Seven things I learnt as a venture capitalist in Australia – StartupSmart

I’m excited (and sad) to announce that I am stepping back from my day to day role at AirTree Ventures to focus full time on my new new thing.

However, I will continue to be part of the AirTree family as a venture partner.

I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Daniel Petre and Craig Blair as they were starting their third fund in AirTree Ventures. It is a rare investing role, and I had a blast. I learned a lot.

Thank you to Daniel and Craig for giving me the platform upon which to further my career and get my start in VC.

AirTree Ventures Fund I (2014) is almost fully invested (accounting for follow-on reserves). During the last two and half years, I’ve gone through the arduous process of launching a VC fund from scratch and then having over 1000 coffee meetings (I settled on the extra hot piccolo) with startups, founders, marketers, engineers, angels and VCs.

I’m so proud of what we’ve built in AirTree Ventures.

I’ve made some great friends along the way. I’ve had my head rebooted from blue screen errors as someone has lifted me out of my mouse cage and shown me an ocean.

The best were those meetings when it felt like I was meeting a Jedi Knight before they had mastered the Force. With the right resources around them, they would no doubt do great things, left alone self-destruction would await in corporate chains.

I’ve met founders of all types. Even one who picked me up in a Lamborghini. Yes, we invested.

As I start my new role, I wanted to reflect on my experiences as a VC and the learnings that can only come in that environment. Here are my caffeine infused take-aways.

Seeking context

We are all seeking context. We are all trying to understand what is happening all around us. It takes courage to pause and look up from our desks.

Context is easiest to see when looking backwards but hard to grapple with when it’s happening in real time.

Conversations are rare

The best information is in conversations not in tweets, blog posts or books. Stay away from the news. At its best, it tells you what companies aren’t being talked about. Ask why.

Everyone is on a journey

Some say it takes one thousand photos before you take a good one. Keep that in mind when you meet with people. Some are farther along that journey than others.

Treat everyone where they will get to not where they are now. The junior of today can be the owner of tomorrow. Be respectful.

The best investors enable you

The worst investors are kind of like critics. Plenty to say but not much to contribute. Remember where the real talent exists.

As an investor, do no harm as your first modus operandi and add value if you can. I am proud to say that at AirTree we have always focused on helping not hindering.

Traction is for suckers

Traction changes. Traction pulses. Linear extrapolation is a fool’s errand.

Unpacking traction and developing a unique insight is hard. More context, not more data, can be better.

Be yourself

Most compelling voices are not heard. Develop your own. Develop strong opinions; it makes for engaging conversations.

Don’t regurgitate the ‘rockstars’ of tech. Be afraid to be another echo. Be unafraid to ask questions. Quality over quantity always.

It’s a privilege

It’s a privilege to invest in the AirTree Fund 1 batch of companies. There may only be 10 breakout companies in our ecosystem in the next five years.

If you are lucky enough to find one and out-compete other investors to reach that cap table. Cherish that position. You can then lean in, help out, add fuel to the fire, and get a curbside seat to the future being born.

This piece was first published on Paul Bennett’s blog.

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