VC:VC Happiness vs Purpose

I want to expand on the theme of a previous posting about happiness vs. purpose, this time in the context of comparing venture capital and venture cycling.

I contended that it is a false dichotomy to suggest that the pursuit of happiness competes with the pursuit of purpose. Rather, pursuing purpose is often (usually? always?) a route to happiness, and without purpose the pursuit of happiness often (usually? always?) turns to emptiness. I noted that by pursuing the purpose of getting a bike and preparing for the Hazon ride, I was finding happiness. Not only am I having fun with the bike, learning lots, blogging and getting fitter. I am also hanging out with my daughter, Hannah, who is doing the ride with me.

As I think about this now, I realise that pursuit of purpose with no thought of happiness, of fun, is what can lead to zealotry in many forms. Happiness and purpose are not only above competition, but perhaps they are inevitably and closely intertwined.

How does this apply to venture capital? Surely neither happiness nor purpose are relevant. The pursuit is of competitive advantage, profit, capital gains, a place on the Fortune magazine Midas list.

Around 10 years ago I had the good fortune to be approached by my friend, Paul Bleicher, to start work on what became the great success of Phase Forward. Along with a couple of other folks, we started to work on a business plan together. At the first meeting we agreed that our purpose was to be, in order,
1) have fun
2) create a high quality, well-respected, industry-changing company
3) create a financial success

We all agreed that without the fun, we would not achieve quality, and without quality we would not achieve financial success. This seems to place happiness higher than the other purposes. Instead, I hope it is clear that the notion was that we would not let the inevitable and healthy pressure and disagreements overpower the friendships or make us wish we were doing something else. We were reminding ourselves to keep those business pressures in proper perspective.

Also, as you can see, we had the purpose of building a high quality, well-respected, industry-changing company as the driver ahead of the "pure profit motive". Paul's Google vector, (1,L) where L is a very large number, shows how well we achieved this purpose, and we had lots of fun working together. I think all good startups have this approach, and few VC-backed entrepreneurs are driven solely to get-rich-quick.

Pursuit of purpose (above profit motive) and happiness are clearly intertwined in the VC world as well. In proper balance, and with good measures of luck and management skill, the profit will follow. I have no idea how many other startups are as explicit as we were in thinking about purpose and happiness, but I know I most enjoy working with those startups where such values are paramount.

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