They Are Who We Thought They Were

As a long-suffering Chicago Bears fan, one of my favorite sports quotes is from 2006 when Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green declared about the Bears: “They are who we thought they were!” in a famous post-game outburst. What Green meant was that the Bears’ inept offense that game was exactly what he expected to see based on a previous meeting between the two teams in the preseason. The Cardinals’ defense was well-prepared based on what they had seen before and held the Bears’ offense to only three points (but they still lost, thus the outburst). 

I love this quote for two reasons: First, it reminds me of one of the few memorable Bears victories in the last 20 years. But more importantly, Dennis Green made a basic, but important point that applies more broadly to life and business. If you simply observe how people act, they’ll tell you a lot about how they’re likely to behave in the future: it’s usually not too different.

Even though founders and investors should put their best foot forward during the initial courtship and diligence process, we see many different behaviors. And almost always, we see those behaviors persist on both sides post-investment. When an investor is slow to respond and make decisions, they almost undoubtedly follow the same cadence in everything they do and will be a source of perpetual frustration for the founder. When a founder is slow or disorganized in pulling together answers to data requests, this almost always will remain a weakness going forward. 

Again, this is a pretty basic point, but it’s one that I see founders and investors (ourselves included) regularly forget during the excitement of pursuing and closing a deal. “This founder will be coachable,” is a common refrain from investors excited about a business opportunity but annoyed about a founder’s attributes. “Once I get their check, it won’t be that big of a deal,” we hear founders say about VCs in their eagerness to get money in the door. Inevitably though, this type of thinking almost always leads to long-term aggravation and regret. Nearly twenty years later, Dennis Green’s admonition rings as true as ever – “They are who we thought they were!” And Go Bears!