It Comes With The Territory

The phrase “it comes with the territory” is one my dad said to me when I was a kid. I can’t remember the context in which I heard it for the first time, but I internalized it to mean that whenever you are trying to do something interesting or amazing, there will always be people who try to tear you down, lob random insults at you, or just do and say things that make no sense to you. I’ve also observed many times (and experienced) the steep curve from obscurity to hero to goat to re-emergent hero that the media loves to play out over and over again. And my day is filled with random interactions – many of them interesting and stimulating – but plenty of them hostile, negative, and troll-like.

I’ve had a weird surge of being on the receiving end of hostile stuff from random people I don’t know the past few weeks. I pondered this a little bit last night on my drive back from Boulder to Keystone after a long, wonderful conversation with an entrepreneur I haven’t talked to in a while. This morning, after trying to have a rational email conversation (again – who I didn’t know) with someone who was just incredibly hostile to me because I didn’t agree with his perspective on “the value of an idea” Amy asked “Why do you bother?” I responded “It comes with the territory.”

I’m fortunate that I get to choose who I work with and am surrounded by awesome people. I’ve also decided philosophically to try to be responsive to any entrepreneur who is looking for help or feedback. I can’t spend “30 minutes on the phone” or “have coffee” with everyone, but I can respond by email to quick specific questions or requests, and I try to respond to all of them. When things go off the rails, which they do occasionally, I’ve decided the only approach is to completely disengage.

I find the noise, anger, hostility, and misinformation spiking up again. I speculate that is has something to do with the election cycle, the general warmth outside, or some new sunspot thing. Regardless, as my dad said when I was young, “it comes with the territory.”

  • That’s unfortunate, especially for that person. Learning how to disagree objectively and without emotion is a very valuable life skill.

  • I wonder if it has something to do with entrepreneurship being cool again right now and that bringing in a lot of people to the ecosystem that don’t fit the normal “types” like the hacker type, etc..

    • Yup – that definitely feels like part of it. For example, “I’m a “blah” (where “blah” has never been anything remotely close to an entrepreneur) but I consider myself an entrepreneur” is showing up in more and more of these emails.

    • Yep. Once this all melts down (again), we’ll look around and see who means it.

  • What is your perspective on the “value of an idea”? I believe execution is more important, but I’m sure you have stories that illustrate both sides.

    • I’ve written about it a lot – it’s the first chapter of Do More Faster. The idea, especially in software, is not what matters. It’s the execution of the idea.

      • James Mitchell

        One of my favorite pet sayings:

        “Convention wisdom is that the idea is worth 1 percent and execution is
        worth 99 percent. I have a different approach. I look for really good
        ideas and I will not start a company until I find one. I want the idea
        to be worth at least 50 percent. That way, I don’t have to have the best
        execution in the world yet I still make a ton of money.”

        There are ideas out there that get you to the 50 yard goal line. They are extremely rare in tech, because tech is filled with so many smart entrepreneurs, media that covers every idea under the sun, VCs that pounce quickly, etc. But in boring non-tech industries, there are such ideas out there. I suspect they also exist a lot in countries outside the US, where markets are often less competitive.

  • Murph

    I get it. I often tell my bride, “We’re not all created equal”. I even have strange conversations with my own siblings over trivial matters.
    Rock on, Brad… Kudos for all you do for the community and in educating/coaching entrepreneurs; I’m trying to get my “new college grad” nephew to move to Boulder/Denver in pursuit of entrepreneurism.

  • Hi, Brad-

    One of my favorite books (if not my favorite) has this passage (book is Meditations by Marcus Aurilieus and should be owned on paper, like Strunk and White)

    When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. I have seen the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own–not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness,nor can I feel angry at my relative or hate him.” (Book II, Chapter 1, Hays Translation) <–if you care.

    • Great book – great suggestion.

    • Lars

      Agree, and I was going to suggest a great book about Stoicism applied to modern life: “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” by William B. Irvine. Stoic philosophers had it all figured out so long ago… and Marcus Aurelius was a living proof.
      My other idea: go out for a long run – but I bet you’re doing this already 😉

  • Brad – Love your attitude. Let’s be clear, you give more than you take and that’s what matters. Keep up the great work.

    • Thx.

    • Appeos

      Pretty much what I was going to say. Ignore the haters and move on.

  • I think people are fearing that the easy money window for startups is closing and they are getting desperate.

    I do not want to argue whether valuations were too high, there was too much money, and if in fact its closing.

    However, I think people’s perceptions are it is closing.

    • Possibly, although I believe we are at the beginning of an amazing 20 year period for tech startups, innovation, and entrepreneurship in general.
      After chewing on it more, I think there are just more random people interested in entrepreneurship which I think is awesome, but also brings out more haters / irrational behavior / inappropriate expectatons.

      • I agree it is a great time to be an entrepreneur. It is amazing when you see one trend end and another pick right up. PC, Client Server, Internet, Smart Phone. I always think there can’t be something better next, and I have been wrong every time.

      • JamesHRH

        Inappropriate expectations is bang on.

  • James Mitchell

    I suspect that many of the endless discussions you have are the same topic over and over again, such as the value of an idea or NDAs. Rather than having the discussion at all, what about just sending them a link to something you wrote or someone else wrote? If the latter, you could add “John Smith said this more eloquently than I ever could.”

    About twice a week, I have people tell me virtual is OK, that my views on having everyone in the same office are wrong. I learned quickly not to debate the point, I just write back “Mark Suster is the top VC in LA and he won’t fund a virtual company. See:

    I figure if after reading the article they don’t get it, there is nothing I can say that will change their mind.

    One of the other topics that comes up a lot is people telling me that Microsoft Access is an unacceptable development platform, that I should be writing my internal apps in .Net.

