Popular culture portrays Silicon Valley and the startup space as one where capital is king. But it’s not the kind of capital you might be envisioning. Money (literal capital) is less of a driver of success than your social capital. And a specific type of social capital is overlooked.
The people with the most social capital aren’t necessarily founders or venture capitalists. It’s the career startup operator that has a good reputation that matters. They have a type of social capital I call operating capital.
There is a reason the team slide matters in a pitch. Who you know and how much they like, respect and trust you has a lot more to do with what deals get done. Part of this is related to luck and timing. The most talented people aren’t always the ones that have big hits. In fact, we correlate failure more strongly to overall credibility.
This makes spotting who has the most status in startups tricky. In industries like finance, money keeps the score. In consumer packaged goods, it’s what brand team you were on. In startups, the score is tricky to quantify value. We’ve developed an elaborate system of social capital signaling that determines who is considered valuable. But within that social capital status in-group you will find that the executive team layer has some of the most pull as founders and board members build working trust with them over years.
Because we value operators as high social status individuals we build our social status signifiers around your proven capacity to problem solve. How you solve problems can make or break a startup.
And we need all kinds of thinking. We need system thinking, (ops), a knack for keeping talent motivated HR), an ability to drive excitement and warp reality (marketing and PR) and obviously you have to be able to make shit (product and engineering). The people with these capabilities are the ones that accrue the most operating capital. Find those high status people and you will never be far from a startup that may have a shot at the big time.