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An Engineer's View of Venture Capitalists (flownet.com)
50 points by jdale27 2847 days ago | 26 comments

Modified: 31 August 2001 - his recommendations at the end seem in tune with some of the ideas behind YC. I wonder if he ever read pg's essays.

Nick is a great "rabble rouser". I remember when he got all the pro-RISC professors at UC Berkeley mad at him by arguing RISC vs CISC was unimportant because modern CISC chips translated CISC to RISC internally.


"his recommendations at the end seem in tune with some of the ideas behind YC"

My thoughts exactly. Sure hope the YC guys become rich enough to fund people beyond a couple of months. Right now their main value seems to be in the connections they create for you.


"If you are a qualified investor, participate in start-ups as an "angel" investor."

Couldn't agree more!

holds out hands expectantly


What's your start-up and how much are you looking for?


It's a social media player and, as far as money goes, we're trying to pound that out: basically food/shelter/bandwidth/coffee for 3 or so. Our current calculations say around 20k maybe to get from where we're at to series A (that is if we were to do that at the end of the summer) any questions, brnlligtsmehi (at) gmail


I don't know who you were referring to but my startup is what a social network would be like if it was designed around human cognitive needs and tendencies/habits instead of technical abilities (and random alphabetical topics of interest) and targeted at busy people who value their time and want a good ROI on it.

I'd toss money aside if I could just find some actual programmers who can help put together and launch a semi-scalable demo (I may be able to put together a professional "A" series through some contacts if I have something to show). At the very least I'd love to talk to someone knowledgeable who can at least help me figure out cost scenarios, most of which are technical, so I can present a credible b-plan.

Where I live (NYC) just a bunch of entrepreneur-wannabe poseurs who attend lots of Meetups and presentations but are too scared to actually "do it" ... and of course the "professional" development houses who will gladly talk to me ... AFTER I raise the capital, which, of course, is completely useless as a value added.

Any thoughts on the subject, feel free to email me @: emailadrian "at" inbox "dot" com.


Yeh, that's the tricky part. Mention huge flaws in the system and everyone folds their arms and nods their heads knowingly, going "Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm."

BUT ask for follow through with different behavior, ie, "action", and all of a sudden it's the rolling of the eyes, and "yeh, well, you know, the thing is .." and lots of cricket-chirp cricket-chirp cricket-chirp


The problem is that the nerds have no interest in doing the work involved in running a VC. Your Sergei’s, Larry’s, and Bill’s all seem to prefer philanthropy to investing.

PG is an obvious exception, though by all accounts it seems as if his YC commitments still allow him to do nerdy stuff.


Plenty of nerds are angel investors. Generally VC's are big funds of other peoples money and their job, or the firms, is in large part selling their fund to investors - I think geeks generally want make to their own companies if they don't have money or invest in other companies if they do.


Why does it have to be "nerds" ... why can't it be anybody that was a succesful entrepreneur and either got screwed by financial types or found a way to do it without financial types.

Let's not alienate anybody. For all you know there might be some guy who made a fortune in something mundane and may want to invest in promising young people and he's reading this and thinking, "Oh, I see, they only want money from "nerds" with engineering degrees ... guess my money's not good enough for them."

Personally I'd take money from anybody who made it any way other than as a result of hurting someone in the process and could care less about their "pedigree" or "nerd-factor" ... the fact that they may have made it without the advantages of a masters from MIT just tells me they have THAT MUCH MORE streetsmarts to compensate ...


Surely they'd eventually get bored at making up for lost time not having intercourse with hot babes; and how many fancy sports cars can you possibly buy before you realize there's more to life than driving fast.

Seriously, after you've bought the houses, the cars, the trophy wives, what else is there other than to get involved in the process?

Isn't that everybody's dream, the old, "Boy if I ever made it, I would do things SOOOOO differently!"

Otherwise, what's the point?

If I ever made it, the FIRST thing I would do (besides paying down my credit cards and finding a slightly larger apartment) is to try my hand at "doing things the way I wish they were done" ...

I think it would be a heck of a lot more fun putting yuppie ivy-league mbas out of business than spending money on fancy food and cars and designer suits ...

But then again I don't have a lot of money so what do I know? Maybe once you have the money and can actually afford those things you develop an inevitable, "the hell with everyone else" attitude ...


There are still trophy mistresses.


This is a great read.

Any VCs around who want to defend themselves? I think this just convinced me to self-fund or engineer-fund every venture I plan. (Surely doesn't hurt VCs, because someone else will be in line.)


I can't begin to express how true this article is. I was once a naive, yet optimistic 24 year old who spilled his guts to a reasonably prominent EIR at what was then a top-flight VC firm in the area. I started suspecting something was wrong when I would get invited to their super-fancy digs (receptionist had 3 20-inch IBM flatscreen back when a 20-inch flatscreen actually almost cost $20k, the board room had 30 Aeron chairs, etc.), yet curiously enough never while anybody else was there, and would always be grilled for my 2 years of research findings, but after they "sucked out all my ideas" I couldn't seem to get any call-backs.

Tried another startup a year later and got sued by the EIR who claimed at first that our ideas were very similar ... then so similar that in fact he thought I "stole" what he saw as "his" idea.

