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Why We Don’t Vote »


The easy answer? Because Rob Wiltbank says so. But that’s only the start of the story.

It’s the second day of class, and we’re discussing our investment methodology — how we screen companies, how we evaluate the companies we select, and how we decide to write a $50,000 check. With nine students in the class and the ominous threat of having to sift through hundreds of companies over the next eight months, the obvious question arose: “so… how do we vote on each company?”

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is that we don’t–and in fact we shouldn’t–vote. We all enrolled in a graduate management program to learn to be leaders, partners, and innovators. That means we are learning to be comfortable with sharing our ideas, professionally debating with our colleagues, and making difficult decisions without the simplicity of hiding behind a vote. If eight students are in favor of a deal, voting lets the ninth off the hook and absolves them of responsibility. The lone “no” vote is allowed to keep quiet, because in a vote people focus on the results, not the reasons. And then when the deal goes south, the “no” votes can simply say “I told you so,” and walk away clean.

If you take away voting, you take away that protective shield. Each person is required to explain why they like or dislike a deal. They can’t hide behind a one-word answer. That lone “no” vote is required to point out to the rest of the class that the company is hemorrhaging cash and has a CEO who can’t sell. Perhaps the “yes” votes already knew that, in which case nothing changes. But, perhaps they had overlooked those concerns in their enthusiasm, in which case everything changes. In these situations, it is better to regret saying too much, than regret saying too little.

At the end of the day, the no-voting system works because it relies on the ambition and enthusiasm of each individual to drive deals forward. We have just three hours each week to discuss the hundreds of deals we see. If the opposition is too great, the deal naturally falls to the wayside and more popular deals take center stage, no voting required. Prioritization doesn’t become a political issue. And we learn how to move the fund ahead when the decisions are not easy “yes/no” binaries, but commitments to early stage ventures with uncertain futures.


Nathan Foos

Nathan Foos is an MBA/JD candidate at Willamette University, and is an alumnus of the WU College of Liberal Arts where he studied history, mathematics, and economics. With a strong interest in the provision of capital to growing firms, Nathan has actively engaged in the experiential course offerings at AGSM, including the O’Neill Student Investment Fund and the Willamette Angel Fund. In particular, Nathan enjoys angel investing because he can engage on a personal level with investee companies, obtain real-world insight into a plethora of industries, and learn from the mistakes and successes of hundreds of startups.