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If someone wanted to start a company with a definite product (not ads), maybe even a brick and mortar product, how does the process differ with starting a garden-variety startup?

It doesn't, really. It's just that these companies tend to draw more modest valuations, generating a more subdued kind of excitement. Forbes just wrote about how VCs should invest more in B2C startups [1]. A different piece from CB Insights last year [2] argues the same point. There are some VCs who specialize in B2C stuff, Maveron [3] being notable on the West Coast. Mostly, though, this capital does not concentrate in a small area like SV.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/chrismyers/2017/01/09/why-entrep... [2] https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/vc-investing-in-consumer-goo... [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maveron

Conventional wisdom says you should only go with VC money if you have a rapid scaling step that requires astronomical burn rates while you capture market share. Usually rapid scaling like that comes from some sort of network effect (you will switch to facebook because everyone you know is).

Brick and mortar products are less likely to have this property than social-network-of-the-month, so the process can be very different.

Chinese can rip it off, or one of the big players just subsumes your idea in some way. Or it ends up trivialized as "as seen on tv"

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