Venture Language that I Choose to Use (and Not to Use)
What you say means a lot.
Language almost always carries meaning beyond just the literal. Even in a business context, the language which we choose reveals how you think about your role and the values which you espouse. Unlike many of the other Venture Upward posts which are quite prescriptive in nature, this one is intended to be less so. Rather, my intent is to provide a window into my own thinking about some of the language bits and phrases I choose to use on a few topics in venture. The aim is to catalyze deliberate thinking about the language other readers use daily and what that communicates to your colleagues, co-investors, founders, limited partners, and others in the entrepreneurial community.
On potential investments. I endeavor to call potential investments just that, “potential investments” or perhaps “opportunities.” Whereas I don’t like using the phrasing “deals.” Potentially making a commitment to a Founder to work together for the next decade is more than just the transactional implication of reaching an agreement. The deal is merely the beginning. I am not searching for the next opportunity just to move on looking for the next one. And so I look for language that emphasizes both the venture which is being built and the founding team behind that startup… rather than the occurrence for beginning the relationship.
On portfolio companies and founders. This one is really about avoiding a phrase, “My portfolio company [x]” and “my founder [x].” I don’t like using the possessive, as it implies a status which isn’t an accurate reflection of the relationship which I endeavor to have with entrepreneurs and the companies which they’re building. Yes, technically we as a venture firm do own a share of a portfolio company, but it’s certainly largely the founders’. Admittedly, the problem with avoiding the possessive is that I haven’t found a strong suitable alternative. Often I’ll say something like “the portfolio company I work with” or “founders in our portfolio.” Yeah, honestly it’s quite a bit clunkier, but we don’t own the founders. We serve them. It’s just not a possessive relationship and I prefer not to talk about it that way even if it’s easier.
On dissent. All of us at NextView use the phrase “I support you” as a matter of design in our decision-making voting process at the firm. It’s the language we use when we’re essentially voting “no.” We can disagree with a decision on a specific investment opportunity, but regardless of outcome, you still always support your partner. While one investor may have legitimate concerns about the opportunity, they trust the diligence of and enthusiasm for their partner to make the right decision and work to make the investment successful. Though the directive is quite clear, the meaning behind how it’s communicated is also intentional. It’s framed not as a negative, but rather with the positive aspect of the dialog - that once the investment is made, I am 100% behind it and will do whatever I can to help the company and my partner in support.
My partners and I have other unique language which we’ve incorporated in the culture of our firm, which I will likely share in a future blog post. I’d be curious about other readers’ deliberate and sometimes perhaps non-standard language which you use in the day-to-day of VC. I’ll leave the comments open below for others to contribute.