My Pal Dave: A Triumph of Substance Over Style

Posted on Jul 9, 2012 | 62 comments

My Pal Dave: A Triumph of Substance Over Style

My pal Dave has blogger Tourette’s. He has it on stage, too, at conferences. He can’t help himself: He’s Dave.

My pal Dave has problems. Not the ones you’d imagine. His biggest problems are with language, colors, fonts and spacing. Not much more.

I think he could say “no” a bit more. I’ve told him that if a vet just clipped his wings a little bit I think it would be good for his health.

He is tireless and works his arse off. Sometimes balance can be good for the health, soul, personal happiness and … performance. But he knows that. We all could learn a bit more about balance, as Brad Feld has outlined.

My pal Dave occasionally presents “headline risks” for investors. I’ve been told so.

I told my pal Dave that we needed to “fix this.” I told him only 2 weeks ago when we were in London together that I wanted to write a blog post that has been in my head for 2 years.

I told him I wanted to call it, “My Pal Dave” to explain the disconnect for me between how the public perceives Dave and the real Dave I know. I told him that I thought many in the industry would also weigh in. It seems some of the most respected (Fred Wilson) already have.

I would love for prospective investors in Dave’s fund to call me personally to learn about “the real Dave.”

He occasionally gets in public fights about secret meetings in which he allegedly is plotting to take over the world.

Dave might just ACTUALLY take over the world. He travels tirelessly promoting entrepreneurship, understanding global trends and building relationships in all parts of the world.

But Dave is Dave. Foul mouthed. Chain smoking (cloves). Brawling (metaphorically). Brash.

I doubt he owns an item of clothes worth more than $20. When we went to meet Hillary Clinton in China he wore a t-shirt and sandals.

Dave is terrible with email. He’s so bad that his email auto-responder tells you he likely won’t email you back.

Tourette’s Dave who loves a good fight is the Dave you know.

Not the Dave I know.

The Dave I know is very humble. And thoughtful. If you haven’t read his latest missive about himself, you should.

The Dave I know, I’ve known for 6 years.

My pal Dave doesn’t visit the right side of the Haimish Line – he lives permanently on the right side!

I knew him well before he became a VC. I knew his as he considered becoming a VC and we talked a lot about how it was going for me in my early years.

I knew Dave when he had just finished his stints at oDesk and SimplyHired. These engagements went well and he came highly referred by my friend Gary Swart who runs oDesk.

But they didn’t go as well as Dave might have liked. Neither did his stint at as Dave has himself acknowledged.

I think my pal Dave is unemployable.

I think I am, too.

My guess is that many VCs are. And so are most startup CEOs for that matter. Many through history became entrepreneurs precisely because they were unemployable.

Just ask the founder of JetBlue (Azul Brazilian Airlines), Dave Neeleman. He is profiled in my favorite book about ADHD, Delivered From Distraction, where the author talks about high-performance ADHD professionals.

He talked about how Neeleman worked at Southwest Airlines but couldn’t keep his job because at management meetings he was too impatient to sit through a bunch of corporate bullshit without speaking up and saying it was wrong.

Sound familiar? Kind of like … you? I know it’s like me. I blurt out all the time when I’m at meetings where people are wasting time lollygagging. I have a low boredom threshold and intolerance for time wasters.

Sound like our pal, Dave? Sure.

The Dave I know is quiet. And reflective. And thinks a lot about how to perform better. How to be better. How to help his companies.

The Dave I know is old school. In all the best ways. The same ways that Fred Wilson is. The Dave I know is loyal. He picks up the phone when he wants to discuss a deal with you. He doesn’t email you.

The Dave I know is a tireless traveler and loyal to his friends the way Brad Feld is. This Dave knew I was running an event on “the future of television” that was important to me. So he made a special trip to LA to be there for me. Brad does this kind of thing for people.

The Dave I know is very insightful about marketing, channel management and building developer ecosystems. He has strong opinions that are well informed. When you discuss them in person he is very reasoned, articulate and dispassionate. When he writes them online his Tourette’s comes out and sometimes the substance gets lost in the style.

When my pal Dave started his venture fund, 500 Startups, he was ridiculed. “How can anybody do 500 startups?”

I have to admit I felt the same way. Hell, I can barely manage 10 investments – how could anybody do 500?

But Dave has exceeded my expectations. He has brought in a very talented team to work with him. I wish more people knew that it isn’t just Dave. People like Paul Singh, Christine Tsai and my old pal Christen O’Brien are great.

He had a philosophy that the future competition for startups would be design led and based on data analysis. Sounds obvious. Wasn’t when Dave started championing it and making it a tenet of his incubator class.

My pal Dave has very loyal friends in the VC world who would go to bat for him any time. I’m one of them.

I used to comment that Ron Conway is “the S&P 500 of the startup world” – the index, the barometer of how the startup world is doing. I used it in the context of a compliment as in, “Ron can get into any deal that he wants to. I don’t know an entrepreneur or a VC who wouldn’t cut him in on any deal.” To build a true index you need to be in a wide cross-section, which includes the absolute best deals as well.

