Some entrepreneurial advice from U2

October 16, 2009

Mark Solon, the managing partner and co-founder of Boise, Idaho-based Highway 12 Ventures, wrote a blog post – “Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down” – offering some entrepreneurial advice he gleaned from one of U2’s more underrated tunes. Now we highly doubt Bono had entrepreneurs or venture capitalists in mind when he penned the lyrics to “Acrobat,” but let’s roll with it.

Solon thought of the song after he recently rejected a funding request by a young entrepreneur, who he said “took it fairly hard” and Solon spent the next 20 minutes attempting to explain himself. When he sensed it wasn’t helping to soften the rejection, Solon piped up “Who the hell do you think I am to tell you that your business won’t be successful?” Solon then recounted his own ordeal in moving from Boston to Boise to start his VC firm and the ensuing 18-month span where he was rejected over and over, before launching Highway 12.

Nearly a decade later, Solon said he still remembers “almost everyone who said ‘no’ to me and proving them wrong still motivates me to this very day.”

For entrepreneurs rejection is part of the deal and Solon’s point is that just because you get turned down, does not mean your idea is bad, because as he added: “anyone who regularly invests in startups has said no to many entrepreneurs who went on to build wildly successful businesses.”

Solon’s more self-reflective treatment here is in stark contrast to a generally negative perception of the VC community that has recently sparked some excellent debate. Bijan Sabet, general partner at Spark Capital, has written a great blog on the prevailing anti-VC sentiment that tackles the issue from all sides. It sources Union Square Venture partner Fred Wilson’s post “The ‘we need to own’ baloney”, in which a reader posted a comment that Wilson couldn’t be a real VC, “since you don’t seem greedy, a jerk, don’t appear to know it all and actually seem human and actually appear to show some empathy – all of which are anathema and not typical VC decorum.”

It appears VCs are undergoing an internal reality check in regard to their standard operating procedures and the message from card-carrying members like Solon, Sabet and Wilson is borrowed from U2: don’t let the bastards grind you down.

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