I have an old, wooden beaded Karma bracelet that I wear most days on my left wrist in the place of a watch. It’s worn down a bit and is held together with three loops of silver coated elastic line. It’s dirty light brown with faded chinese symbols on it. It is definitely not the most appealing accessory.
“If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.” — Nora Roberts
People continually ask me about it and why I wear it. I originally bought it on a lark several years during a business trip. As readers of my blog know, I believe (as many VC’s do) that Karma sits at the middle of our investment (& personal) universe. Good acts & intentions attract like. In my mind, the Venture Capital world is the single strongest proof point behind the Law of Attraction (made famous by the book & movie, The Secret). That said, at the time (around 2003), the venture world was coming out of the darkest chapter in its history. Let me give you a sense of what it was like.
I had 12 investments at the time that I had made between 1995 and 2001. Regardless of how compelling or promising the business, by 2000, everything was in free fall. I moved from board meeting to board meeting, reviewing how much each firm had missed its revenue plan and what draconian steps we would take to reduce cost (e.g. usually laying people off). As I stepped back and reviewed the bigger picture, it painted a pretty bleak scene. It looked as if I would lose all of the investments. Very quickly, my mind would linearly extend out this bleak future. Without success, my days as a VC would be short. Without a job, I’d have little to show new employers in the industry. Without strong job prospects, what would I do for a living. You can (or even have personally) imagine how this negative feedback loop feeds on itself. In fact, I see a lot of people today going down this path. Ironically, the best relief I had from this grind was to help others, to make introductions where I could, to counsel entrepreneurs or just listening to people in need. My philosophy has been that just because your world is not going as hoped, does not mean that you can’t try to help others. In fact, you usually get as much out of it as they do.
By 2003, things had stabilized but I had little to no visibility on exits or good news from my companies. While I had lost several investments, the lionshare had pulled through. IT customers had not returned to the market in strength and it was difficult to see what trends or strategies would carry the day. I had had a long, grinding three years and was not certain how much resilience I had left nor how long this would drag on. I definitely had my days where I questioned if I should remain in venture capital. My confidence was shaken and I could point to only modest gains.
Ironically, during the day, I would counsel entrepreneurs about perseverance, resilience and hope. Jim Clark, the founder of WebMD, Netscape, Silicon Graphics and myCFO, has always said the great companies are not built, but rather willed into existence. I realized that I couldn’t believe in and preach A while doing B (running away). So, day in and day out, I ground it out.
Fast forward to 2008. I was in the midst of a string of successes that, honestly, surprised me. Many of those struggling companies from years before, had managed to conquer their challenges, scale their businesses and realize strong exits. In fact, during 2007 & 2008, these companies sold for nearly a $1B to the likes of IAC, Google and Dell. In fact, the largest exit of all, Lefthand Networks, sold to HP for $360 million in November, 2008 as our economy was nearing the bottom of the world’s worst downturn in 70 years. Furthermore, because of these exits, I had few portfolio companies to manage through the current economic mess, leaving me with more time to look at new investment opportunities.
So, when I look at my beaded bracelet, do I think of it as a good luck charm? Maybe a little bit. However, more importantly, it symbolizes to me that, no matter how dark things get, the world is full of good people & good intentions and that tomorrow will be better than today. It reminds me that success is driven not by brilliance & insight (though they help) but rather by persistence, resilience and faith. Often, just getting up in the morning and putting your feet on the floor is the best strategy when you don’t know where you can muster the energy & confidence to go on. This is not to say that one should chase after the wrong windmills. However, if you still believe in your very fiber (during your good days) that you are on the right path, push forward.
As the Rolling Stones wrote, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”