Quid Pro Quo

James Prashant Fonseka
3 min readMar 18


As a general rule, it seems in our society that the amount that people are willing to help you depends on how much you have helped them, or how much they believe you could help them. There are people who are more kind and generous than others, who may give with no expectation or want of receiving. But particularly in the uppity professional realms, there seem to be fewer exceptions to the general rule that people help you in proportion to how much you help them.

Over the past few days I have heard many stories from venture capitalists on how they raised their funds. Some of it was what one might expect they would teach in business schools, articulating the merits and substance of the fund partners track records and vision. More of it was of the, “I rub your back, you rub my back” variety. Apparently it’s quite common that an aspiring fund manager will petition a friend at a marquis fund to take a check from a new investor in exchange for that investor investing in the new fund. It makes sense that people do this, and no one doubts that the upper echelon of the business world is deeply entangled with itself. Exchange is at the core of commerce, and exchanging favors is as equally plausible as exchanging goods. This is natural in business, but extends beyond that realm in my life.

I know a lot of people but have a much shorter list of people I consider friends. I’m considering that in earnest I ought to strike most of that list. It’s become clearer that most of the people currently in my orbit are expecting to get something from me. Some are better at hiding it than others, but I’m becoming better attuned to picking up on it. I do believe that there are groups of people who live collegially and collaboratively, and that perhaps this in general represents the nature of people, but I find myself rarely amongst such people.

There are people I have known for years, who would showed at birthday parties and cheerfully comment on social media posts. At the time they needed nothing from me, and I asked nothing of them. Now that I’m asking for something, intros to their funds for my company, most are ghosts. There are so many who will ignore my emails, but say hello at a party the next day. The flip side is those who asked me for help, that I helped.

It is almost entirely those I helped, alongside the very short list of people who are my really close friends, the one conspicuous exception to the rule of proportionality, who have been quick to help me. It has been nice to see that, but also sad to realize how transactional my relationships have been for many years. I have suspected this, but I am currently in the process of staring it down.

On a somewhat more positive note, for those pay it forward, there is an opportunity. In hindsight I wish I had gone out of my way to help more people. I’m honestly not sure how I would have, my resources have been more limited than people assume for the last decade, but I’m sure if I had understood what I knew today that I would have done a better job. I could’ve used a little more help now.

One day, I hope to break away from the transactional mold. It feels a bit inhuman to me. But it is reality. Some games I get to choose, this one I don’t. The dominant strategy is pay it forward. Perhaps if I succeed at this game, I can help to create another that motivates people by heart rather than exchange.