Millennial VC Peter Boyce: Nothing Matters More Than People and Relationships
Peter Boyce II, a millennial venture capitalist at General Catalyst Partners (New York, N.Y., and Cambridge, Mass.), came to the Brick City Tech meeting on August 10 to record live for Anthony Frasier’s Don’t Dumb Down Your Greatness podcast. The meeting took place at the headquarters of Newark Venture Partners.
Community and networking were the continuing themes throughout Boyce’s discussion with Frasier. Talking about his early experience at Bad Boy Entertainment (New York, N.Y.), Boyce said, “Everything you do is ultimately facilitated by people and relationships.
“We give a lot of credence to things like merit and ideas. Those are nice things. But nothing winds up mattering more than people and relationships. I wound up at the right place at the right time with none of the right skills, but I emailed the right person and was passionate and excited.”
His experience at Bad Boy helped him appreciate the power of technology to reinvent industries, and he discovered that he liked being in a creative industry where you got to think about many different projects.
He then joined Skillshare, in New York City. “I worked with the CEO on the fund-raising process,” and got to see what that world was like, he said. “I got to discover this whole new career. There are people whose job it is to think about the future of technology and try to be helpful with capital.”
At Harvard, he worked with student entrepreneurs who wanted to form companies. “So much of this is predicated on community.” People play a huge role in forming companies, building them, coming up with ideas, etc.
“We would take over a space like this and basically everyone would work on their side projects outside of their classes,” he recalled. As those projects matured, the founders began raising money, demoing at the NY Tech Meetup and getting more sophisticated. “This is what happens when you don’t [only] have one or two people working on stuff, but you get those groups and those teams together, so you have the collective strength, knowledge and network. You can do a lot more when you do that.”
When he got to his senior year, all of the teams needed money — for summer rent, for food, to pay a developer or designer and so on. So Boyce created a fund called “Rough Draft Ventures” (Cambridge, Mass.). As he explained, “At the time, I was just doing what I liked, doing what I was interested in, doing what helped my friends. I was just lucky that it attracted interest from other people.” Boyce said that a lot of this interest was the result of relationship building, trying to learn from others and building on work that had come before his.
Frasier tried to pin down Boyce on how to actually do the networking, and Boyce admitted that the kind of networking he was able to do with a Harvard “dot.edu” email address was a special case. Everyone will reply to that email, at any time, any place.
“The easiest way to form relationships is to push value to them prior to taking value from them,” said Boyce. He noted that he had cold-emailed every VC in Boston who had some kind of Harvard connection. He invited them to a dinner that he planned to host “with eight amazing engineers from MIT, Northeastern and Olin [College of Engineering],” and ask “would you be interested in joining us?” No one ignored that email.
Boyce wound up at General Catalyst Partners. He said that a kind of democratization that has been trickling down to venture capital companies, making them want to source great ideas from all over; and they want to attract a young, diverse staff into their ranks to find those ideas.
“It’s all predicated on success stories. We need more success stories. As more firms adopt new strategies that no one believed in before,” and start proving themselves, other firms will adopt those strategies.
“There was no ‘head of community’ at a venture firm five years ago,” but now that role is more common. VCs who have committed themselves to this kind of relationship building are seeing their interactions with founders flourish and their ties to the community become stronger, he said.
On the theme of how important community can be, Boyce noted that he didn’t try to get the job at General Catalyst. Instead, it was more of a conversation. “Doing amazing things for people who make decisions is something that all of us can do, and you don’t need to be credentialed in any real way.”
When Frasier asked him how to get VCs excited about a startup, Boyce responded that “building trust and a relationship with someone you want as a future investor is something that you should ideally start outside the context of fund-raising.”
He acknowledged that it can seem daunting, spending a couple of years nourishing a relationship that might not pay off. However, some of the best investments come out of meetings with investors at an event, or while grabbing coffee, talking on a high level, or getting advice on recruiting someone or on an early version of a pitch deck. “Having a more in-depth relationship, as often as possible” is really important, he noted.
We all have a set of things that we are in control of, he said, and some things that are outside of our control. “I think the entrepreneurs who are able to throw everything at their disposal at their company” are special. That manifests itself in many ways, such as “getting your friends to buy the product when no one else will; hiring vigorously out of your friend group and having no shame about it,” he told the startup founders in the room. “There is a magnetism you can create when you are really excited about something. … If you deeply care about something and you speak about it, you’ll send out vibes.”
Boyce said that he wants to feel those vibes. And if he doesn’t feel them, he isn’t going to invest. Even if the company is going to be great, he said, if there isn’t that passion, “we are not going to have that much fun doing it.”