Sometimes, There Is An “I” In Team

How being a lifelong athlete has impacted my life and career.

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As a lifelong athlete, sports have always played a large role in my identity and outlook. In high school, my athletic identity was defined by my role as a soccer player. In college, my athletic identity was tied closely to being a distance runner. Both taught me two very distinct, but invaluable lessons that I still draw on today.

Running is an individual sport, with a small and varying dose of team. Soccer is mostly a team sport, where you win together and lose together. As a venture capitalist, I have observed that investing is generally an individual sport with a loose team construct, like running, but is infinitely more effective and rewarding when approached like soccer.  

What I learned from running was personal accountability and the complete absence of excuses. I ran mainly the 1,500 meter, the 3,000 meter, and cross-country. After the sound of the starting pistol, it was just me, alone on the track, until I crossed the finish line. Time is ruthlessly accurate and unforgiving, and I couldn’t deflect any attention or criticism elsewhere as long as I was running solo on the track. 

What I learned from soccer was a complete team orientation. It didn’t matter whether I had a particularly good or bad game. Instead what mattered was whether the team came together and delivered. 

Venture firms are a great mix of the individual and the team. Of course, your mileage may vary, and some firms will feel more team-oriented, while others may be more distributed. But no matter how team-oriented the culture is, most venture capital partnerships will defer to a point-person or a company-lead. The decision of whether or not to invest ultimately lands on one person who lays awake at night ruminating. 

If I take anything from the investing greats – the likes of the late David Swenson, Howard Marks –  when considering how to generate outstanding returns, it is this: It is easier to follow the general consensus and secure a big win. It is more difficult, but more rewarding, to make a decision contrary to popular opinion. My partner, Tom Loverro, achieved this with his investment in Coinbase in 2017, investing when he was non-consensus to the point of nausea the night prior to funding. It can be lonely, but I remind myself to embrace individuality and feel confident without the warmth of the huddle.   

And this may explain why I love my work — it combines the individual and the team. We are able to grow and support one another as a partnership, but within that, I have room to run my own race.

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