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August 11, 2015

Giving and Taking in StartUp Land


I have been wanting to read Give and Take since the New York Times article a few years ago described the author, Wharton Professor Adam Grant, and his research on "givers", "takers" and "matchers". I finally got a chance to do so this last week while on vacation and was not disappointed. I'd rank the book up there with Drive and Thinking Fast and Slow as one of my favorite popular business books written by academics.

Grant's basic thesis is that being a giver - being motivated solely by your desire to give back, independent of a payback, without keeping score or expecting anything in return - can correlate with professional success. While this conclusion may seem surprising in the self-centered, materialistic, dog-eat-dog world that many think is emblematic of the business world (cue Elizabeth Warren), I thought Grant's conclusions reflected what I have seen as a somewhat recent cultural change in the world of entrepreneurship - a cultural change I am hoping will continue. 

I have written in the past that there is a religion of entrepreneurship, with its shared beliefs and cultural mores. One of those shared beliefs that has emerged in recent years in Startup Land is to be a giver, not a taker.  Recently, even venture capitalists are competing now on who is more entrepreneur friendly, who contributes more to the ecosystem (e.g., disseminating free knowledge and insights, launching diversity initiatives) and who can be most meaningfully "pay it forward".

Some VCs and entrepreneurs are clearly taking these actions out of pure self interest - in Grant's language, they are "matchers":  they give with the expectation that they will get something in return. But many VCs and entrepreneurs that I work with day in day out have adjusted their behavior to becoming pure givers. Giving their time, their resources and their networks without expecting anything in return. And many of these "givers" are very successful professionals - building or  investing in the best companies. Yesterday's news that one of these explars, Sundar Pichai, is becoming CEO of Google, one of the world's most powerful and valuable companies, is touch point in this trend.

Sure, "givers" in Startup Land have to make sure they're not being taken advantage of - they could spend 12 hours a day helping people and not getting their work done - but I like what I am seeing as "nice guys/gals" are emerging in our ecosystem that are not just nice, but also wildly successful. I suspect that this is one of the factors inspiring others to model this positive behavior.


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