A friend recently asked why I use a picture from my childhood days as my social media profile picture. I use the same picture, taken from my third grade yearbook, on both my Twitter and Facebook profiles.
The reason is that, whenever I feel as though I’ve experienced all that there is to experience, or learned all that there is to learn, something happens which makes me realize how much more I have yet to experience and learn.
In other words, although I might no longer be a child in terms of my age, in terms of the experiences and learnings that I have yet to face, I will always remain a child.
My social media profile picture is a reminder of this beautiful fact.
One of the types of content that I share on this blog is learnings from personal experiences. These include learnings relevant to startups as well as learnings about life in general.
However, you don’t always have the benefit of applying an existing learning from a past experience directly to a problem. Sometimes a new problem emerges for which you don’t have directly relevant previous experience. You don’t know exactly what the expected outcome maximizing approach is to the new problem.
In these cases, rather than walk without a compass, it’s useful to try to think of analogous problems you faced in the past and your learnings from these analogous problems. A problem is simply a set of weights assigned to different dimensions. Although the new problem may be uniquely different than anything you’ve seen before, several of its weights on specific dimensions are likely similar to other problems you’ve seen in the past.
Thinking about the attributes which the new problem shares with other problems you’ve seen in the past, reflecting on your learnings regarding the approaches that work if a problem has a specific attribute, and bringing together these learnings from different problems which together have all the attributes of the new problem takes you a long way towards getting to the right solution.
Each morning, I wake up thinking about what to write about for this blog. Sometimes it’s a personal learning, sometimes it’s a development at one of our portfolio companies, sometimes it’s a piece relevant to the tech sector globally, and sometimes it’s just some good old fun.
What I’ve come to realize about the personal learnings I share is that, the more you learn, the more important it becomes to recall your existing learnings rather than to continually come up with new learnings.
I don’t think that there’s an end to personal learning. There’s always more that you can learn. And our capacity to learn grows as humans evolve. Future generations of humans will likely have a greater capacity to learn than current ones.
However, there any many overarching learnings that apply across most of the domains of your life. And these don’t change that often, if at all.
Once you’ve discovered these overarching learnings, there’s greater value in recalling the relevant learning at the relevant time than in trying to force the creation of new overarching learnings.
I was recently working on the investor presentation of one of our startups together with the startup’s founder. The company is currently back on its growth track but experienced a few turbulent months earlier in the year when revenue fell short of our expectations. We correctly identified the problems behind the months of lower performance and have applied or are currently in the process of applying remedies to each problem.
During our conversation, our founder asked whether we should explicitly highlight the months of lower performance in the presentation. The founder was concerned that highlighting these turbulent months would draw attention to the mistakes we made, and that these mistakes could scare off investors.
There are two problems with this line of thinking.
The first is that investors are very good at uncovering problems. We’ve read thousands of investor presentations and had discussions with hundreds of entrepreneurs. As a result, we know that what’s not said in a presentation or discussion carries at least as much signal as what is said. We don’t always find out but we often do. And having an investor unearth a problem is much more damaging to an entrepreneur’s chances of getting funded than having the entrepreneur preempt this damage by sharing the problem themselves.
The second problem with an entrepreneur not drawing attention to the mistakes they made is that it means they miss out on the opportunity to highlight their learnings from these mistakes. We all make mistakes. So if an entrepreneur states that they haven’t made any, they’re either deluding themselves or hiding something. Both are dangerous. But if an entrepreneur shares the mistakes that they made and shows how they’ve taken actions to address these mistakes, this signals that they’re both self-reflective and open to learning. And entrepreneurs with these traits eventually win.
For these two reasons, I recommend that entrepreneurs not only share the mistakes they made with investors, but also use them as an opportunity to highlight how they’ve learned from these mistakes to build a stronger business.