On taking and giving credit

Posted on October 29, 2021. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Chris and I talk a lot about how a longer time horizon can be a competitive advantage when making strategic decisions, be them investment decisions or otherwise. At the end of the day, we have chosen to measure our success as a firm on a 30+ year timeline…and that orientation has led us to make decisions that you wouldn’t if you were playing for the next 10 years, or simply for this iteration of the game. Something I’ve observed in myself, is that this longer focal length has only developed for me in the second leg of my professional journey. In my 20’s, I was so impatient. I wanted to get to the top as fast as possible. I measured my success relative to my peer set in any given moment, and my mindset was without question a “taker” mindset. I wanted to grab everything I could, and that included both opportunity and credit. I accomplished a lot during this phase of my career, but in hindsight is was not the long-term dominant way to approach my work.

In a multi-iteration, long term game, the dominant strategy is to give way more than you take. Defer value extraction for as long as possible, and trust that in doing so, your good will and reputation will compound to a place that’s much more valuable at some distant date in the future. It’s a very hard strategy to run when you measure yourself by where you are in the moment. Around my 30th birthday, I went through a pretty meaningful evolution in the forces that motivated me. I stopped being driven by competition and status and started on a path to a much more inwardly driven form of motivation. I started to measure myself relative to my self-perceived potential and the rate of improvement in my craft, and I think that was the beginning of my focus elongating. All of the sudden it became clear that the race that I was running would never end, and in the absence of a destination, I could remove the impatience of getting “there.”

I think about the credit I’ve taken along the way, and almost universally I think it was honest, but looking back I wish I had shared it more. I remember the first investment I ever sourced in venture capital was in a cellulosic ethanol company called Mascoma. The technology had come out of my alma mater, and I was introduced via a relationship I had on campus. I remember I surfaced the opportunity to Hemant at General Catalyst, who was already familiar with the company and knew their largest existing investor. We drove up to Dartmouth together, toured the lab, met the creator, and ultimately made the investment. As a result of this collab and the multiple touch points we had with the company, the sequencing and attribution of that investment was a little blurry. At the time, I fought for the credit of sourcing that deal. There were economic implications to establishing that, as well as reputational ones, and I felt like I needed to capture the associated value. If I’m really honest looking back at it, I should have shared the credit more. In reality we did it together (and certainly Hemant is the reason we won it and did it). If I could go back, not only would I have better shared that credit, I actually would have given it entirely to him. Why? Because it wasn’t black and white. Because $25K and some slightly elevated stature as an Associate at a VC firm isn’t worth shit relative to the long range relationships you build along the way. That’s obvious now, but wasn’t in the moment. Fortunately, Hemant didn’t hold it against me, and I’ve been able to enjoy his mentorship throughout my career but it was still a mistep driven by impatience.

On the second leg of the journey it has become clear that giving credit is very inexpensive in a multi-iteration game. The dominant long term strategy is actually to minimize what you keep and maximize what you give. People remember that. The ones with whom you do good work tend to rise, amassing more and more influence and impact in the game, and at some point, in an organic and non-transactional way, the value that you deferred will materialize at a different order of magnitude than might initially have been available. Strategy aside, it’s also just a much nicer way to live.

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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 Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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