There has been much said and written about work/life balance. As a father of three long grownup children, I have had all those struggles with my own conscience, and with the various family members. But each person has to manage that in their own way. For a person in an operating company, personal life and work are the two elements that need balance. But for a venture capitalist, there is often as great a need for work/work balance. I am often involved in several dozen companies at any time of my life. Whether as a board member, investor, or evaluating for potential investment, I have to balance the extent of my resources given to each of them.
One thing I have learned after all these years is that my own time is by far the scarcest resource. Balancing the various demands on that time among the various companies is never simple. The nature of venture investing, and the psychic reward, comes from nurturing the management team and the product. The best venture capitalists are always emotionally invested in the companies and people they back. My wife has often commented of my speaking about "my" companies, even though I may only have 1 or 2% economic ownership.
How should one balance working on one company versus another? If you do not actively manage the time, you become a crisis manager, responding only when there is a crisis. This is often way out of proportion to what an economically rational being should do. The crises in early stage companies often revolve around running out of cash - increasing the probability of zero return. But spending most of your mental energy on these events keeps you from putting time into those that can become big winners and more than pay for the one or two you reluctantly have to shut.
I recommend keeping a sorted list of all the companies you are working on. I use a spreadsheet listing the company, CEO's name and phone contacts, ownership, quick assessment (A,B,C), and potential value (market capitalization - subjective assessment) and contact frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, board only). I try to allocate my time so that I touch base with each company at the appropriate frequency. This increases with both success and problems. If success, I try to help maximize it, since that will improve my overall return for investors, If big problems, I try to help solve or head them off. By doing both, I don't get psychically drained by focusing only on troubled situations.
Email has made for maximum availability to the various CEOs and investors - and I try to keep my inbox to fewer than 30 items at any time. This often means late hours (work/life balance issue), or cleaning things up on weekends. It means getting people used to interacting via email so that the physical meeting time can be spent about 1/4 on looking at new situations and investments and not as much on the telephone.
Managing work/work balance also means managing my own guilt when I'm not able to respond quickly or incisively enough. And some of the entreprenuers play on that guilt to tip the balance in their favor when the rational me says I've spent enough time of their problem.
Does it work? It's a lot better now than it was when I started as a VC 25 years ago, even though I have 3 times as many investments. Technology (email, cellphone, web), air travel (costs are half of what they were in the 80s), and the savvy of entreprenuers have all contributed to making it possible. Do I allocate to maximize investment or psychic rewards? I think I have erred a little on the pyschic reward side, but only a little. And the investment rewards have been substantial. Are all "my" CEO's happy about the fraction they get? Probably not, but I think most understand the cost/benefit equation of working with me.
The final key to making it work is the ability to delegate. Having great partners at Idealab and FirstRound means that I can turn to others when the true overload sets in - a luxury I did not have 1989-1998. And that provides the best work/work balance.