July 15, 2009

Venture Capitalists, But In Text Form

On Monday night, during a blogger briefing, I struck up a conversation with Dave McClure (he being the Master of 500 Hats) around the process of blogging, and participating in those social networks where we have put our energy. And during this exchange I said something that I have long held as a driver for me, but hadn't yet quite articulated in this way - that as a blogger and technology enthusiast, be it for hardware gadgets, software or Web services, I sometimes take on the role of a venture capitalist, investing not my own money, as I have little, but instead, my focus, my words, and my time.

Venture capitalists are wooed constantly by companies looking to get off the ground, or to gain a push to the next level, be it greater visibility, higher market share, or profitability. And the VCs have to make a choice. Not having unlimited funds, they need to determine which companies, markets and individuals can get access to those dollars. The VCs, based on their own expertise, their analysis of the products' future, the potential market and the products' uniqueness, invest a percentage of their available portfolio, and then push to help make those investments a success - often helping to connect the founders with partners, customers, or providing guidance through board positions and personnel.

Similarly, whether as bloggers, social media participants or technology acquirers, we too are bombarded with choices. With limited funds ourselves, and limited hours in each day, and limited opportunity for attention, we have to make choices as to which products we will buy, which social networks we will embrace, and which companies' services we will use or cover. And while many bloggers aim to be as impartial as possible, keeping a journalistic line to avoid 'favorites', we all have a bias. And some of us wear our hearts on our sleeve, clearly choosing this route, as I told Dave, of being "venture capitalists in text form".

On Monday, Dave and I talked about the array of social networks vying for our time, and he told me that he had once tried to evenly split his time between a handful, but eventually focused on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. While not shutting off his data flow to other networks, he simply stopped using them, picking up his chips and moving elsewhere. Meanwhile, in my role more as an angel investor (in text form) than a late-stage investor, I am more willing to make more aggressive investments in a wider array of smaller services just getting off the ground. And I will make those investments of my time, not always because I think they are going to be the most popular products of all time, but because I see they have the potential to be the best - even if I know that this potential means my bet is of higher risk, for my chosen solutions have a higher chance of closing and washing my investment away.

If you have read this blog for long, you will know that there are some services I really believe in - ones that I have selected based on their merits, and ones that I choose to invest my own time in to use personally, and to cover often. And should they 'pop' and become successful, leaving my little realm and moving on to the larger stages, like we saw with Socialmedian and TweetDeck last year, I won't get rewarded monetarily in any way, but am rewarded to know that I had some impact, and that I saw a real return on the investment to see people and products I invested time in have their success come to fruition. It's likely the same reason that Mike Arrington, at TechCrunch's 4th birthday party, which I attended, highlighted the fact that many in the room had gone on to make a lot of money since debuting on his blog, more than he focused on his own success. Even if he didn't gain monetarily directly from their success, as a VC (in text form), he had a member of the family graduate.

Not every investment will be a winner. Some of the products I've really liked (on paper anyway) have already closed. Some have flatlined or not gained the momentum I had hoped they would. But just like in the world of VCs, it only takes a few home runs to make the whole thing profitable. I'll keep writing and you watch where I invest my time and my words.