I couldn't believe the nerve, and yet there they were, grown men twice my age who made million screwing me over without a second thought about all the crap they pay lip service to on their websites (ie, "Our reputations mean everything to us" and "Our honesty is the basis of our credibility") and all sorts of other mumbo jumo.

IN CONCLUSION: By all means keep at it, but be very, very careful - if they screw up they're still VC partners or EIRs, but you're done for at least that idea.


Have you talked names on The Funded?


This was way, way before the Funded came out. And while it would be nice to add my two cents in, (a) the VCs themselves never actually did anything unethical, they just used the EIR as a proxy, so they can always shrug it off like, "It wasn't OUR fault - we had a "rogue" EIR who did things his own way ... and (b) I've had enough years of ruminating and one day decided to put the past behind me lest I become a bitter old man in my late 20s/Early 30s.

This article just struck a nerve and I wanted to add my 2 cents ...

That's why I get miffed whenever I hear talk of "ideas are nothing, it's all in the execution" because I couldn't help but think that those two EIRs weren't executing jack-sh@# before I told them the idea and HOW to execute better than anybody else could, what to do when you had duplicators, etc.

Never mind me, I'm just a rampbling, bitter old man in a young man's body ...


So UNBELIEVABLY FUNNY ... not even 24 hours after you posted this, the firm in question is cited in a recently posted article on this forum


Where they nabbed vcs for trying to create multiple accounts and artificially up their own ratings on the system to make themselves seem to have a good rep ...

Who is mentioned prominently?

Check article.

So unbelievable.

I was shocked that their rating was so high ... almost too high ... and I though perhaps the guy had a serious spiritual soul-searching session after 9.11 or something and decided to play it square.

Instead he will now be forever branded, through nobody's fault but his own, as "the guy who tried to manipulate his own Funded rep in that Venture Beat article.


Karma worked, in this case at least - in this lifetime!


I feel ... sniff sniff ... sob ... vindicated ...

It's been a long journey.

I'd like to thank my manager, my hairstylist, my dance coach ... there's just to many people to keep track of so don't be offended if I miss you ...


I remember reading this article a while ago. It's a good one. Nick invented the 68000 architecture IIRC.


It's probably one of the best posts about VCs. Very few people understand the Ivy leaguish, closed nature of the VC old boys network.


I found this at Joel's Reddit: http://angryaussie.wordpress.com/2008/01/31/dealing-with-the...

It lead me to this FastCompany Article: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/96/open_boss.html?page=0...

There's a particular part mentioned on the second page of that article: "And this summer, together with New York industrial psychologist Paul Babiak, Hare begins marketing the B-Scan, a personality test that companies can use to spot job candidates who may have an MBA but lack a conscience."

... This is going off-tangent, but what do you think? Higher percentage of VCs who would be rated as moderately psychopathic or antisocial? http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=114422


I can see a certain appeal to a VC over an angel. There are a lot of pieces that a company that is growing quickly needs to take care of, and most engineers don't have the expertise to do so. If a business explodes and suddenly finds itself in need of legal, accounting, marketing, and HR departments, how is one of the guys still hacking on the project going to put all that together? I suppose if he's motivated a smart guy could make it happen, but I think most engineers would want somebody to handle all that so they could keep hacking.

At the same time, I don't want to deal with anything described in that essay. If I can find it, I'll take the angel funding until I absolutely cannot continue without professional help and my angel can't provide it.


Don't fall for this trick! Just because you have no idea how to do those things, don't fall into the trap of assuming that a V.C. does know how to do them / is willing to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work. Most VCs, despite constant blogging of how many hours they work, are actually quite lazy and allergic to work.

Actually, though they'll never tell you, and often say the opposite on their websites, VCs view big time involvement in your day to day business as a sign of trouble - ideally they want to sit on their rear ends, visit you once a month and tell you to "optimize the radical paradigm shift" then go home and write a blog about their value added and entrepreneurs should be grateful they have VCs telling them how to do such things.

When they actually do have to get involved, they'll do so as the article suggests and "punish you" by shoving "their team" in your startup with a "see what you made me do? See what happens when you make me break a sweat?" attitude.

IN CONCLUSION: Just because you don't know it, doesn't mean you should assume that some smug, confident-looking guy sitting across the table from you (the VC) DOES know how to do it. For all you know he might be as clueless as you.

There was an awesome article on this subject from about 10 years ago called something like, "The pussification of silicon valley"


This was written in year 2000, it seems. Haven't some things changed since then? This

The VC's CEO gets 10 percent of the company. VC-placed board members get 1 percent each. Your entire technical team gets as much as 15 percent. Venture firms get the rest.

is no longer true, is it?


This is actually available here http://ycombinator.com/tredennick.html

It's a great article that came out in the Sep 2001 Spectrum (on-line edition).


So if being a Venture Capitalist means being rich, and the goal of a startup is to get rich, how does one skip the hard startup part and become a Venture Capitalist?


Actually most VCs are nowhere near what you would think of as "rich" ... they just have use of fancy offices paid for by the fund, lease a fancy car paid for by their 2-300k saleries, etc. - it's designed to give anybody talking to them the impression that "they don't need you" and you're lucky to be breathing the same air they are.

On the other hand I've formed some friendships with a few high placed people in a large company here and there, and they assure me that pretensions aside, VCs usually spend most of their time calling contacts in the corporate world begging for deal flow.

Most VC is just bluff.


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