Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Invest in Lines, Not Dots"

Mark Suster is a prominent 2x entrepreneur turned Venture Capitalist in Los Angeles who came up with a concept that will stay with me forever – “invest in lines, not dots.”

I had the pleasure of hearing him discuss this philosophy in a USC classroom last year and thankfully he wrote a blog about it that you can read here.

So what does it mean to invest in lines instead of dots?  Here’s a loose translation of how Suster described it in that USC classroom:

“An entrepreneur sends me a business plan.  That’s a dot.  A month later they let me know that they’ve secured their first customer.  Another dot.  I see them at a networking event a few months after that and they tell me a major player is moving into their space.  Dot three.  A month after that they tell me how they maneuvered around the major player and are back on track with their projections.  Dot four.  Then, a little while after that, they tell me about a significant strategic partnership they just formed.  Yet another dot.  And so forth.  After a while, all these dots turn into a line with a clear trajectory.  Invest in the lines that are rising quickly.”

Now, this concept is seemingly obvious and one that we all intuitively practice on a daily basis - but there are three things that make it truly valuable to me:
  1. It’s transferable to many aspects of business.  For example, when hiring/promoting employees, analyzing growth opportunities, expanding into new markets, exploring strategic partnerships, etc. … “invest in lines, not dots.”
  2. It’s also transferable to many aspects of personal life.
  3. It’s a great reminder to be patient, conduct ample due diligence and avoid impulsive decisions.  “Don’t get too high when things are going well or too low when things are going poorly,” as my Dad often told me.
There are three things that I think are worth adding to Suster’s description … goals, if you will, to implementing this philosophy well:
  1. Get enough dots to form a consistent line.
  2. Be sensitive of the time function – you don’t want the dots to come in a burst, and you don’t want them to have too much time in between.
  3. Create your own dots – don’t rely on third party sources (and their natural biases) to create lines for you.
So whether you’re researching a new idea, running a business or potentially committing money/time/resources to anything else in your life – I encourage you to follow Suster’s advice and “invest in lines, not dots.”

Good luck and happy entrepreneuring.

(You can read the original version of this blog, tailored to the franchising world, on the Franchise Business Review’s website by clicking here.)


  1. I read this today and was struck by how sound the advice was. Thanks for pointing this out. Something important to think about.

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