When Dave started I commented to him that I thought he would need to be the same to be successful. That he would have to have just about any entrepreneur want to work with him. And just about any VC willing to cut him in on important deals and happily have him on the team.

That’s what I think my pal Dave has achieved. He’s loved by both sides.

My pal Dave will be successful – I am sure. I think he’ll also do well financially. He really only needs a DropBox or Airbnb in his portfolio to do so. And from what I can tell he now getting the same quality of entrepreneurs and may already have the seeds of a great company within his stable.

The Dave I know I would back any day. His motives are all the right ones. He isn’t personally driven by making a quick buck and I’ve seen him go out of his way to help entrepreneurs.

Now if he could just get out of his way by hiring a Tourette’s editor who won’t let him hit publish on his blog or Twitter feed until it has been reviewed.

But then again, I guess it wouldn’t be my pal Dave if he wasn’t kicking up dirt somewhere.

We all love you, Dave.

And I do, too.

Image courtesy of the brilliant photographer – Kris Krug (KK) – who is one of my favorite follows on Instagram. If you don’t follow him there you’re missing out.

Now get back to fucking work.

  • Leo Chen

    Love to get together. We have demo day on the 17th and 18th next week. Will you be attending? I know you’re not a fan of demo days. Either way, let me know what day works best for you for a 30min coffee. I’ll email/tweet you as usual to finalize a time. :) Looking forward to it.

  • Brian Allman

    I don’t know Dave but here’s what i picked up on via the post and the comments: loyal, passionate, genuine, giving, knowledgeable, successful and articulate (well, in his own sort of way)… these are values and qualities that we all should be lucky enough to have in mentors or company advisers!

  • Peter Fleckenstein

    Great post Mark. I read Dave’s latest missive prior to reading yours. Both are fantastic. You and Dave have taught me a lot and I’ve never even met either of you face to face.

  • Alex Contreras

    I am an average joe lawyer trying to make my way to heaven (tought). I am writing this email from Argentina where I was with DM months ago in an event and then watching a soccer match.I usually counsel both sides, entrepreneurs and VC folks and I need to tell that both have been impacted in Latam by Dave.It will come the next Fbok or Dopbox from LatAm? Probably not, who knows, but certainly a lot of people is dreaming with changing the world and by doing so, they are changing their worlds, and it’s sorroundings.They create jobs, even theirs as a self enoloyes, they impact their communities, institutions, etc. There are success there. I believe Marc and Dave, there are more than one ROI, and we need to take into consideration all impact when we evaluate our “Sucess”.
    best from Argentina!

  • test

    very true..incredible to read his journey and humbleness…really motivating.

  • Ricardo

    I hope I get a chance to work with people like you and Dave sometime in the future. And thank you for sharing and showing publicly your human side… and Dave’s.

  • Brent Cahill

    Mark, thanks for a great post, humanising both of you. I would be lucky to find not just investors, rather mentors, like yourselves through my entrepreneurial journey.

  • Jody Sherman

    Mark, you and Mr. McClure were two of the earliest “name brands” that backed my company and with the exception of how you two present yourselves, I think you both are cut from the same cloth — loyal, available, eager to help (and actually do what you say when you offer help!), timely, and just as importantly people I genuinely like.

    He and his team have built something I’ve never experienced before within a portfolio — people who are so willing to help each other succeed that it feels like family. No one tells you that it has to be that way, it just is. When you become a 500 Startups company, you tap into a growing network of hard working smart entrepreneurs who would drop anything to help you succeed and you’d do the same for them. How that holds together with over what, 300 companies? is something that only works if the culture is solid. And culturally what they’ve done is amazing.

    Thank you for writing this about Dave. I remember when we did your show on what it was like to have him as an investor and now two years later I can tell you that everything I said that was positive about him then still holds true today. If he’s on your side, he’s on your side without question. I’m proud to have him as an investor in our company.

    And he’s a good fucking dude :-)

  • Drew Meyers

    I don’t know Dave personally, so not much I can comment on that front :)

    But I seriously dig your writing style. I appreciate great writing because I know how hard it is to do well. This is very well written.

    PS: Totally, totally can relate to this part of your post.
    “He talked about how Neeleman worked at Southwest Airlines but couldn’t keep his job because at management meetings he was too impatient to sit through a bunch of corporate bullshit without speaking up and saying it was wrong.

    Sound familiar? Kind of like … you? I know it’s like me. I blurt out all the time when I’m at meetings where people are wasting time lollygagging. I have a low boredom threshold and intolerance for time wasters.”

    I’m the same way.

  • Emily Merkle Snook

    Fantastic piece, Mark.

  • Matías Paterlini

    Awesome!!, I’ve been following Dave since 2007, learning from him remotely from Argentina. I only met him twice on his Geeks on a plane trips, but it was enough to see how open he is, and how much understanding of global market he has. Great guy!

  • Gregory Smith


    A little off beat here, but…Other than SEO, etc what other ways would you suggest is best to get your blog read/followed by your local community, with no investment being made?