Mark Suster, GRP Partners: Getting Funded with Integrity

Transcript follows & video below.  This is Part III of the interview.  You can view Part I and Part II and Part IV here.

What tips would you offer women entrepreneurs who are considering sourcing venture capital?

I’ll address it in 2 ways, overwhelmingly the advice I would give you is the exact same advice I would give a man.  Which is make sure you’ve got a product or concept built before you go see vcs; Make sure you’re very well researched; Make sure you’ve got a team; Make sure you’ve get access to a vc in the right way (Yes you can write them directly but its always better if you get introduced from somebody that matters!) Be passionate about what you’re building, have a dialogue not just a presentation – so all that’s the same.  Pemo I wrote a blog post called ‘Deal with the Elephant in the Room’

I actually never said this but the impetus for that was a discussion I had with my wife.  When she was going in to interview for a job & she was interviewing with Google, my advice to her (& I guess as my wife I’m allowed to say this).  I said ‘Say to the interviewer I am 37 I have 2 kids but I’m professional Mom.  I value my career.  I balance things well.  I don’t plan to have more kids.  I’m looking to build a career.’ And what I encouraged her to do & I’m not saying that all your viewers have to go that far but I’ll at least tell you my advice to my wife which was legally people can’t ask that stuff.  (And I hope I’m legally allowed to openly talk about it?)  But people can’t ask that stuff but I guarantee that is in their minds.  Its not only in the minds of men, its in the minds of women.  ‘Ok I’m going to give this person $3m and are they going to be on 6 months maternity leave in a year?’I think its ok to be upfront about that kind of stuff.  People can’t ask it but they are still thinking it.  So if you’re 28, I don’t think people will judge it at 28?  But if you hit an age & they know you’re married & they’re not going to ask.  But you could lead with ‘Listen I’m professional, I’m committed.  I’m not planning to have children for some years.  Or maybe you are & then its ok to talk about that too? But whatever you can do to try to address that issue. I would be disingenuous if I didn’t say that I think they’re thinking it anyway.

Mark Suster

I agree, just deal with it yourself because the interviewer obviously can’t.

The nicest lady was in my office today, Harvard Law School, worked for one of the top Law Firms in America, ex Investment Banker, incredibly bright, really well researched on her topic & I went through more than an hour with her. I promised to interview some certain Angels in town & I left the room.  She called me back & she brought me all the way back in & she said: “Mark, I just want to tell you that I have a young baby & I said “Ok, thanks for telling me.”  And she said “I knew you were about to introduce me to a bunch of angels & I just wanted to be sure that you knew that beforehand.”

And by the way I’ve never written a blog post saying ‘Talk about this kind of stuff’ because I don’t want to be slammed by anyone who interprets that in the wrong way. I’m trying to do something positive. What a nice gesture on her behalf, I don’t think differently about her, I know she can manage that.

Mark Suster

You have stressed on your blog that you value the quality of Integrity very high for entrepreneurs as per your post ‘I Would Only Fund an Entrepreneur with High Integrity’ I quote you in that post: ‘Money can buy a lot of things but as the saying goes it can’t in and of itself buy you happiness.  I believe that true happiness comes from a sense of fulfillment, giving and doing what your moral compass knows is right.’  I remember reading an entrepreneur’s blog post a few months back where he stated that you cannot extend your personal moral code to business, at the end of the day it’s just about profits.   Do you think that ‘High Integrity’ can make or break a startup?  Do you feel that ‘High Integrity’ can contribute to the success of a great startup?  Do you have any advice or encouragement for those of us entrepreneurs who believe as you obviously do that Integrity & staying firm to your moral code can contribute to your success rather than hold you back?

If I remember correctly, because I’m not looking at the post, I think what I said ‘I believe in integrity but I didn’t add it to my original list of attributes for an entrepreneur’.  And I think what I said & I’ll paraphrase ‘Unfortunately I know some quite senior people in the industry & who I don’t consider to have the same integrity standards I do.’  That would point to me that sometimes one can get ahead in business without the same moral code that the rest of us may have.  If you look at the extreme accounting scandals of the last 10 years, data would bear that out.  Whether it’s what happened at Wang or Data Associates or any number of places, Microstrategy, I don’t remember all the places where there were scandals. And even some of the most revered leaders in India also had big accounting scandals.  But for me, life is short, I don’t need to work with people I consider bad people.  I guess my partners sometimes are sometimes tired of it.  We’ll have an entrepreneur come in & at the end of it they’ll be talking about the business & I’m telling you there’s something shady about that guy, he wasn’t truthful about his answers.  I immediately hone in on that & if I feel that people are mistating stuff, hiding facts, exaggerating, telling half truths: we’re done!

Mark Suster

So you don’t feel it’s an either/or, if you hold high integrity it doesn’t mean you’ll be a success or failure but that possibly you would be more fulfilled in whatever it is you do?  Am I on the right track?

I think integrity is important, so there’s no other way I could emphasise it than other to say that because you still have to sleep in your own bed at night. I’ve always had this view which is that a lot of people lie to other people & you lie to yourself & you start to convince yourself that what you’re saying is true.  But I think that your inner core really knows the truth.  So if you’re doing things that are bad, I think you know it & you’ve got to convince yourself otherwise & I think it leads to a lot of unhappiness.  But do I think being high integrity, in & of itself, has a higher probability of success, I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to argue.  I would like to hope so?

Mark Suster

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