People: The Uncertainty Factor
Last week, Fred Wilson wrote a post about time and money, and how to value each of them against one another within the context of investing. In it, he broke down a series of considerations which each impact the time-money balance. Rereading through it again, though, it occurs to me that a lot of Fred’s considerations also point to another, perhaps more subtle factor: people.
The people factor weighs heavily on the time-money dynamic, and arguably has the potential to significantly alter one’s perceived outcome. Inasmuch as the time-money assessment is predicated on the concept of effort—that is, how much effort one must put in to a venture in order to effectively procure a sufficient return for one’s investment (both time and money herein)—that effort is nonetheless dictated (or at least impacted) by the people around whom it centers.
Much of Fred’s argument—broken down amongst four examples—revolves around the notion of uncertainty as it applies to people. Uncertainty in this case (or these cases) stems from the fact that people are inherently different, and what holds true for one may not necessarily hold true across the board.
This is why so many investors articulate “the founder/team” as one of the most important factors—if not the most important factor—in their decision to invest. As Hunter Walk notes in his response piece to Fred’s post: “…we don’t invest in people we don’t want to spend time with, even if it could be a profitable investment.” Herein, the investors clearly value their time simply as a function of the personal connection they feel with the founder(s).
The Value of Evaluating Relationships
Yet as Fred notes, the reverse is true too: founders are just as much playing a “game of people” as investors are—the return on an investor’s value to a founder most times goes far beyond the money. The investor is similarly in the position of proving to the founder(s) that s/he is able to balance his or her portfolio while still delivering the necessary value to the startup company.
Evaluating people and relationships helps to assuage the challenges on both sides of this equation. When people learn to know what they’re looking for in a partner (be it a founder in an investor or vice versa)—and to articulate that to themselves, their team, and prospective collaborators—they are able to dramatically increase the value factor in the overall equation. This directly affects the time-money portion of the equation. An investor’s time is better utilized because the founder(s) can communicate their needs and vision, and thus deploy the investor’s money in a more focused manner (all while keeping open lines of communication as to how and why certain strategies might have been taken). The dollar value of the investor’s money thus increases, which increases (again) the value of their time input.
All of these factors work similarly axiomatically for founders looking to extract the most value from their potential investors.
Who You “Click” With
The evaluation of people—being able to discern who you “click” with and the type of personality which best fits your portfolio (or startup) strategy—is key in evaluating one’s time commitment to a project. The time-factor, which Fred articulates should be priced into early-stage investing math, can in fact be thought of as the people-factor. In the early stages especially, the clear dollar value of a company may not be readily apparent and some other—perhaps less tangible—metric may be necessary to consult. This is the people-assessment—this is the scenario in which investors are rife to say, “there was just some ‘It’ factor about her resilience” or “her charisma just sold me on the idea.”
This is not a shot-in-the-dark decision; it’s often a carefully calculated decision that is based less on spreadsheet numbers and more on personality—the potential we’re all theoretically (hopefully) capable of. This is a honed skill—gut feelings about people are as real as any metric and have the potential to return value on time and money investment as much as anything else in the decision process.
Time and money are very concrete things, but like so much else in life, their value can be drastically affected when they are thought of as a function of people.
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