Jan 10 2005

The Adventure Reference

A number of people have written in and correctly identified the Adventure reference of my blog title. Here’s the full reference and why I chose it as the title for my ramblings.   When I was a kid I used to love playing “Adventure” (written by Will Crowther and Don Woods back in the late 70’s). My dad worked for Digital Equipment Corporation, so I was rarely without a computer of some sort (terminals in those days; first with a 300 baud modem and eventually a super speedy 2400 baud model that didn’t even require you to insert your phone receiver into two plastic cup things to make the connection – you could actually plug your phone line directly into the modem!). I also had basically unlimited VAX time since I could log into an account my dad set up for me pretty much any time from home. I liked computers and spent a lot of time trying to write up rudimentary BASIC code and, of course, playing Adventure. I eventually mapped out the entire adventure world (I still have the pencil written map in a box of memorabilia from my childhood).

I remember that one of the hardest things to map was the “twisty maze of passageways, all alike” (also knows as the Pirate’s Maze). The first few times I ended up in this maze I just gave up and quit the game. It was a place that basically took you around in circles and didn’t let  you out. After a few tries, I realized that the way to map the maze was to take a bunch of things into it and start dropping them in rooms (you could pick up tools and implements along the way in Adventure). Eventually you’d get back to a room that you had dropped something in and in this way you could actually map out the maze (despite each room’s description being exactly the same). From there you could figure out how to get out from any entry point (reversing your direction when you went in didn’t work).

To a large extent this process encompasses a lot of what I still do today. A good part of the leverage VCs bring to their portfolio companies comes from having seen many companies go through lots of situations and leveraging learning from the past on current situations. This sounds pretty basic – don’t make the same mistake twice; do the stuff that worked again, etc. The trick, of course, is figuring out when you are in the same room again since a lot of the rooms sound the same, but are in a totally different part of the maze. This is one of the keys to successful stewardship of companies (for VCs as well as entrepreneurs). Since the business world is dynamic, you are never really in the exact same room again, but one needs to learn to recognize similarities across situations and apply past experience to the present. This is why I think it takes real time to become a successful venture capitalist. You need to have those experiences behind you in order to build upon them. I think it is also one of the reasons that many successful venture capitalists have spent some time in the operating world – it’s easier to recognize situations from the outside if you’ve been in them before on the inside. While I think others would not emphasize this latter point (and certainly there have been successful venture capitalists who do not have an operating stint in their background), this is clearly a theme at Mobius where all of the investment staff has operations experience in their past.

On a personal note, I know that this is one of the ways that I’ve grown the most as a venture capitalist over the past three years – I needed to both understand how my operating experiences relate to the current situations portfolio companies find themselves in and I needed to build (and continue to build) a base of experience as a VC that both helpes me to recognize what room of the maze I’m in and, importantly, where to go from there.