In case you missed it, Saturday was fight night in NYC: VC-on-VC, Dixon vs. Robinson. Robinson as in Jim Robinson IV, managing partner at RRE Ventures. Dixon as in Chris Dixon, founder of Hunch and partner at Founder Collective. The sparks were flying…
Chris Dixon: "A guy born a millionaire who never earned a thing in his life should be really careful throwing around 'populist blather.' Fuck you."
Ouch! Chin check…
Chris Dixon: "@jdrive: Heh, yeah, i bet you had a lot of long, profound thoughts about "populist blather" growing up as the son of AMEX's CEO."
"Jdrive" retorted: "@cdixon BTW my inheritance in life to date? $35k. Nothing more. Wish I got money Just got the name. U don't know me; u just think u do."
In a way, I feel bad for Jdrive. What if his pa' didn't give him shit? And yet we give him shit as though he did. Maybe our assumptions are wrong (although I'm sure he got plenty of non-cash and non-monetary support along the way, especially access––the Robinson name itself is surely worth a lot in terms of doors opened and such).
But if I'm gonna be intellectually honest here, I gotta admit that hearing Chris Dixon shame the man for being a silver spoon triggered a dopamine squirt in my brain. Class warfare, it turns out, is fun. And just about every entrepreneur on Twitter who saw the exchange thought the same thing: "Yeah, fuck that guy!"
The next day, I got a series of DMs from a friend of his who spoke in his defense: "He actually is quiet. not trying to be a rock star blogging VC…so usually doesn't blog."
Another: "anyways, assumption is there b/c of who his dad is. but it's actually a much diff story."
To be clear, this post isn't about Jim Robinson IV per se––no, it's a post about personal branding. Jdrive is just a convenient (and tragically entertaining) example of what can happen when you neglect your personal brand.
To be clear, Jdrive is right: We (including me) don't know the man.
Everyone who actually knows the younger Robinson says great things about him. And RRE is consistently ranked in the top 5 VCs on The Funded by entrepreneurs. My only interaction with Jdrive was at an RRE sponsored happy hour in NYC. He mostly stood in the corner talking with other VCs. He didn't interact with us entrepreneurs much. At the time, I thought it was kind of stupid to throw an event for entrepreneurs and then spend the entire evening talking with your VC friends. Actually, I left the event thinking the guy was sort of a dick. Not for a particularly good reason, mind you, but it just seemed like he didn't care about or want to meet entrepreneurs.
But as suggested by his defenders, there's another entirely rational explanation: Perhaps he's just not an super outgoing guy. Maybe he is, as his friend suggested, actually kind of quiet. Not everyone loves to blog and meet strangers 24/7, after all. In fact, for most people, the whole constant pitching process can be quite tiring. And maybe he's just a normal dude who doesn't fixate on putting himself out there for the whole world to see…
Define Your Brand, Lest Others Do It For You
Ok, so let's see here, what happens when you Google "james robinson IV" ? First hit: a Wikipedia entry for James Robinson III, Jdrive's gazillionaire dad. Hmm. Not really the message I'd want to send if I was marketing myself to broke ass entrepreneurs piling up credit card debt and living on Ramen. Perhaps a little SEO is in order.
Ok, so let's see the guy's profile on RRE.com…
Hmm. Banker. Again, probably not a fact I'd want to highlight. Not really seeing the scrappiness here.
I can't ding the guy for dishonesty. But he's practically teeing himself up for Chris Dixon's charge of rich boy debutante-ism.
And then there was a blog post that made the rounds a while back: Everyone Deserves a Trophy?
"Sometime after my generation, everybody became a winner just for trying. Everybody got an ice cream. Everybody who participated got a trophy. It wasn’t about winning or losing but about trying hard.
"It sometimes feels like this attitude has crept into the psyche of some entrepreneurs. I respect nothing more than someone who quits a safe job and takes a huge risk to start something new. I did and I know how scary it can be. But startups are a brutal business, where few make money and many lose."
Now, I can't help but see some irony here: VC chastises entrepreneurs for demanding undue rewards; turns around and demands special lower tax rate for himself & fellow VCs. My gut reaction: Startups are a brutal business, bro. Few make money and many lose. Sorry man. Tough it out. And pay your fucking taxes, rich boy.
To be clear, there's nothing directly incompatible between opposing the new carried interest tax and this "startups are a brutal business" bit, but it does kind sound like the man is asking for a trophy. Just a little.
Again, to be totally clear, I don't know Jdrive the actual human being beyond the most cursory meeting and what I've seen on the internet. In fact, I'm not really talking about Jdrive the man himself so much as I am his public image.
Ok, so I've busted the guy's balls enough–here's another possible (and more charitable) take on the man…
Jdrive is the son of a very rich man who sought not to spoil his heir apparent and as a result, gave the young Jdrive jack shit as a child, forcing him to earn his position in life. And young Jdrive grew up to be a self-made man, at least as self-made as the namesake of an AMEX CEO could be. Jdrive lived in the shadow of his father, surrounded by wealth but never having it given to him. Unlike his ever-outgoing dad (I have no idea if this is actually true), he was quiet and reserved, not one to call much attention to himself. And yet he was smart and worked hard, insistent on adhering to the meritocracy that was forced upon him. He didn't pay much attention to his internet personality until one day…
Again, this is all pure speculation loosely based on what others have told me. However, if his defenders are right, the truth seems closer to this latter description.
So what's the point?
The point is that if you don't create a strong personal brand for yourself on the web, others will define it for you. And the outsider definition will not be charitable, especially if you are in a position of power.
Honestly, I think Chris Dixon went overboard last night in telling Jdrive to fuck off (my guess: he was drunk). It was a dick move. But he's Chris fuckin Dixon, the entrepreneur's VC, the man who fights for the little guy, the man whose tweets and blog posts we've been reading for months now. We know him. We have a relationship with him. He is our friend. We cut him slack.
And so we are unfair to Jim Robinson IV, a man we don't know. We think we know him––we think he's a spoiled rich boy––but we don't, and he may not be. And whose fault is that? His––and his alone, for he has not told his own story, but let others tell it for him.
If the tables turn and you get a moment in the sun, what story will the world tell about you? And whose fault will that be?
To be 100% clear, I don't pretend to know the real Jdrive one way or the other. From all reports, he is an awesome dude, which makes this weekend's kerfluffle all the more noteworthy. My critique is narrowly focused on how he's marketed himself to the entrepreneurial community and managed (or failed to manage) his personal brand. I hold no personal grudge or ill will against the man. But seriously, Chris Dixon told him to fuck off this weekend. How the hell that happened is worthy of analysis all by itself. Hence my focus on him and not some other random person.