In the beginning of an interview last week I introduced Ron Conway by saying that pitching him for an investment in your startup is a rite of passage in Silicon Valley. Venture Capitalists Marc Andreessen and David Hornik immediately agreed.
Why is that? Part of it is because Ron is the most prolific angel investor in the business. And also one of the most successful. The sheer volume of deals he’s done over the last 20-30 years, investing in 3-4 startups per month, is staggering. And his hit rate is so high, particularly for the massive win startups, that very few investors can come close to the success rate he’s had.
But a more important reason why he’s the center of startup life in Silicon Valley is the fact that he works so long and so hard at what he does. Ron could have retired long, long ago. But he works harder than most people I know. And most of the time he’s not working for himself. He’s simply helping out other people.
Horowitz gives specific examples of how Ron operates, and says these are the key factors to how Ron does business:
- A ridonkulous work ethic—If Ron’s awake, he’s working. He can be at a party, in his pajamas, or at the Super Bowl. Ron is always on the job and the network is always on.
- Pure motives—Ron does what he does, because he likes helping people succeed in business. He gives most of the money that he earns away to charity, so greed never clouds his vision or his mission. In fact, the investment component is almost an aside to his primary purpose.
- Super human courage—Ron fears no man and he definitely fears no phone call. When you ask Ron for help, you don’t have to wait a week while he warms up a connection. Ron’s network is always on.
- A way of doing business—This is the unspoken key to Ron’s success. He’s not judgmental in the conventional sense, but he acts with extreme prejudice when it comes to the proper way to conduct oneself in a relationship. If you behave below Ron’s standards in this respect, you will not be allowed to participate. As a result, Ron’s social network is a fantastic place to conduct business. Everyone is courteous, timely, and straightforward. Ron gets rid of the friction and enables his business partners to focus on what’s important.
I’ve seen Ron “doing business” in this way too many times to count. Just one example: One time he managed to sell a startup to an anxious buyer before his angel investment in the startup closed. Ron got nothing in the deal, and was happy to do it. I once asked him why he wasn’t upset that the company didn’t figure out a way to close his investment before selling. His answer: “The timing didn’t make sense, and it’ll come back to me eventually in goodwill and future deals.”
The truth is I have no idea why Ron continues to work so hard and give so much back to the tech community. But we’re lucky he does, and I hope he keeps on doing it for a long, long time.
If you’re a startup just getting off the ground and you want a serious competitive advantage, you pitch Ron and his team. If he invests you’ve got a force of nature on your side and a real advantage over the startups that he passed on. The real test will come a few years later, once you’ve made it big and your startup is a success. When Ron calls asking for a favor, make sure to take that call. Because it’s the least you can do.