Coffeeshop Wallflower - Venture Capitalist & Founder
"The café is the people's parliament" - Honoré de Balzac
I frequent coffee shops a lot. Aside from the gym, it's my other home away from home. Depending on what coffee shop you visit in which district, city, or country the conversations you overhear can be vastly different. I've found such coffee shop conversations give me insight to the area's unique environmental culture so I decided to record my observations, as inspired by reading Haruki Murakami's own biography.
Here is a conversation I overheard in the summer of 2018 at a cafe in Toronto’s St.Lawrence Market:
Two men sit across from each other. They've come to a coffee shop but neither are drinking coffee. They both ordered a glass bottled water. Those usually tend to be some kind of European sparkling water.
So my first assumption is that they did not come here for the coffee. Just to chat.
The man on my left vantage point is leaning backwards, protruding a gut that is evident through his vibrant dress shirt (some kind of mix of pink and orange and what not). He has slicked back black hair with sun glasses perched on top with a grey suit. Brown leather dress shoes with no socks. I've been noticing everyone in Korea doing that too. It seems the nature of fashion is it starts in Europe, goes to South Korea, hits greater Asia, then North America adopts. Just my observation from ties to both continents.
The man on the right has glasses, wears a hoodie (the hood is over his head), I think he may have red hair but I can't particularly tell because of the lighting and the hood. He is slouched over the table and his shoulders are caving in to reveal a poorly rounded back. Both hands are gripping the bottle.
My first assumption was that this was an investor and company founder meeting. I mean, given the complete distance in the attire they wore and the domineering position the man on the left had on the right, I would very much hope this is no employer/employee meeting. That would be a very confusing company.
The initial assumption is proved correct when the 'assumed' investor is grilling the 'assumed' CEO/founder on the slow growth. He complains about how growth was fast last year but this year has "gone to shit".
The investor is upset about one of the friends the CEO has hired. It seems the "friend" may be a co-founder given he seems to have been brought on early on. The investor makes it known that the performance of his people is his responsibility since he brought them on. The investor thinks its better to let him go and bring in someone else who can do what they need to do to grow the company further.
The CEO pushes back in his softer voice. Yes, the investor is quite the loud mouth in this conversation. It's as if he needs the world to know he's important. The CEO tells the investor that he wants to build a company that can exact his vision and one that can help people. I can't quite make out what the company is doing though, nor the name.
The investor interjects him and reminds the CEO that he took the money and so now that the CEO works for the investor. The investor reminds him that his purpose is to make him rich. The investor then asks the CEO whether he wants to be rich. The investor goes on about how this is a win-win because the investor too wants the CEO to get rich and to do that, the company must grow faster.
The talking pace subsides and both individuals soon leave the coffee shop.
This reminds me a quote a founder I met told me... I can't quote directly but let me paraphrase: "The best venture capitalists are the ones that add no value to you. The rest suck value out of you." I'm sure this isn't the case for everyone and it certainly doesn't seem to be based on the public coverage the media portrays in interviews. But when I asked other founders (who were also backed by investors) they did agree with the sentiment.
It almost seems like most venture capitalists may be better off learning some patience and restraint from public investors. It's ironic I know. Investors come in all shapes and sizes but the investors I surround myself with have an appetite for 5,10, 20 year holding periods. So, aside from the behavioural forced nature to wait given the illiquidity of the investment itself, I think most venture investors would still benefit from patience. But alas, what do I know. A mere writing head who dishes out advice.
I can imagine many investor-founder relationships being like the one I just witnessed above. Yet, no one really seems to broadcast this kind of relationship. Just smokes and mirrors everywhere.
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