Trying To Stay Grounded As A Writer And Investor

If you’ve read this blog over the years, you may have noticed a slight shift in topics discussed, mainly from technology products, services, and markets to eventually include my half-baked views on the financing environment for startups. I just scrolled through my archive in reverse-chronological order and noticed a ton of these posts for 2016, an increasing number in 2015, and going back to 2012-13, I was entirely writing about mobile product development, new startups, opening markets, etc.; fast-forward to 2016, most of my blog posts were about my experience as a fund manager trying to understand the market.

A personal blog hopefully should be a reflection of what the author is experiencing during that time. For me, it has shifted over a bit from just analyzing the market to investing in it. To that end, you may have scratched your head on more than one occasion, wondering why I was writing about about “LPs” (limited partners, those who fund small and large VC firms), or why I was sharing my own personal advice of building a path to Series A readiness, or why I would chronicle and interpret what some vocal LPs were saying publicly.

I didn’t notice this shift was occurring until recently, as I had someone catalog all of my posts into topics. Now with that analysis, some hindsight, and lots of wine, I realize what happened: I was writing more about the nuts and bolts of investing and the VC business as a way for me to interpret and share my own findings, but in the process, I focused less on the actual products, services, and new companies which should be the ultimate focus. In that two-year (plus) span, I met all sorts of limited partners, tried to learn about the nooks and crannies of fund management, and much more. In those moments, I needed the conversations, time, and writing to reinforce what I had learned about fund management, managing reserves, fund models, throttling, pacing, and tons of other things related to managing funds that can’t just be learned by reading online. It needed time to sink in. For someone coming from limited industry and investing experience, learning about the source of capital was eye-opening as traditionally these sources have been quiet, understated, and not public.

That has all changed now. Just like there is more competition among VCs to invest in companies, there is more competition among money sources to invest in investment funds to invest in startups and technology. As a result, we’ve seen this once-quiet part of the ecosystem get more vocal quickly. And, that created an opportunity for me to meet them faster, and learn from them more quickly. And, I wanted to document and share that learning with folks in the ecosystem, and especially for founders that I would work with — I try to always spend a few minutes as a deal is closing to share with founders how I’ve started my funds and what LPs expect of me, so that they have a chance to understand my incentives and motivations. Sometimes, founders have asked me tons of questions about this, and I’m more than happy to go into the gory details if they care to know.

Fast-forward to this week. I am on a trip with family where, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I have a good chunk of time off, I don’t have meetings for over two weeks, and I have the time and space to think about what I want to focus on in the future. One thought (of many) that’s occurred to me is that I want to spend more of my time and brain energy focusing on the actual products, services, and technology markets that I used to write about back on Quora in 2010, or back on TechCrunch from 2011-13, before I started investing. That said, I am also happy and proud that I was able to write so much about the business of VC and learning from other investors and LPs — they all enabled me to learn faster, to try and catch up to peers and elders who have notched many years of experienced.

Perhaps there’s a simpler answer: Before moving to the next level in this video game, I needed to understand the business of investing and learn some harsher lessons first-hand. It is in my nature to always try to learn, but there’s also a point in which one must one apply what he or she has learned, and that point is coming up — and as it does, I will look forward to writing and thinking about those aspects a bit less, and freeing up more of my own RAM for going back into the topics which started me on this journey, writing about how Twitter could leverage location-based data, or how Quora could reinvent search, or how Pinterest helped solve a discovery problem, or how Turntable was a fun product, and many more. I need to work hard to regain that point of view, that naivete, that excitement about exploring a new world and writing about it here. I hope 2017 will be a new chapter in this respect, and I hope you will hold me accountable to it.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2017 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus