How a year of virtual life made me appreciate people more
When I tell people that I’m an introvert, the reactions split into two camps. For those who know me well, it’s pretty much “yes, duh.” But to those who have only been exposed to me in public places or online, it’s usually more surprising that a venture capitalist like me could be introverted. People sometimes mistake introversion for shyness or a lack of confidence. But it’s really about being with people gives You energy or takes Energy gone. I love people, I just need enough time to recharge, usually by myself.
If you’re reading this I’m assuming that you are human, which means the past 12 months have probably been quite turbulent for you. My family has been incredibly lucky and hopefully the long-term consequences will be minimal. Lately I’ve mainly been trying to figure out what lessons my daughter should learn from this time and what lessons we have specifically Not want her to wear her whole life.
This has given me the opportunity to redefine my own habits as an introvert – especially those related to how, where, and when I spend time with people.
When it comes to my job, after seven years of venture capital under normal circumstances, it has been instructive to be thrown into this new scenario as I don’t think we will ever fully return to normal. Instead, we will merge aspects from before 2020 and our experiences from last year into a “new normal”. This has given me the opportunity to redefine my own habits as an introvert – especially those related to how, where, and when I spend time with people. It’s a work-in-process, but this is what I think:
In the past these have always stumbled onto me. I would experience some social anxiety mixed with feeling overwhelmed by my own internal scorecard and thinking, “Am I connected enough?” Now with Zoom, I can just go back to audio-only or cancel the gathering when I’m ready to go. (What’s the equivalent of turning off the video for me if I’m attending a major event? Probably peeling off with a person or two for the old walk and conversation.) I think virtual events will continue to evolve beyond the zoom room in the future and in formats like Icebreaker. I can’t say Covid-19 made me rethink the personal benefits of the really big conferences (I don’t attend many), but it makes me miss the curation of smaller groups. The events where the hosts go out of their way to bring people together with a high level of purposefulness and work hard to ensure the mixing is wonderful are wonderful. Hopefully my 2022 will include a return to events like these.
Working with founders
I really missed that. You might think I’m referring to the time I spent with a founder before I decided to invest in their startup, and surely there are moments when a face-to-face conversation can make the difference between deal and no deal can. But I don’t think we’ll ever advertise 100% in person again, especially in the earliest stages of getting to know someone. Turning an initial pitch into a phone call or video is just too efficient for both parties, especially if the founders prefer.
But what I really miss are the post-investment moments that are so much better in person – the types of relationships built over meals, walks, and on a whiteboard. Not just showing up in person for a board meeting (although being there sometimes is important), but the stuff that requires as much EQ (or emotional intelligence) as IQ. And I expect to do a lot of that in the places at where our portfolio companies are scattered: in the Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Toronto, Portland, San Diego, Boston, Salt Lake City, Mexico City and Buenos Aires, and so on.
I feel that many startup teams are ready to work in offices again, or at least have the flexibility to work personally in times when collaboration and culture building are most important. If I were at the beginning of my career, it would absolutely be my preference to work for a company with an in-office culture (either full-time or hybrid). There is just so much fellowship and osmosis (or chance) learning that comes from being together. While our VC firm Homebrew definitely invests in companies that are 100% remote / distributed, we are also committed to ensuring that this is by design and not underinvested in the infrastructure, travel and skills building that are required to be successful in this model.
Do we still call it that? How about just luck and wits? I’ve found that I really enjoy driving my child to school on Friday mornings. I’ve found my wife to be nice to play backgammon over lunch when our shared schedules take this into account. I’ve always loved talking to a Founder for just five minutes on the phone when they need help (instead of emailing back and forth). Optimizing the best I can for flexibility has been a pleasure and a privilege that I hope to keep. My weekdays are basically 80% homebrew, 20% family with my weekends reversed. It’s worked out pretty well so far, unless I think my dog will be shocked if we’re not in the house with her 24/7.
Homebrew closed its office in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco last March, and we’ve only been there a few times since then. Our lease runs until spring 2022, and I have no idea whether we will renew it or not. It’s a great room that comfortably seats our five-person team and a flexible desk that can accommodate an additional four to six people. I assume we’ll keep the office – or something like that – but hopefully we’ll see the benefits of a transition city in slightly lower rents. Or maybe not. Perhaps San Francisco rents correlate positively with VC’s internal rate of return!
I miss being around my business partner Satya. In the days of social distancing, we’ve found ways to get together safely, but to be honest, it’s not often enough for me to be optimally happy. Years ago, before we started the company, my wife and I casually looked at each other to buy a house two doors down. If we’d pulled the trigger, maybe I could have had a real homebrew pod! (Though I’m not sure what the rest of our families would say about this?)
There’s still a lot to find out in the next few months, but here are the vaccinations! I hope you all get through the next few months healthy, supported and successful.