Be a Non-VC, VC

A group of people discussing around a table

I recently received an email from an early client of mine, Faisal, who supported my first venture business. He was visiting the Washington DC area from his home in London and was eager to reconnect. Faisal believed in me, saw my potential, and supported me long before I had the evidence to support significant institutional backing. Faisal’s vision, entrepreneurialism, instincts, independent thinking, and passion for launching the next-generation of impact-makers was critical to getting my first business off the ground.  

During those early years, I spent a tremendous amount of time away from my wife and young kids, traveling the world in search of the few Faisals who could see what was possible. It took over six years from executing my first one-off venture investment to raising my first committed fund. That’s six years to move from making a single investment to managing my own fund. Throughout those six years, I heard every possible reason why we—and by “we,” I mean me and the few brave souls who worked with me—were not deserving of funding. Yet we persevered. With much hope and little evidence to support our conviction, we persisted.  

In life, we all need to find a few Faisals; those people who can help us take that next step in the journey, when others won’t.

When I speak with fellow entrepreneurs who seek to raise capital from Northpond Ventures, I never lose sight of the six-year journey I went through to earn that first dollar of revenue. I put myself in Faisal’s shoes and try to see what’s possible. But all too often, I encounter VCs who haven’t experienced the abyss of raising money for an idea they’ve dedicated their lives to. This experience is often isolating, grating, and, at times, hopeless feeling. Though we’ve raised billions of dollars over the years, I’ve never moved far from that bleary-eyed entrepreneur who so desperately wanted some small token of support, the briefest chance to prove what I was capable of. 

Maybe you’re facing your own moment of isolation or frustrations. If so, I want to assure you that there are people out there who will support you, and those people matter. They see the value in having you pursue your dreams. They have the patience to support you even when the accepted wisdom suggests otherwise. And if you ever find yourself in a situation where you believe someone may not see your full potential, stay the course. As Calvin Coolidge said, “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” You have the determination, the wisdom, and the passion to succeed, so stay focused.

As an entrepreneur, I know I would not be where I am today, or learned the lessons I have, had it not been for people like Faisal; people who believed in me, no matter what, and supported me when others turned their backs. Stay focused and don’t let nonbelievers keep you from pursuing your dreams. The world needs people like you—and all you need is one Faisal to change your trajectory.

Now it’s my turn to play Faisal. While I can’t be a Faisal to everyone I meet, I never lose my profound sense of empathy for the startup with more potential than profits. Speaking to many entrepreneurs who, like me, have scaled significantly from their early days, I find that their sense of identity has often been forged by their early struggles and the people who supported them during those struggles. I feel fortunate that I’ve experienced both the struggle of founding a business and a sense of gratitude for those who have lent their support.

I contemplate the courage I’ve seen in startups, the willingness of people to follow their dreams, to bring value to others. It’s truly inspiring. I like to think that the founders who I’ve worked with in the past understand just how much I care. I hope they understand the extent to which I’ve used much my own journey as a case study and applied the lessons I’ve learned in the trenches.

As for those founders who I haven’t had the opportunity to help, I often think of them, too. I’d like to believe that I at least offered some hope and inspiration. If I’ve done that, I’m grateful—and proud. I hope, at the very least, I’ve empowered them to believe in themselves, in what they do, and in their potential.

Therefore, if you’re a venture capitalist, or aspire to be one, I entreat you to be a Faisal.

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