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Fellowship

September 5, 2013 - Author: admin

When I first met Harry Marshall at the White Bull conference in Barcelona, I honestly didn’t think much about it.  He was one of many entrepreneurs in attendance, and mostly, he was there to take photos.  I reached out to him after the event to ask if I could use some of the photos he took of my presentation.  After that, we lost touch.

A few months later, Harry presented a ridiculous and completely unrealistic idea to me.  He proposed that he move from Barcelona to San Francisco for a few months to do a kind of internship or fellowship with Bay Partners.  We’d never had such a role in the company, and frankly, I couldn’t see what was in it for us.

But then I was reminded about how much I talk about the importance of mentoring, and I realized it was time to take my own advice to the next level.  Yes, I mentor, but an extended period of time and commitment is a hard thing to do in this busy world. Besides, I had no idea how I would fill his time for an entire summer.  Nonetheless, I said, “yes,” and Harry took the extraordinary leap of faith to leave Barcelona and come spend a summer learning about the VC world.

For the first week, I didn’t know what to do with him.  We talked about how the VC industry works, how we make investments and I sent him on some research tasks.  At the end of that first week, I was signed up to run the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco.  I invited Harry to come along.  Harry had never run a race before, much less one that takes place through the hills of San Francisco….and with lots of costumed and naked people.  But he was a trooper and came along and actually surprised us all with an excellent finishing time.

That is how Harry approached his summer at Bay Partners.  He was willing to do anything and try any task, no matter how challenging.  And like the Bay to Breakers race, he and I found our stride after a slow start.

After a few weeks, I let him come with me to meetings with portfolio companies (when appropriate) and potential investments.  Eventually, I let go of the reigns and let him take on a few projects, including due diligence with a potential investment.  When I did that, the fellowship really started to get interesting and I began to have fun.  Harry was a quick learner and it was fascinating to sit with him and discuss his ideas and discoveries.  He reads a room well and made intriguing and very accurate observations about people that often took me by surprise.

I was also amused to see how often people in the room ignored Harry and only looked to me.  They didn’t realize how much authority and influence Harry carried.  Nor did they realize that he was often a good representation of their target market, and I would look to him for insight on market validation.  If anyone meets with me in the future, keep that in mind.

Overall, I feel like Harry grew and changed in tremendous ways during his three months with us.  He put himself on a fast-track career challenge, and I know at some times it was painful for him.  But when you condense years of learning into a few months, the growing pains might sting a bit more than the slow track.  That’s why most people don’t do what he did.  It’s hard.

When he first arrived, he didn’t know much about the VC world.  Now, I’d trust him to do deals.  When he had the Bay Partners checkbook, so to speak, and was challenged with picking an investment, he took it very seriously.  He was cautious, conservative and thorough in his research and approach, which is natural for a first deal.  He recognized how his thinking and choices could impact his long-term reputation as well as the reputation of the partners, the firm and the company receiving the potential investment. In the end, he learned that sometimes it just comes down to a gut feel.  Learning to refine that gut feel and trust it is what we all do to perfect our craft, and I think the data he pulled together combined with his gut instinct led him to the right conclusion.  The kid just may have a knack for this business after all.

Harry is young and a bit naïve, and that was equally refreshing and annoying at times.  But his eagerness to learn reminded me that wisdom and experience are hard earned commodities and experiences like this are how they’re won.  He also reminded me of what it was like to have such a huge appetite for learning and growing, and his presence re-energized me in many ways.

The autumn is here again, and Harry is back in Barcelona.  The offices are a bit quieter and we miss his charming British accent.  But I’m glad Harry had a crazy idea and I’m glad I went with it.  Crazy ideas are the seeds of the VC world, and I think he will do well in this business should he choose to stick with it.

Harry

Harry is a photographer in addition to being a budding VC. You can tell by this semi-professional shot.

My experience with Harry has re-ignited my love for mentorship, so I will be taking on more roles with young entrepreneurs and students in the coming year.  I will post more about those specifics later, but for now, thank you Harry, and we hope to see you back in San Francisco soon.

You can read about Harry’s experience in San Francisco at www.harrymarshall.me.  He interviewed me about the venture capital business, and that story is here.

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