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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

I’ve been taking on a new direction
But I have to say
I’ve been thinking about my own protection
It scares me to feel this way…
– Tina Turner

The bumps and rattles of flying into Denver on a summer afternoon may feel familiar but the turbulence still makes my body clench. The plane shakes and my laptop bumps slightly on the tray as my friends Brad and Fred riff on learning to be an effective director.

“Once I make an investment,” says Brad, “I work for the CEO.” In that instance, in those moments, he says, I’m no longer working for my investors or even my partners but for the company.

Another rattle, the flight attendants take their seats, and Fred goes further. Working for the company, he says, is working for your investment. But, of course, that’s counter-intuitive and something he’s learned over time.

Too often, he says, regardless of the number of people in the room–investors and directors, staff and management–there’s often one person missing from the table. He points out, “The Company always needs to be in the room.”

Listening to this episode of the podcast, I marvel at how wise my friends have become and slip into a reverie about time passing. August marks 20 years since Fred and I founded Flatiron Partners. It’s been 20 years, too, since he and I came to know Brad.

Then suddenly Fred’s voice brings me back. What makes his partnership at Union Square Ventures work, he says, is love. Brad quickly rushes in and they’re both off again, this time riffing about love.

Tina Turner’s voice comes into my head: “What’s love got to do with it?” I laugh at my own joke.

But perhaps it’s no joke. Perhaps there’s nothing ironic about two of the most successful VCs in the country talking about love; surprising, perhaps, but not ironic.

What does love have to do with it after all?

I think of this 20-year relationship, this odd combination wherein each of us has at times paired off with the other, collaborating, growing, and challenging each other. There’s a love there.

Hearing them describe their relationships with their partners, though, I hear it even more clearly. There’s love in their firms as well.

Parker Palmer (whom I love dearly) would recognize each of my friends’ willingness to look at their shadow qualities, to own and integrate those aspects of themselves which otherwise (and perhaps in their youth) would have been held back, covered in shame.

Konda Mason (whom I also love dearly) would recognize and welcome their willingness to have their unconscious biases pointed out and a willingness to share power and equity, inviting an expansion that ultimately strengthens their ability to create the worlds they’d like to live in.

We three riff again, this time about building organizations that ultimately we’d like to work for.

Each of us, has achieved this little dream. Foundry Group, USV, and, yes, even Reboot (which just celebrated its second anniversary) are each partnerships where trust abounds, where colleagues are allowed to make mistakes and take missteps, and where the best of each of us is expected and the worst of us is loved, embraced, and gently held so that it can transform into a superpower.

Love isn’t merely some second-hand emotion; love is the fuel that powers great organizations.

I know that’s a counterintuitive notion. Just before the last VC boot camp Brad and I hosted, I got an email from a would-be client who described Brad as “bullet-proof” because he’s been so successful. “What risk is there for him?” the emailer implicitly asked, “No one is going to fire him.”

But the investors who came to that camp saw Brad demonstrate his love of the mission by bravely, vulnerably opening himself up in ways that go beyond even the openness he shows every day in life. He not only modeled the best of what an investor can be but what an adult can achieve.

Tina knows the risk: “Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken.” The risk is the broken heart that comes from shattered self-esteem. What if I speak authentically and am rejected?

Over the years, I’ve watched my friends Brad and Fred steadfastly put themselves out there in some inchoate bid to make the dialogue just a bit better and make investing a little bit less dominated by asses who conflate meanness with toughness.

That’s real love. Love of the work. Love of the mission. Love of the potential of entrepreneurship to change lives.

What’s love really got to do with it, then? Everything.

I often struggle with this odd little mantle draped over my shoulders. At this time in my life, I viscerally sense the ways folks project onto me their wishes for a guru—someone who because of gray hair or the wisdom that comes through scars and my own mistakes has the answers. The most challenging aspect of that struggle is internal; it’s between my ego–basking in that projection–and the better angels of my nature who know full well that whatever wisdom I have comes from having had wise teachers.

Listening to Fred and Brad talk about the ways they and their partners have built their firms on the strength of the love—the respect, the trust, the managed egos, and the forgiveness of missteps and mistakes—at their partnerships, I see even more clearly what wise teachers my old friends have been to me.

Twenty years is a long time; long enough, by the way, to allow us to call each other, “Old friends.” As the flight from Nashville slowly descends into the heavy Colorado air, I hear my old friends’ wisdom and suddenly a rush of feelings shake my body more deeply than the turbulent air: Damn. I love these guys.

I stare at an old photo as the conversation closes and another song comes into my head. I imagine the three of us lost in our overcoats and waiting for sunset.

Left to right: Rich Levandov, Fred, Gary Rieschel, Me, Brad, and Charley Lax

Old friends,
Sat on their park bench
Like bookends.
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the ’round toes
On the high shoes
Of the old friends.
Old friends.
Winter companions,
The old men
Lost in their overcoats,
Waiting for the sunset.
The sounds of the city,
Sifting through trees,
Settle like dust
On the shoulders
Of the old friends
Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
Old friends,
Memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fear…

Reading through this piece one more time, I notice my sentimentality. Does this come with aging? Maybe. But I choose to ignore the tendency to judge it. I choose, instead, to love that aspect of me and turn it into yet another superpower of mine.


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