This Venture Capitalist Reveals the One Question Every Entrepreneur Has Trouble Answering

2013-02-09 19.54.53

Kanyi Maquebela is one of those insane overachievers that just seems to be good at everything. He is a graduate of Stanford University, has taught both elementary and middle school math and science, worked on Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign, is a successful entrepreneur, and is a VC at Collaborative Fund, an investment fund that has backed companies like Kickstarter, Reddit, Rap Genius, AngelList, Hampton Creek, and more. Oh, and he is also on a horse. Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 11.29.48 AM

We recently had the pleasure of catching up with Kanyi via email. Here we discuss whether all aspiring entrepreneurs need to learn to code, the one question most entrepreneurs have trouble answering, and the lessons he’s learned in business as a venture capitalist.

In your opinion, How important is learning how to code in this day an age to be a successful entrepreneur?

“It is one of the languages of the future, no different than English or Chinese. But being able to code is by no means the only path to successful entrepreneurship. Some of the best entrepreneurs in history, and even today, are not fluent in software development. That said, being able to understand why a software implementation is important, or how software can change a mode of production or distribution, is critically important.”

When you’re being pitched, what is a question you ask that you notice most entrepreneurs have trouble answering?

“If you weren’t doing this, what else would you be doing? It surprises people, but it’s a great way for me to understand their personality, and whether they are creative, dynamic people. “Nothing” is the only answer I don’t like.”

Tell us about the the harshest critique you’ve ever received.

“You’re not doing this for the right reasons. Being genuine- keeping it real, so to speak- is really important to me, and there have been a number of times in my life when I haven’t been in my work. And it has shown, and I have been called out. That is helpful, because it forces me to think hard about why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

What is a company that you didn’t believe would work, but ended up being incredibly successful?

“This list is very long, but Twitter is one. I’m now the biggest fan of that company in the world. I was skeptical of the food delivery startups, and those seem to be doing really well, too.”

Out of all the startups you’ve invested in, which one have you personality related to the most and why?

“That’s like asking a parent who their favorite child is. Even if they do have one, they will never admit it to anyone, including themselves.”

As a VC, people are always looking to pitch you their business ideas for funding. What is a common thing you see that young entrepreneurs today don’t get?

“Pitching is a very interesting mix of being highly transactional and highly relational, and people usually mess up that mix. A lot of people try to pretend they aren’t pitching and just pretend to be buddies. In these cases, I wish that the entrepreneur would just ask for what he or she wanted, because then we could work together to see if that would be possible. And meanwhile others are too transactional, and don’t get to know their investors as people, which is hugely important. Even though these are financial transactions, and in the moment of the investment, there is a tension between what the entrepreneur wants and what the investor wants, these are ultimately relationships, and building relationships requires being human.”

What has being a VC taught you about entrepreneurship?

“Patience is power. Build something people want. Greed isn’t ambitious enough. Your company is your team, your team is your company.”

Lastly, what is one thing you’d like to see changed in today’s startup culture?

“Obsession with the hype cycle, rather than the value of creation. Funding announcements sometimes seem more important than actual inflection points in a business’s impact on culture. As a result, the obsession becomes about funding, which I find distracting to some entrepreneurs, and even counterproductive to others.”

Follow Kanyi on Twitter @km

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