I was thinking about my Dad this morning, and I was thinking about something he told me when I was raising our first round of funding. I was going on and on, as if I knew everything about startups, and I was telling my Dad that we absolutely, positively had to raise money from “Tier 1” VCs.
My Dad started laughing and shaking his head. I was starting to get pissed.
He looked at me and said, “Brett, everyone’s money is green.”
The first piece of advice you never hear: Your goal isn’t to raise money from Tier 1 VCs, your goal is to raise the money.
“You don’t get it, Dad,” I said rather loudly. I felt like we were going to get into one of our yelling matches. “Tier 1 VCs will add so much more value…”
My Dad cut me off mid sentence, and he calmly repeated himself, “Brett, everyone’s money is green.”
Now, my Dad wasn’t just pontificating without a reference point. He had started two companies, so he knew what raising money was all about.
However, I was in no mood to listen to my Dad tell me my theory of venture capital was wrong. So, I pushed back. “You just don’t get it,” I said.
My Dad laughed again. “You’ll learn,” he said. “You’ll learn.”
That was one of the things I loved about my Dad. He was forceful, and he’d certainly share his opinion with you.
However, he never told me what to do. He was perfectly content to let me learn on my own.
The second piece of advice you never hear: Slow down.
“Why are you in such a hurry, Brett,” my Dad said to me about one month later. “You should slow down.”
We were talking about my search to find a co-founder VP Engineering for the company. I tried explaining to my Dad that I felt like there was a clock ticking down, and that I had to find, somebody, anybody to fill the role.
“I know you feel like you need to find someone immediately, but you don’t,” my Dad said. “You’ll find the right person when you find the right person.”
Then, he concluded his thought with, “I don’t want you to make a catastrophic mistake.”
My Dad, in his own way, was trying to tell me that yes, you want to have a sense of urgency, but you should also take your time. If this sounds like you’re pushing against yourself, then you’re correct.
There’s a necessary tension in a startup to move fast. However, mentally you want to take your time, so you don’t screw up.
This is especially true when it comes to founder decisions. You always have the choice of passing and looking for someone who is a better fit.
The third piece of advice you never hear: Your family always comes first regardless of what’s going on.
About one month later, my Mom called me at around 8 PM. “Brett, the ambulance is here. They’re taking your father to the hospital. He had what appears to be a stroke.”
I arranged to fly down to Los Angeles the next to be with him and my Mom. We had pitches scheduled each day that week that would now have to be rescheduled.
The next day, I visited him in the hospital. He seemed okay, but his speech was slurred. I was told his prospects for a recovery were good.
The doctor told us he had what’s called a “Transient Ischemic Attack” (TIA). It’s a mini-stroke. Usually the symptoms of a mini-stroke abate completely within a week.
I talked to my Dad every day after his stroke. His symptoms never went away. Then, five days after my birthday and 18 days after his first stroke, he had a massive stroke and died.
After we got the company funded, several people on our team had various major health issues. For example, one employee needed a kidney transplant, and she wanted to go on disability.
I thought about when my Dad passed away, and how good it was that I had the space to deal with his death.
I knew we weren’t obligated to anything more for her. However, I didn’t care what our health policy was. I told her we would keep paying her full salary until she was ready to come back.
You will see all sorts of human crisis as a startup CEO. If you’re a startup CEO for long enough, you’ll likely have to deal with death, addiction, cancer, divorce, and many other things.
Let your humanity guide you as you wrestle with these challenges, not your company’s finances. It is not only the right thing to do, but it’s the right business decision as well.