Snipers and Fortune Tellers

Posted on August 12, 2020. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I think it was Matt Cohler at Benchmark who said “our job is not to see the future, it’s to see the present very clearly.” I’ve never really identified with that perspective on venture, but I certainly see its merits and how one could build a very successful venture practice by internalizing and adhering to it. This morning I found myself wondering if the value of seeing the present clearly was as actionable in this moment as it has been historically. It feels like core to the premise of the above framework is an assumption that the near future looks more like the present than not, and that a company that is well positioned for the present will therefore thrive in the near future. Investing behind this clear view of the present presumes that one sees it before it is more broadly recognized, and eventually consensus catches up to reality.

So fast forward to today. It’s hard to see this present clearly. We’re dealing in very dynamic information and a state that feels more fluid than static. The present is always fluid, but I’d argue that it’s more fluid now. So many of the assumptions that shape behavior and people’s way of being on have been challenged…so many of the inputs to the systems that we’ve designed to organize/govern society and behavior have been upended. We are rewriting the way things are in a very compressed and abrupt way, and it’s happening with frequent real-time edits and little uniformity. There is definitely a true version of today’s present, but that version feels uniquely defined by motion.

It’s harder to see something clearly when it’s moving, especially if it’s moving faster and more erratically than usual. Nonetheless, a sniper level of vision can catch a glimpse of that truth, and then the question is…what do you do with it? If your investment horizon is short like some hedge funds, you trade on it. But if you are investing on a venture time horizon (10+ years), that is less obvious. The near future may look much more different than the present than it typically would. The value of seeing the present today decays outside the seeming microbubble that is pandemic times…we can extrapolate out and bet on what persists and what doesn’t, but that feels like a practice in seeing the future, which breaks the initial framework.

I’m sure I have a more blunt and unnuanced understanding of this philosophy than its creator and disciples, but it is interesting to overlay the volume of financing activity in today’s venture market on top of this approach. Perhaps there’s a disconnect? Perhaps this environment favors the fortune tellers…

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One Response to “Snipers and Fortune Tellers”

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think this is a misinterpretation – i think cohler’s statement is about understanding first order effects very well as opposed to second order effects, which are much more random. sure, you can say that many things in the present will not exist in the future, but some things will survive to the future (insert bezos quote), and having understanding of those things is infinitely more important than following imaginary chains of events that may not happen (cohler’s quote, not my opinion). for instance tinder product understood dating v well, and that need has been around forever. obv some weird things happen when the co is b2b / risk is technical b/c then you are predicting / creating the future.

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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