When you're a doctor or an architect, it is relatively easy to explain to your kids what you do for a living. "I help make sick people healthy." "I help build houses." When you're a venture capitalist it is not quite as straight forward. What would the one-liner be? "I help small companies to grow into big companies." "I give people money so that they can teach computers how to do stuff that the computers couldn't do before." "I type lots of emails and go to lunch a lot."
When my eight year old asked me what it meant to be a VC, I tried to explain it in terms that he could appreciate. He is a skate board fanatic and has been talking about starting a "skate brand" where he could sell shirts, hats, decks, etc. with his particular logo (needless to say, practically everything he wears has some skate logo or other on it -- Etnies, NorCal, Element). He spends his day drawing potential logos, shirt and skateboard designs, and telling me which professional skateboarders his brand will sponsor. So I tried to describe venture capital in the context of a skate brand. I explained to him:
Ok, you would come to me with the idea of starting a skate brand. I'd spend a bunch of time talking with you about your business. I'd get to know you and the people who would run the business with you. I'd ask you to tell me how the company was going to make money. I'd ask you how much money your skate brand might make. I'd call lots of people who know you and see if they thought you were smart and a really good guy. And after that if I thought you could make a lot of money with your skate brand, I'd give you money and work with you to help build your company.
My eight year old listened intently and I thought that I had done a fine job of explaining my profession. But apparently my son's take away was different than mine.
A couple nights ago my son came to me with a handful of papers with various designs and announced that he was ready to start his skate brand. After an exhaustive process, he had decided to name his company Ollie King (tm), and he was ready to go. I told him that he would have to wait because I was reading to his sister, at which point he stormed up stairs to his mother, ripped up his skate designs, threw them in the trash, and screamed to her "daddy won't fund my company!" This did not sit well with my wife -- apparently, as his father, I have an obligation to fund my son's skate brand. I was instructed to do something to fix the problem I had created.
Luckily, thanks to the incredible web services that exist today, I was able to fix the problem without having to actually write a big check to my son the CEO. First, since my son already had a typepad account, he was able to create a new blog and make it the home page for his Ollie King website. I then showed him how to look for domain names on GoDaddy. We tried to buy OllieKing.com but to no avail. It was already taken. So he had to settle for SkateOllieKing.com. Through the wonders of modern domain hosting, I was able to nearly instantly redirect SkateOllieKing.com to my son's new Ollie King home page on typepad. Unfortunately for my budding entrepreneur, at that point I had to go take his brother to theater practice, so I left my eight year old tweaking his web site. But when I got home I found him on Cafepress making t-shirts and hats with the various designs he was able to rescue from the trash. Apparently he had been on Cafepress before looking at his uncle's crazy t-shirt designs. Once he had created a bunch of products for his Cafepress store, he then linked his home page to CafePress and voila, my eight year old had his own skate brand.
These are precisely the sorts of on-demand services that are driving massive online activity today. I have written a lot about the increasing importance of user generated content and watching my son put together his skate store drove home that fact. User generated content is going to continue to proliferate as the eight year olds of the world create MySpace pages and blogs and skate stores. Who knows what they'll create when they are nine.