Thank you, Jeremy Levine

Ten years ago, I landed a college internship at Bessemer. That led to a full time job and launched my career as a venture capitalist. As I look back, I can’t imagine where I would be without people taking bets on me – from founders that said “yes” and bet on me as a young, unproven VC, to the team at Bessemer that invested in me year after year.

Venture is a business best learned through apprenticeship and mentorship. No one has taught or mentored me more than Jeremy Levine. He is among the best venture capitalists and thinkers on the planet. He is also a wonderful human. Jeremy bet on me and gave me the opportunity to work with him in an apprenticeship model. It is hard to overstate how impactful this has been.

Last weekend, I was reflecting on my career and decided to write Jeremy a thank you note and jot down a few of the lessons I’ve learned from him. Jeremy is one of the most humble and media shy people out there, but the world can learn a lot from him. So I am sharing the note I gave him. It is pasted below.

TLDR; if you have the opportunity to spend time with Jeremy or partner with him in any capacity, you should jump at it and feel lucky as hell.

Just over ten years ago, I completed a summer internship at Bessemer. As I considered the return offer, I learned you were contemplating a move to the west coast. I had only one question about the offer – should you move, could I go with you?

emails from 2012

It is funny to remember that you were contemplating California! You ooze NYC. Of course, I was the one that eventually migrated west, and we easily transitioned to “long distance” collaboration.

Bessemer has defined much of who I am as an investor and person, but no one has had greater influence than you. I am grateful for your mentorship and friendship.

Here are a small handful of the lessons I’ve learned from you:

  • Be direct and transparent – even when the message is difficult or unpopular, you deliver it extremely clearly. You are upfront even when it isn’t in your best interest to do so, and you expect the same from others. You don’t oversell. This engenders trust.
  • Commit, show up, and play the long game – here are two illustrative examples:
    • You have no shortage of demands for your time and a full roster of portfolio companies. Your portfolio includes more than your fair share of winners, but also has losses waiting to be realized. Many of your esteemed peers in this industry simply stop showing up or find ways of transitioning off “zombie” boards. You do not. You uphold your commitments through thick and thin. You play the long game. I intend to be in this business for the next 25+ years, so learning patience and commitment early pays dividends. (I’ve learned a good deal about being a board member from you too, but will save that for another time).
    • If I need advice or simply want to bounce a crazy idea around (an all too frequent occurrence), you make time. Graciously. Even when you’d rather be doing something else. I so appreciate it. It inspired me to create a personal SLA and commit to being available and responsive for the entrepreneurs and partners I work with.
  • Term sheets are not bombs, they cannot explode – if you like an entrepreneur today, you should like them next week too. Don’t use deadlines or no shops to create artificial urgency. Don’t rush important decisions. Take time to align and talk through all details of an offer so you go in eyes wide open.
  • Draw a line in the sand – you taught me to set boundaries before entering a negotiation so that I can make decisions without getting caught up in the heat of the moment. The lines I draw are a teeny bit looser than yours, but they are drawn.
  • Play the game your way – Bessemer’s model encourages independent thinking and action. This means there is no “Bessemer” way of doing venture capital. Rather, a set of shared values, incentives, and resources, with partners that spike in different ways. For a while, I tried to replicate your playbook. That was a bad idea. Your approach to venture is yours. My approach is influenced by yours, but different and authentic to me. I like that we often disagree and how much we push each others thinking and theses.
  • Make and own mistakes – in an industry built on outliers, studying wins won’t teach you much. It is the mistakes that teach the most. I have a knack for accumulating mistakes. I try not to make the same mistake twice but also keep discovering new ones. A few years ago, I remember wading in the gloom of one particularly big mistake. I brought it up every week. Every week you tried to convince me to get over it and move on with the lesson in tow. I appreciate that you let me make some big mistakes far earlier than I deserved, and then helped me learn and move on.
  • The most important things – when your kids call, you answer immediately. You are home for family dinners, at teacher conferences, doctor appointments, the works. You encourage me to prioritize the most important things too. You and Yael are role models for me and for Alex. We plan to appoint you both to our parental advisory committee someday (don’t hold your breath).

Amidst these experiences, there are times where I am annoyed or upset with you. And times where you are frustrated by me. But I’m confident our relationship will endure, no matter where we work or what life brings.

I have a lot more to learn from you. I also hope that you learn and find fulfillment from collaborating with me. It may take me a couple decades, but I aim to give you more than I received. And plan to pay it forward.

Thank you.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s