The 3 Quotes That I Keep Coming Back To As An Entrepreneur-Turned-VC
These motivating thoughts provide inspiration and guardrails for a career in disruptive innovation and deeptech investing.
There are three quotes I’ve heard throughout my life that have become my favorites for the lessons they’ve taught me as both an entrepreneur and venture capitalist:
1) “The early bird catches the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”
This quote is especially true for startups. In certain situations, it's often the first person who haphazardly races towards opportunity that gets caught in the “mouse trap”. The second person, on the other hand, carefully studies the first mover, learns from what they’ve done or failed to do, makes adjustments, and then successfully secures “the cheese”.
This quote brings to mind another that a business school professor of mine would often say, “A smart person learns from his mistakes. A truly wise person learns from the mistakes of others.”
The lesson here is: taking the time to understand and learn from the mistakes of others will help ensure that your own endeavors result in greater success.
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2) “They laughed at Columbus… They laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.” - Carl Sagan
As an entrepreneur, you learn to develop thick skin to power through negativity. Much like the Wright brothers, you have to regularly disregard negative feedback and instead adopt an “I’m going to make it work!” mindset.
A great modern example of this is Demis Hassabis and his company DeepMind developing AlphaFold, an AI system that has predicted nearly every known protein’s 3D structure. Protein folding was a complicated mathematical problem that people thought may take hundreds of years to solve (or maybe never be solved!), and yet Demis and DeepMind figured out how to solve it in 2020.
But on the other hand, when people are laughing at someone doing something “crazy”... sometimes it really is just crazy. Take Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos for example—people scoffed at the idea that Theranos’ technology could perform tests for indications of diseases with just a few drops of blood, and they were absolutely correct.
I’ve always considered this quote to be quite humbling. Especially in the deep tech world, it can sometimes be considered a badge of pride that people think what you’re doing is too ambitious—yet sometimes it really is. Saying outrageous things is not the end state; you want to be a first principles thinker and understand why you can get to the outrageous result in a reasonable timeframe instead of getting caught up in the shock value of a bold claim.
3) “When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way that it is, and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much…save a little money… But life can be so much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people who were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it…. That’s maybe the most important thing — to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it.” - Steve Jobs
This Steve Jobs quote gave me the most inspiration to leave my role as a Principal at Bessemer and strike out on my own to start Ubiquity Ventures. I started to wonder: why do VC firms use 20-page investment memos, hierarchies of committees, and wood-paneled boardrooms? Because one dude 30 years ago thought we should?
I realized none of these things utilized by seemingly every large VC firm out there are gospel; it’s all stuff that people as smart as me (or maybe even less intelligent!) made up. It can be challenged and reinvented, and that’s such an inspiring idea.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, it’s important to forget and to not rely on how things have been done in the past. The essence of disruption is to stop, refresh, think “this may have been a good idea then, but is it still a good idea now?”, and then ask yourself how you can change it for the better. We have the power and the capacity, and critically we’re just as smart as anybody else—can we rethink the problem and the solution for today?
I hope these 3 quotes inform and inspire you like they have me. I’m curious: what is the quote that’s had the most profound impact on your life?
Ubiquity Ventures — led by Sunil Nagaraj — is a seed-stage venture capital firm focused on startups solving real-world physical problems with "software beyond the screen", often using smart hardware or machine learning.
If your startup fits this description, fill out the 60-second Ubiquity pitch form and you’ll hear back within 24 hours.
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