Rude VC: Givers, Matchers, and Takers

Apr 9, 2013
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give-takeAn interesting conversation I enjoyed last week directed me toward some research by Adam Grant, a tenured professor of organizational psychology at Wharton.

Grant’s research, on which he elaborates in his upcoming book, Give and Take, (and encapsulated in a great article by Susan Dominus in the NY Times Magazine), espouses the notion of how giving unconditionally to others can unlock professional success.

Grant identifies three categories of people through this lens: Givers, Matchers, and Takers.

Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help; they share credit openly and mentor generously. Matchers view the world more in terms of reciprocal checks and balances, giving generously to people who they think can help them or when they can see how they might receive something of comparable value in return. Takers exhibit the Heads-I-win / Tails-you-lose mentality, are averse to sharing information openly and are defensive about their turf.

Grant advocates that helping lavishly without any expectation of payback motivates the Giver in a way that spurs increased productivity and creativity, effectively returning dividends far beyond the time and energy spent assisting other people.

Reading about Grant’s research triggered me to think of its applicability to venture capital. While I had never thought in terms of Grant’s three specific labels, my preconceived belief was that good VCs tend to be Matchers. They build relationships early with entrepreneurs with an eye toward future deal flow. They build relationships with other VCs with future co-investment needs or opportunities in mind. They build relationships with key actors in an ecosystem that may one day become suppliers, customers, advisors, partners, or acquirers of their portfolio companies.

I’ve generally modeled my own professional behavior on the Matcher model. And frankly, I submit that in Europe this has proven to be a differentiator for me. It amazes me how many VCs I’ve encountered that tend more toward the Taker profile. Taker VCs seek to come out ahead in every business exchange. My guess is that the VCs reading this do not fall into the Taker category, but that many entrepreneurs reading this have experienced an interaction with a Taker VC.

My thoughts are still evolving on this topic. While I could never accept being a Taker as it’s simply not in my nature, I cannot claim to be an altruistic saint of a Giver either. Inspired by Grant’s convictions, I’m going to think more about how I might exhibit more Giver-like behavior.

So ask yourself, entrepreneurs, is the VC with whom you are engaging a Giver, Matcher, or Taker? And similarly in the spirit of personal advancement, I welcome constructive suggestions on how I can be more of a Giver VC.