Against the Inner Ring of Venture Capital
My Next Chapter at Stonks
Money is a terrible master but an excellent servant. —P.T. Barnum
They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. —Andy Warhol
Above: Capitalist Santa Claus or Poor Man’s Jerome Powell? You decide.
Brilliant British author, theologian, and masterful man-of-words C.S. Lewis wielded the English language like few ever have. Chock full of cutting insight and bare-naked truth, his prose punches with considerable weight. If a reader is not careful, its hefty gravitas can knock him or her right out.
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First delivered as a Memorial Lecture at King’s College, University of London in 1944, “The Inner Ring” describes our base desire for acceptance within the cliquey coterie of whatever group matters to us at any given time.
Though worth a read in full, I return to the below excerpts time and time and time again:
I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside…
Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care. That will be the natural thing—the life that will come to you of its own accord. Any other kind of life, if you lead it, will be the result of conscious and continuous effort. If you do nothing about it, if you drift with the stream, you will in fact be an “inner ringer.” I don’t say you’ll be a successful one; that’s as may be. But whether by pining and moping outside Rings that you can never enter, or by passing triumphantly further and further in—one way or the other you will be that kind of man…
You discover gradually, in almost indefinable ways, that it exists and that you are outside it; and then later, perhaps, that you are inside it…But you have met the phenomenon of an Inner Ring…
And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel…
The desire to be inside the invisible line illustrates this rule. As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left…
Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence.
Again, “exclusion is no accident; it is the essence.”
Whew. See what I mean about Lewis’ words?
At this point, you are likely thinking: Sure, Tom, but what does this have to do with your next chapter at yet another oddly-named startup?
Well, Lewis’ pithy line describes no industry better than Venture Capital.1
Exclusivity is to Venture Capital as apple pie is to America—in its very heart, blood, and soul.
I do not consider this a good thing. Nor do my new teammates at Stonks.
We consider exclusivity antithetical to innovation and technological progress.
More, we believe that diversity of both thought and experience drives the leaping emergent effects that change things for the better.
Because of this, we are working to spearhead the mass adoption of quality startup investing by making it approachable, inclusive, and simple.
We reject small-minded industry NIMBYism.
Instead, we build upon Hustle Fund’s wonderful maxim: great founders and funders can look like anyone and come from anywhere.
By design, Stonks will be different things to different people:
For founders, we will provide access to the fuel that ignites and powers their bold ventures.
For investors large and small, we will serve as the catalyst that transforms them from mere exit liquidity to impactful, early owners.
For operators, we will exist as a gravitational force which attracts startups working to change the system instead of merely perpetuating it.
A great deal of serendipity—far too much to mention here—led me to this wild west of an industry.
In a way, I snuck through the side door. Neither investment banker nor management consultant, I am but humble thinker, writer, (failed) founder, investor, doer. And, as Frost once wrote, “that has made all the difference.”
I leave you now with Lewis’ wise valediction and a subsequent invitation:
The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it.
This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.
At Stonks, we strive both to emulate and recruit many more of these sound craftsmen.
As the African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”
After all, if we have our way—per Apple’s iconic 1984 commercial—the future might look a little something like this:
Per my about page, White Noise is a work of experimentation. I view it as a sort of thinking aloud, a stress testing of my nascent ideas. Through it, I hope to sharpen my opinions against the whetstone of other people’s feedback, commentary, and input.
If you want to discuss any of the ideas or musings mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links that you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of White Noise, please reach out to me by replying to this email or following me on Twitter.
With sincere gratitude,
Most of Venture Capital, that is. As Lewis wrote, “I have no right to make assumptions about the degree to which any of you may already be compromised.”