At the start of the new year I made a decision to formalize my reading practices by committing to read a minimum of one hour each day. So far it has been going great and I find that I’m reading a lot more than the minimum each day. I start reading at 6am and usually wrap up about 7:30am or 8am. I find it relaxing because it is literally the only time of the day where it’s totally quiet, I can detach from all electronic devices, and I’m not totally exhausted.
One of the books I’m reading now is The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu, was a military general and strategist who lived in ancient China and is one of East Asia’s most important historical figures. The Art of War is a collection of Sun’s military tactics he created that cover many aspects of war. “The Art of War touches on subjects such as diplomacy, relationships, loyalty, avoiding battles, patience, preparation, strategy, and much more. The teachings of Sun Tzu remain relevant even today (2500 years later) as its instructions can be applied to any field where competition is active and rampant.”
Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing excerpts from this book and how I’ve been applying its teachings to my professional endeavors (principally to my role at Spur Capital). Regardless of where you work or what you do, the principles in The Art of War are universally applicable.
Principle #1 – Laying Plans
“Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat. how much more no calculation at all. It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.”
At Spur, we are in the process of raising our sixth venture capital fund of funds. The way I see it, preparing to raise a venture capital fund is no different from preparing to go to battle. Each person on the team plays a key role in the overall execution of the effort, and given the competitive nature of our business, each person must execute with the utmost precision.
As one of six partners at the firm, it is incumbent upon me to assist with marketing and to help raise capital for the fund. We are raising a fairly sizable fund so every detail matters. We’ve held several planning meetings to discuss our marketing strategy including a complete overhaul of the website and branding assets. In the course of my career I’ve been involved in the complete re-design of two websites and I’m telling you right now, it is an intricate, methodical, and iterative process. The website is done, but we spent weeks meeting with the marketing agency picking logos, colors, and layouts for the website and other marketing materials.
While the marketing assets were being developed, we were busy doing other things like updating our executive summary, one-pager, Q&A forms, website content, designing business cards, and updated personal bios. We also felt it was important to reach out ahead of time to some of our larger limited partners to let them know we were coming to market with our next fund. As such, we’ve spent a fair amount of time on the road conducting soft-marketing meetings. In the last 4 months, we’ve been to Denmark, London, Boston, and Oregon, and in the months to come, we’ll make several other marketing trips.
We’ve also had to revamp our pitch deck to include more current data and we are constantly examining it to make sure it covers all the relevant points we want to get across to investors. Each member of our team spends hours each week staying abreast of what’s happening in the venture industry and is fully prepared to answer any question we may receive from investors. In fact, recently, as a part of my meeting preparation/practice I asked another member of my team to critique my pitch presentation. Albeit humbling, it was a great opportunity to get unfiltered feedback and I found it extremely helpful. The truth is, sometimes getting feedback is hard, but knowing you’ll be prepared ahead of time makes it well worth it.
The lesson here is simple: Before you begin any sort of meaningful engagement or effort, work your hardest to be prepared. If you approach every situation likes it’s your last you’re less likely to take it for granted. I take every meeting with a potential investor very seriously and I try to always over-prepare. My motto is, if you don’t feel over-prepared then you’ve probably under-prepared. In the words of General Sun, “It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.” Cheers – KM.