Sharing Knowledge for Fun and Profit

High-leverage activities

A few months ago, my friend Edmond wrote a very insightful post about the most important professional lesson he had learned. While working as an engineer at companies like Google and Quora, Edmond figured out that the best use of his time was to focus on high-leverage activities like automating repetitive tasks, interviewing potential candidates, and mentoring new hires. These tasks are time-consuming, but they consume much less time in the short run than they save in the long run. One could fill a book with the ways that engineers can leverage their time more effectively – in fact, Edmond has been working on such a book since last year.

Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking about where my own effort is best spent and what sort of high-leverage activities I can concentrate on as an investor. I spend most of my time talking with people, which is very hard to automate. And while I could help a portfolio company interview engineers, that’s probably not the ideal use of my time.

I’ve resolved that one of the best things people can do with their time is to learn, and then share what they learn with others. As a VC, I’m in a great position to do this because I meet with so many entrepreneurs who have a lot of influence within their companies.

Leveraging knowledge

I recently met a spate of founders who were concerned about getting pricing right. They weren’t sure whether their prices were too high or too low, or how to test those prices. After talking with several founders who had the same questions, I realized that one of the highest leverage things I could do would be to learn all about pricing myself. If I were to read several books and talk to dozens of founders about the subject, then not only would I know how to price things, I’d be able to give good pricing advice to everyone that I talk to. Since I talk with hundreds of founders each year, and those founders are busy and do not have time to do a lot of research themselves, every lesson that I learn and share can have a significant positive impact.

I think this observation is generalizable: one of the best things that I can do as an investor is to share as much useful information as possible with others. Some examples:

** investment funnel metrics - how many companies reached various stages of the due diligence process and finally got funded.

Does sharing knowledge help the bottom line?

I don’t think anyone would object to more knowledge-sharing from VCs (or from entrepreneurs, or from engineers). However, is this actually good for business? In my experience, it is. Here are five arguments in favor of sharing:

As a parting thought, most of this post applies to everyone, not just investors. If you have followers on Twitter or Quora or Facebook or anywhere else, share useful, insightful learnings with them. You’ll be helping people out without too much effort, and who knows, someday those people might be in a place to help you out.

** Note: there are several caveats to being a giver, like being conscious of potential exploitation and avoiding burn out. These topics, and many others, are described in detail in Grant’s book.

Tags: Learning
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