The Collaborative Fund Turns Six: What I’ve Learned

Collaborative Fund is turning six years old.

Every year around Thanksgiving I’m reminded of when we got started in 2010. It’s crazy how it seems like just yesterday on one hand, but an eternity on the other.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Venture capital is really hard. It’s the only asset class where you have to convince people to invest in things that don’t exist yet. Products that people instantly understand are usually just slight improvements over what’s already on the market. That’s not what venture capital is about. The most transformational products are ones that begin with hardly anyone understanding what they are, let alone why we need them. Kickstarter, Lyft, and Creative Mornings all make sense today. But they sounded crazy in the beginning.

Brand matters. Money is fungible. Mission, values, design, and personality are not. Too many investors assume they can find a niche with nothing more than a pot of money and their own intelligence. This may work for some, but even when it works the process can be frustrating. Investors and entrepreneurs can have different goals and priorities. Teaming up with someone who doesn’t see eye-to-eye on what matters and where the world is going can be a huge problem. I am reminded daily about the importance of Collaborative’s brand and mission. It has helped us attract the right investors, team members, and entrepreneurs. Our brand serves as a beacon, which in itself is self-selecting (in a good way).

Lots of hard work in small increments is the key to success. Just like exercise, doing a little bit at a high frequency can be more effective than trying to do too much at once. It’s hard to put this into practice, as the industry is competitive and opportunities don’t wait for you. But the older I get the more I realize that pacing yourself is critical for both the health of the business and your personal wellbeing. No amount of short-term gain is worth burning yourself out and missing the long run. Charlie Munger said it best: “Someone will always be getting richer faster than you. This is not a tragedy.”

Everything comes down to team. Collaborative is the sum of its parts, and our strength is reinforced through diversity. We pride ourselves as a team of Americans, immigrants, people from small towns and big cities, former founders, philosophers, graffiti artists, women and men of all colors. We have vastly different backgrounds and see the world from different angles, albeit through a similar lens. It’s hard to overemphasize how important diversity is, not just for social reasons but to collect the broadest set of views as possible. A roomful of old white men will never fully understand where the world is heading.

Articulating our vision has never been more important. Mission and values don’t mean anything unless people know about them. Investing is about trust, and trust is only built when you can effectively communicate what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. What excites us as a fund, how we make decisions, and where we are headed in the future are all critical to share with everyone in our ecosystem.

We’re grateful for those who trust us. I’m still taken aback by the immense trust our investors place in us to navigate a rapidly changing world. Collaborative Fund is still very much a startup, and having their support gives us the strength and energy to push through good times and bad. Our investors also make us feel comfortable being transparent about the ups and the downs of this business, which I’m grateful for. Exposing our insecurities allows us to grow and mature as a team.

Our primary job is to serve and support entrepreneurs. They are taking the greatest risk, and have the most to lose. Having been an entrepreneur myself, I can’t help but feel inspired and in awe by the continuous battle being fought on the ground by so many founders. They are truly shaping our future, and it’s an honor to partner with them along the way.

Here’s to another six years – and beyond.