One of the fun books I read last year was “Paper Tiger” by Tom Coyne. I love to play golf, and Tom did what many golfers dream about – he devoted 100% of his life for 2 years to get as good as he possibly can and tried to make it on a pro tour.
The book is a light-hearted, enjoyable read. But one thing that stuck out to me was his description of playing in mini-tour events in Florida. He talked about the different characters that show up for these events, but made a particular distinction between the majority of the players and guys who were real pros.
Real pros were committed to making a living as an athlete. They took care of their bodies, followed a strict routine, and were methodical and purposeful about the way they approached their preparation and practice. On the course, pros played within themselves, stuck to their strategies, and grinded through the good and bad shots and good and bad rounds. On the range, everyone looked more or less the same, but the real pros had an edge. And even though this was just the mini tour, he developed immense respect for these real pros.
There is pride in being a pro, and it’s something you can pick up when you listen to athletes in all sports talk about their profession. If I were to sum up what I’ve heard and read, being a pro means repeatedly doing the things that are right to do but aren’t fun and glamorous. It’s delivering on your responsibilities, even if they seem tangential to delivering near-term, self serving outcomes.
This made me think a bit about what it’s like to be “a pro” as an entrepreneur and as a venture capitalist. I also polled my twitter followers for their thoughts, and consolidated some of my favorites below.
Working on a blog post on what it means to be a “pro” as a VC. What are things you see investors do regularly that are most unprofessional?
— Rob Go (@robgo) December 12, 2019
These aren’t comprehensive, and I’m also not necessarily saying that each one is universally correct. It’s just the kind of things that it seems pros tend to do:
- Show up on time and at least admit fault if they are late
- Are present with founders. Not distracted or unfocused or on their phones
- Read materials ahead of a meeting, particularly with portfolio companies
- Don’t’ share private information or gossip about founders and companies
- Follow-through on promises and commitments
- Treat founder’s time as costly, not costless
- Don’t ask “who else are you talking to” or “who else is in” unless founders have already referenced other investors.
- Don’t ghost.
- Say no
- Help to create focus vs. create distractions
- Are engaged when things are challenging
- Consider the interests of everyone on the cap table
- Play a multi-turn game
- Are always recruiting, selling, and raising capital
- Focus on culture
- Are precise and accurate about numbers
- Are quick to report bad news
- Set goals and have high accountability
- Share information consistently and transparently with their investors and teams
- Send materials in advance of board meetings
- Send updates with regularity to all investors
- Know how to put their best foot forward without overselling
- Engage on their weaknesses
- See things through to the end
- Have a coach or other structured support
Just like in sports, we’ve all seen founders and investors succeed without acting like a pro. Likewise, there are many founders and some investors that act like pros but don’t enjoy as much success as you’d hope their behavior might produce. The markets aren’t really fair, which is a bummer. But I do think pro behavior tends to be rewarded over time.