Listening to your soul

Last week was one of the toughest I’ve had. But the struggle was worth it. In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he outlines how one’s search for meaning – when conducted authentically – is very hard.

I’m writing to tell you that I’ve decided not to continue to pursue Hurt+Harbach. Please let me be very clear up front on several things:

  1. This has nothing to do with Jeff. If anything, Jeff attracted me to the opportunity to co-found a new type of venture capital firm for Austin. He is very smart and humble with incredible integrity. This is my decision solely. I own it.
  2. We were very successful on the fundraising trail. The interest in investing in Austin’s entrepreneurs is very high and that is very encouraging for the future of our great city. There is no doubt we would have been able to hit our fundraising target.
  3. We were approaching our first close with prospective investors but we never actually sent out the final legal paperwork or took any investor capital in. Facing the prospect of a 10-year fund cycle, with investors counting on me for longer than that (a successful VC will set up multiple 10-year lifecycle funds over the years), made me think more deeply than ever if this is what I was really passionate about doing for the next 10-20 years of my life.

And the simple truth is that I just didn’t love it. When I founded Coremetrics and later Bazaarvoice, I fell deeply in love with both businesses. That love – finding my meaning in life – helped me persevere through the toughest of times. We cracked the code on recruiting at Bazaarvoice by testing the passion of those that wanted to join us. If you are interested in the details, I wrote a post about this in January. I believe how we recruited was the single most important thing we did to create a great culture at Bazaarvoice, and it was humbling to see it take and all of us get caught up in it. It was beautiful. It was – is – love.

But for Hurt+Harbach, I simply didn’t fall in love with the idea of leveraging my and Jeff’s own capital combined with other people’s money in the format of a venture fund. Even though our pitch conversion rate was high, the more fundraising meetings we had, the more I didn’t like the idea. I was losing sleep thinking about it. I tried to tell myself that this phase would pass… that once we were done with fundraising, it would be smooth sailing. But I never really believed that. I wasn’t acting authentically, and that really bothered me. My mantra while I was CEO of Bazaarvoice was b: authentic.

Last week, as I started to accept the gravity of this awareness, I talked with several people who are very close to me: my wife, Debra; my CEO coach, Kirk Dando; one of my financial advisors, Carl Carlos; my rabbi, Neil Blumofe; and, of course, Jeff Harbach. Everyone’s advice was the same. Don’t pursue it if you don’t love it - and what a blessing to find out in such a short period of time pursuing it. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for the many hours they helped me through this last week. They are true friends and I am very fortunate to have them in my life.


So, what’s next? Back in March, I wrote a post about what Benjamin Franklin meant when he said, “time is money”. In that post I wrote, “My new calling to impact many entrepreneurs may be even more impactful”. And that is what I’m going to continue to do. That journey is very important to me. It’s personal. I’ve been a very active angel investor over the past eleven months. I’ve met with over 300 entrepreneurs, and wrote a post about my learnings and incredible opportunity in Austin, “The State of Tech Entrepreneurship in Austin”. I’ve joined three Board of Directors outside of Bazaarvoice – Compare Metrics, the Entrepreneurs Foundation, and Shelfbucks. I’ve joined several Advisory Boards, such as Alert Media, Real Massive, Written, and Together Mobile. I’ve joined two incubators – Capital Factor and TechStars Austin. I’ve helped several entrepreneurs raise money by leveraging my network and my passion for their business. I’ve gone on sales trips to help them win clients. So, this is clearly my calling – these activities have been an authentic labor of love.

Please understand that I’m on a journey of self-discovery like all of you are. My passion for helping entrepreneurs started in many ways when I was a child. When I was 10-years old and had programmed my first Bulletin Board System (BBS), I was called upon to help a 16-year old launch his own. Nine years later, he remembered how I helped him and called on me while I was a student at the University of Texas at Austin and asked if I would like to work at Andersen Consulting (the firm now called Accenture). I accepted and worked nearly full-time in my Junior and Senior year.Karma. Several years after I graduated from The Wharton School, I was called upon to serve as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence. When Dean Gilligan called on me to be Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, I was honored to accept his call and his offer to do so. This is clearly my calling – this is acting with authenticity. In many ways, this is always who I’ve been. In many ways, I’m now more in touch with my soul than ever.

I look forward to continuing to collaborate with Jeff. He is an incredible person, and I know he will continue to be very successful in life. I have a lifelong friend in him. And he will likely build upon what we started with Hurt+Harbach. If he does, I hope you all will consider supporting him. I wouldn’t have partnered with him in the first place if I didn’t sincerely believe in him. And, again, I believe the opportunity to invest in Austin entrepreneurs is very attractive – this is an amazing time for our city, and the next ten years will be our best yet.

I also look forward to continuing to collaborate with our local angel investors, our local incubators, and our local venture capitalists. I will also continue to collaborate with those outside of Austin that care about helping our entrepreneurs here. In short, I’ll collaborate with anyone who wants to authentically help our entrepreneurs in Austin – and can indeed be helpful. There is no shortage of people I know – angels, VCs, bankers, law firms, PR companies, startup software development and online marketing firms – that all want to help. They know how hard it is to be an entrepreneur – the man (or woman) in the arena – a nod to one of my favorite quotes by Theodore Roosevelt from his brilliant speech in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I was in the arena with Jeff. I’m staying in, just not in the format of a venture fund. It just isn’t my calling. But helping you – if you are an entrepreneur in Austin – is.

If there is a lesson for all of us in this it is simply: be real with yourself. There was no way for me to know if I would fall in love with Hurt+Harbach other than to try. It took me around two months to learn that it wasn’t my calling. I guess that is fast or slow depending on your perspective. I would call that fast for an endeavor that would take 10-20 years to fully play out.

What is your passion? How are you choosing to authentically fulfill it? I would love to hear your story in the comments section below. Let’s inspire others to find theirs.

Thanks in advance for your support and understanding. I hope to collaborate with you over the years as I continue to help Austin’s entrepreneurs. Please also read Jeff's post as well.

Brett Alexander Hurt
Hurt Family Investments