we provide encouragement, information, capital and sometimes even deliver tough messages. But we don’t produce these results by just squeezing harder, because additional pressure isn’t how to turn a startup into a diamond, it just hurts your hands.