What Happened in the Room with the Richest People I’ve Met

Honest Observations from a Venture Capitalist

Come talk with me on @JoeyJinKim where I converse with techies, founders, investors, and everyone in between.

Every year, I go to London in May and find myself in a room with the richest people I’ve met. It’s Romulus Capital’s Annual Summit where we invite our investors (aka Limited Partners or LPs) and showcase some of our top startup investments and their CEOs.

I sit in the room, wondering how much wealth is represented here.

There are money managers from Europe, families of business tycoons from Asia, and literal royal families from the Middle East, whose assets under management and net worth total somewhere in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

I sit in the room, trying to not to think too much about that.

This year, the room is at Claridge’s, 5-star luxury hotel in Mayfair, London. The day includes a boozy networking event, one-on-one interviews, and a Michelin-star-studded dinner.

When I think too much about it, I start to question if I belong in that room.

My family immigrated from Korea when I was 8. My family of four moved out of our 1-bed 1-bath basement to come to America. We had 4 suitcases and $2,000 to our name. I didn’t go to a fancy private school. I grew up in a Midwest town, knowing not much of the bigger world outside of it.

Yeah, now that I think about it, I actually don’t belong in that room.

But here’s the glorious thing about being an immigrant: I’ve never belonged in any room that I’ve walked into. And being an immigrant, you learn how to observe the room — you learn to quickly understand what it is about the commonalities and behaviors of the people in the room that give them the right to stay in it.

Romulus Team & CEOs of Romulus Capital Investments

Here’s what I observed. All throughout the day, people in that room were constantly engaging in one thing: exchanging information.

They were asking tough questions, respectfully but unyieldingly. They were putting forth bold hypotheses about the world and inviting challenge to the hypotheses. They were admitting questions they were struggling with and asking for shortcuts to the answer.

They were actively and deliberately and constantly learning from each other.

At one point, two of our entrepreneurs were chatting until Jason, the CEO at Aila, pointed to Willie, the CEO at EquipmentShare and exclaimed, “Guys, I think Willie just solved my recruiting problems!”

Even at the highest level — no, especially at the highest level — everyone is still figuring this out as we go. No one’s lived more than once before. This is our first go for all of us. Even for serial entrepreneurs and investors, the market is dynamic, the competition responsive, the customers increasingly more demanding.

But more importantly, here’s the pattern that I’ve observed of my Harvard classmates to the Fortune 500 CEOs I worked for during my time at McKinsey:

At the highest level, the top players are forming what are essentially informal study groups to learn from each other. They have different names for it — board of directors, dinner parties, catch-up over coffee, but they are essentially study groups to get the pack smarter against the crowd.

So this year, I’m trying something at the annual summit.

I wanted to create a study group of sorts.

Over the past year, the more I coached entrepreneurs in the venture capital game, the more lessons I realized I needed to learn — lessons that are fundamental to being a good entrepreneur.

At our summit, I interviewed each of our portfolio startups and their CEOs on the fundamental questions that they’ve learned along the way. Over the next several weeks, I’ll edit their responses into short videos answering questions like:

  • How do you know when you have a good business idea?
  • What do I need to do to be a great startup CEO?
  • What’s the most difficult part of being a CEO?
  • How did you acquire your first 10 customers?
  • What are some lessons you’ve learned about hiring?
  • How do you compete against big giants?
  • What is your advice for an early-stage founder?

You should join this study group by signing in below! Next week, I’ll send you what their responses were in the video, and I’d love for you to share with me what you’ve learned or experienced as a founder, an investor, or just as someone who’s generally interested in tech.

And hopefully, we can learn together to finally figure out for ourselves if we belong in the room.

Partner @ Romulus Capital, focused on B2B tech early-stage investing.

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