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Venture Investments Are Not Bets

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
2 min read
Venture Investments Are Not Bets

Countless times over the last decade, I’ve heard other venture investors refer to their investments as “bets.” Earlier in my venture career, I was absolutely guilty of this because I wasn’t being mindful and probably lacked some necessary empathy. At the time, I don’t think I truly appreciated what it meant and took to be an active investor and support a company over the long haul. A few years ago after a conversation with my wife, I began to question that vernacular.

Regarding an investment as a bet certainly makes sense on the surface. According to Merriam-Webster, a bet is, “something that is laid, staked, or pledged typically between two parties on the outcome of a contest or a contingent issue.” The more I thought about labeling venture investments this way, the more I began to realize it was a bit lazy, potentially insensitive and didn’t necessarily align with my values. Simply put, this label didn’t feel right to me.

In my role as a venture investor, I don’t make bets. Bets tend to be passive unless you’re playing the hand. When I put a friendly wager on a game such as the Super Bowl, my involvement has zero bearing on the outcome. My job as a venture investor is to actively partner with and serve founders. There is nothing passive about this. Professional venture investing shouldn’t be confused with gambling even though a lot luck and a little bit of skill are required for success. Essentially, betting implies gambling and investing implies taking calculated risks.

After a founder has trusted me to serve his or her company and the investment closes, I do not passively wait for and expect a positive outcome. This is when the real work begins. Every company regardless of the stage requires a shit ton of patience, support and effort by everyone around the table. I felt characterizing an investment as a bet mentally excused me, the investor, from the real work ahead.

Here’s what I’d like to know from the venture community: What do you mean when you call it a bet? Are you impatiently waiting on the sidelines to see if you beat the odds? Or have you simply adopted the vernacular since many of our peers have? That’s where I found myself earlier in my career.

We, myself included, should never view our work as gambling given how much time, effort and energy goes into building companies and long-lasting relationships with founders. Instead, we should characterize our work as investing, partnering, supporting and serving. Founders put everything they have on the line — years of their life, physical and mental health, financial security, and family and friends— to bring their vision to reality. These are enormous and important sacrifices which is why I believe referring to an investment as a bet doesn’t reflect what we do.

(A special thanks to Alice Lloyd George and Jerry Neumann for reading an early draft)

Venture Capital

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Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.