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When Nextdoor CEO Nirav Tolia stumbled, Benchmark’s Bill Gurley gave him this poem

It’s a Rudyard Kipling poem called “If,” and Tolia jokes that it was a challenge to his “manhood.”

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By all commonly held standards in Silicon Valley, Nextdoor is a success story — the local social network is valued at more than $1 billion and expects to be used by 90 percent of U.S. neighborhoods by the end of this year. But the company wouldn’t exist if not for a failure and a poem.

Speaking on the latest episode of Recode Decode, Nextdoor CEO Nirav Tolia recalled how he and his co-founder Sarah Leary initially developed Fanbase, an almanac of pro and college athletes, which Benchmark’s Bill Gurley invested in. But after a couple of years, the company fizzled and they went back to Gurley for a “humbling, embarrassing” conversation about failure.

“I give Bill a lot of credit because Bill said, ‘I understand, this happens,’” Tolia recalled. “[Bill said] ‘most startups do fail, so the odds were that Fanbase would fail, not succeed. But you have a great team, and I feel that you guys have a lot of talent. Would you be willing to take a few months to see if you could come up with another idea?’”

Their next idea was Nextdoor.

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That wasn’t the only thing Gurley said, though. He also gave Tolia “If,” a poem by Rudyard Kipling. You can read the whole poem at that link, but the last two verses are:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

“I joke that Bill was challenging my manhood,” Tolia said. “He was sort of looking across the table, saying, ‘You say you want to be an entrepreneur and you care deeply about building things that last in Silicon Valley. But do you really have the guts to take the risk and do it?’”

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