How a Blank Sheet of Paper Changed My Life

A friend of mine is starting a company. As a first step, we were discussing various edits to her LinkedIn profile. She admitted that she seemed a bit stuck because those edits rippled through how she thought about her company.

As we were going back and forth, I realized that my suggesting a LinkedIn profile revision was the absolute wrong thing to do.   I shifted gears and told her about “the blank piece of paper” that changed my life.

You see, for quite a few years, I thought off and on about quitting my job to start a new VC firm. I bounced back and forth between fear/guilt/anxiety at one end and hope/excitement/energy at the other.  Should I quit? Or, should I stay where I was? As The Clash song goes: “Should I stay / Or, should I go now?”

Then, a friend of mine suggested that I take out a blank sheet of paper. Literally. He asked me to start to write down what a new VC firm could look like, if I were to start one. And, just see to where my mind and heart wandered.

It was a trans-formative step for some reason. I started to write a Mission and some Operating Principles that appealed to me (our current versions are on our home page and “About Us” page, respectively, and they’re about 90% the same as the original drafts).  The more I wrote, the more pumped I became.

I didn’t start with “strategy,” “value prop,” etc.  I started with what I wanted to do based on the person I aspired to be.  Once I did that, thinking about marketing, strategy, staffing and compensation all became easy.  It all just flowed out. I felt high conviction to quit my job and “go for it.”

So, I asked my friend to consider doing a similar exercise. I asked her to think not what her company was going to do, but instead, why she wanted to start it.  In other words, forget the mechanics.  Focus on the meaning.

I proposed that she answer the following:

  • Who are you and why are you different from other Founders in your space?
  • Why are you starting a NewCo.?
  • Why will NewCo. be better, faster and brighter than any other company in your sector?

So, my friend took a cut at it and emailed me what she wrote. It was amazing. The words rang true. This wasn’t just the start of a business plan.

This was the start of something bigger and brighter than that.

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