When Does a Weakness Become a Strength?
Walking into a room of people who have experience in the field that you seek to enter that is roughly equal to your time on earth is an interesting experience. Oftentimes, it is assumed that you are older than you are, or you came from wealth, or you had connections to the point it was a natural conclusion that you should be where you are now. None of these are true.
My co-founder and I were, in many respects, lucky to get into Princeton.
Marcus was born in South Louisiana to an NFL player, and he moved with his mother and brothers to Texas during elementary school. During his senior year of high school, he was taken in by Torii Hunter, the MLB player, so he could be housed and finish up high school in Texas. During this time, he excelled on the field and in the classroom and served as class president.
I was luckier, raised by both my mother and father, and my family sacrificed to get me the best education possible. In my small prep school in New England, I was the first person accepted, early decision, to get into Princeton. It was the confluence of the efforts of many individuals outside myself, from teachers to professors to, above all, the efforts of my parents.
Marcus and I share the same economic story, in that our families both suffered instability stemming from the Great Recession. We both saw our parents dramatically shift from comfortable circumstances to having to struggle. This is something that we share, and the memories of this are visceral to us both. Marcus’ experience, in particular, gave him insight into athletes and money management, seeing his father’s failures in comparison to another’s success. This is an interest that he’s kept to this day.
As such, we come from backgrounds that are not the archetypal image of a venture capitalist: from Silicon Valley or somewhere like it, Harvard or Stanford educated, and from a wealthy home. Whether this is true or not is something borne out by statistics, as the vast majority of people who go to places like Harvard, Stanford, and Penn are wealthy (despite positive attempts to rectify this inequality), and the percentage of venture capital firms who have a single Black or Latino partner is around 3%.
We stood apart from the first moment in the industry that we sought to enter, and it gave us the privilege of making a decision that set us apart from the rest. We knew that our youth was something to contend with; Marcus and I are 25 and 24, respectively. We had neither the means nor the desire to move to Silicon Valley, as the prohibitive cost of living prevented us from even wanting to consider the possibility. We have backgrounds in mostly consulting and finance, but we have spent far more time in school than working jobs, having recently attended our second post-graduation reunion.
But how does a weakness become a strength? When does difference become an asset, rather than a detriment? Under what circumstances do we attempt to mitigate what may be perceived as weaknesses? Could it even be done?
The question that serves as our turning point in the early days of considering establishing our venture firm, and we individually grappled with whether we could fit in enough to raise money and successfully pull it off. My co-founder, Marcus, holds two aphorisms to heart, one of which is “adversity is privilege.” The other is “Success requires single-mindedness of purpose.” Whatever form adversity takes, it serves as a testing grounds of one’s spirit to overcome.
We came to the realization that millennials are under-represented in VC, and that needs to change. A new wave of VCs and investors that understand the new wave of consumers and innovation, being passed the baton from legendary investors and firms that have shaped the world that we live in today. Given the increase of millennial and Generation Z populations as demographic shifts continue who look very different from their predecessors, we feel strongly about the need for them to be represented, and their customer segment addressed specifically. We are the frontiers and the evangelists of change, as youthful idealism and energy is the gas in the engine of progress. We were the first to adopt tech platforms that are now pervasive, and the first to abandon them as we saw our parents and grandparents adopting them.
Rather than move to the Valley, we decided to move to Texas, the birthplace of Texas Instruments and Compaq, pioneers in the early days of tech, and formative in the creation of the modern handheld calculator, semi-conductor, and the personal computer. Texas has a place in the history of “tech” as we refer to it today, and we believe Texas will have a place in its future. Finally, we realized that our youth and the fact that we only recently graduated college not only allows us to stay close to our networks, but also allows us to bring an academic approach to our investing. Just as in class we brought a critique of information to bear on the discussion, we replicate the best classes we had to clarify, challenge, and refine thinking.
As millennials who are Princeton-educated, we have also tapped into our robust personal and academic networks to create a group of advisors, board members, and venture partners behind us- a group of successful individuals from former fund managers to financial professionals to professionals in the music industry, with the belief that the cultivation of a TXV-network with a wide variety in expertise will enhance the power of our youth by combining it with experience.