    A third topic that keeps coming up a lot can be paraphrased as “everything else being equal, is a single person with no outside interests and responsibilities going to be able to do more and better work than a single parent with three young children?”

    • Oh – I get plenty of repeat stuff and point them at the blog posts I’ve written. But then I get a wide variety of random and sometimes surprisingly creative hostility and hatred.

      • James Mitchell

        If you’re doing someone a favor and then they act like a jerk, at least for me, I would give them no slack. SInce you use Gmail, can you in a few seconds press a button that tells Gmail, “automatically delete everything from that bozo going forward?”

        • It’s call the ! (mark as spam and delete)

  • One of my favorite phrases is, “You need to know what help looks like.” If an acquaintance fails to recognize that you are trying to help them, indeed disengage. Good often emerges from vigorous disagreements, debates and conflict, but being a jerk when someone is trying to help you just means you’re jerk.

    • Well said Roy.

      • On the other hand, it might just be that you’ve been hanging out with Lindzon.

        • That true, also.

        • JamesHRH

          V funny.

  • Ali

    I have found that sometimes when I’m discussing with someone in private they feel free to say anything logically or morally unacceptable. But when there are one or even better few other people involved and are judging the person I’m discussing with tries to be respectable and reasonable.

    • That’s a good observation. I’ve also found it’s much worse when it’s via email which happens to be the way I communicate with a lot of people who I don’t know.

  • I don’t get hostile comments or attitudes towards people who have done nothing against you. I don’t even get it when someone has actually harmed you. I am big believer in pushing on and not burning bridges. Experience has taught me that the person you make an enemy today might be needed in the future.

  • You are, without question, one of the most open and approachable people in the venture business – I’d guess this is the unfortunate downside of that approachability.

    When you’re struggling to raise money it’s easy to misinterpret ‘he’s being nice to me’ as ‘he’s interested in investing’. Especially for entrepreneurs who are repeated told never to take ‘no’ for an answer.

    • It’s a powerful insight – the classic mistake is when you misinterpret “VC being nice” for “VC interested”

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  • That quote made me think of the Music Man. Great show.

    I recently launched a campaign to form a team of mommy bloggers and about half way though I started getting tons of negative and hostile comments on my company Facebook page and in other Facebook groups. 90% of the applicants were happy with the program, but the ones who weren’t were 10 times louder. I wished that the people who were happy would speak up where the bashing was taking place. None of them did, despite several personal emails acknowledging the injustice.
    It really does “come with the territory.” I learned a lot about not taking hostile comments personal. No matter what we do, there is always someone who is unhappy.
    For what it is worth, I think you are doing an amazing job inspiring entrepreneurship and helping entrepreneurs. Thanks a bunch for all you do, I know I’ve been the recipient of your kindness many times and I really appreciate it.

    • Thanks Ben – I appreciate the kind words.

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  • Alexander Peschkoff

    Brad, you are spoiling the entrepreneurs – having experienced your kind and practical responsiveness, approachability and common sense, they expect other VCs to be like you. Unfortunately, very few are. Thank you for being there – you are a great role model, in many respects!

    • Thx Alexander – you made me smile.

  • I hear you. I think it’s about how this affects you or not affect you.

    You can’t control what comes at you, but you can control how you react to it.

  • I have benefitted from your email feedback. I am sure I’ve thanked you.. But I thank you again. It’s great that you do it and hope you don’t quit because of a couple haters.

    • Thx – don’t worry, I won’t quit. The haters rarely get me down – maybe once or twice a year.

  • Your ability to be transparent and somewhat available (email/twitter) I agree comes with the territory. Maybe you could just respond with a one line zinger “I see we disagree – dont be a hater”

    • Good thought although I’ve learned from experience that that usually just generates another email from the person who is determined to get the last word. So I let them.

  • This is among my favorite posts. My dad had a raft of sayings, many of which I now pawn off on my children. And a saying like this one — which sprinkles appreciation for how fortunate we are to do something we regularly love into the broader perspective — is golden.

  • DianeHorton

    I completely agree with John Cox and Chris Selland below. Look at it this way – when you touch thousands of people almost daily, you’re going to come across a few duds…when you do, just remember how many more people are reading and enjoying what you are saying (they may not always even agree, but isn’t it great to be open and honest? that’s how great things happen!).

    • Well said – totally agree and thanks for the encouragement.

  • Brian Altounian

    Brad, I’ve been following you for quite some time – quietly and without direct interaction. I have admired you for many reasons, not just in business, but also in how you handle your personal affairs. I don’t know either you or Amy but I feel I know more about you two than many people with whom I interact regularly. I appreciate your insight, your wisdom, your patience and your perspective on MANY topics. This one hit home for me because I have been a target for haters due to my involvement in public companies – I deal with these people on a regular basis and am amazed at the things they say about me without having EVER spoken to me or interacted with me directly.

    For the most part, I write them off as lunatics but every once in a while someone says something that sets me off. Perhaps because there’s a little truth to the message, albeit lost in the delivery of a hateful email, tweet or message board post. I’m glad to hear that it happens to folks such as yourself because I admire how transparent and open, caring and thoughtful you can be to an anonymous readership. I’m going to start to think I’ve finally “arrived” if I’ve said or done something to evoke a response from the haters. They may be smaller in number but they’re often louder than the fans. That’s ok, because now I’m going to just say to myself “Hey, Brad Feld says it comes with the territory.”

    • When I get tipped over, I do exactly what you are suggesting – I did deep and see if there’s any seed of truth in it. While I find this often in feedback I get, the ones that push me over the edge are often completely devoid of anything useful. Long ago I realized that I can learn something from almost all feedback. It’s the occasional hater who is attacking me AND I can’t find anything to learn from it that’s so frustrating!

      And – yup – it comes with the territory!

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