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Do VCs really add value?  Founders say sometimes (medium.com/fritjofsson)
184 points by imartin2k on June 11, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 83 comments

I think it changes a whole lot based on who you work with.

In my experience it seems like 75% of VCs are neutral. They try to be helpful, aren’t really, but don’t get in the way, and their cash is green. They can email me two times a day if they want, it won’t help me any more (and will be annoying).

10% are actively harmful. Either they have really bad advice, are a distraction, or try to lead your company down bad paths.

15% are incredibly helpful (maybe the 10% and the 15% should be switched), and you should do whatever it takes to work with them. They can think through problems instantly, see 15 steps ahead, understand where you are and what you should be focusing on, know everyone, and actually put in the work. I’ve been shocked at how helpful some VCs can be in eliminating most of your biggest problems. It’s just rare that happens.

That’s why I’m surprised to see how little “track record” was valued. With few exceptions that’s my #1 consideration when deciding who to take money from, or perhaps #2 begind “reputation.”

That's a nice overview but IMO it fails to take into account how the founders (oftentimes inadvertently) influence how helpful/harmful a VC is.

The most common (negative) example of this I've seen is when founders sell the VC on the solution, not the problem they're solving.

Everything starts out fine (you have a VC who is really excited to help you build and sell product X, even if they don't really care about problem Y). But then you realise that actually, the market wants you to pivot slightly to product Z to solve the same problem Y.

And that's when the VC pivots from being helpful to harmful.

There are probably multiple other examples of how founders can influence the value-add of their VCs, but that's the big one that springs to my mind. And I bet it accounts for 90% of the 'harmful' instances.

> The most common (negative) example of this I've seen is when founders sell the VC on the solution, not the problem they're solving.

There are so many aspects of my work life that this applies to.

Sometimes product managers will suggestion a solution to a problem instead of presenting the problem. Often times their solution needs work and unless caught early a lot of time gets spent going down the wrong path.

Another time this happens with the whole "xy problem." Where I or a team member have problem X, we come up with solution Y but have trouble implementing it. Then we ask for help with solution Y without knowing that maybe it's not the best solution and what we really should have asked for help with is problem X.

I think we could all do better by thinking more about what problems we're trying to solve rather than being married to our potential solutions to those problems.

I've taken some money from VCs. (~1m over 2 rounds.) In some cases they wanted to be very active in the business, in others they were more passive. The ones who wanted to be very active were problematic, mostly because the founders did not welcome their strategy contributions and there seemed to be an inherent suspicion of their intentions. When the business failed, this only amplified.

It would seem to me the best situation would be a VC who actually has industry experience in your target market. I'm not talking about SaaS experience or hardware/software xp, but connections and experience in the actual industry you are trying to disrupt.

The big question is whether the 10% that are bad and the 15% that are good are consistently bad and good. If for some companies the bad are good, and vice versa, then it pretty much boils down to speed and terms. The rest is a crapshoot.

I was part of a YC company that died due to our CEO following well meaning, but bad advice from VCs and advisors - it was a consumer technology play, but all the advisors had made their money opening online shopfronts. So, we burnt time trying to find consumers, and the product and service languished.

I suspect it's mostly not a matter of some VC/advisors being good and others being harmful across the board, but rather the appropriateness of a particular VC/advisor for a particular business. The Dunning-Kruger effect is probably very much in play: someone who has been successful with one kind of business may tend to overgeneralize the applicability of what they learned.

Not only that but for large VC firms the service and advice provided will not be consistent, depends on which people you interact with and which year you're getting support.

there are too many variables to say a vc’s advice is consistently good or bad, but I imagine those that are helpful with valuable advice will consistently be in the orbit of successful companies and entrepreneurs.

Are you accounting for help, in the area they're supposed to be good at? Finding further investment, recruiting senior people (eg a CFO), finding exit options, finding acquisition targets, legal, accounting... Thoses aren't things you need everyday, but outside of most founder's expertise on the days they do.

I mean it's great if they can help with product strategy, or technical stuff but.... they're finance people. I feel like setting this expectation might lead to no good.

Yes. Good VCs can do the above - that’s a layup, mediocre VCs try to help at the above but are hit and miss on their helpfulness.

> That’s why I’m surprised to see how little “track record” was valued.

Isn't there a Glassdoor for VC firms? I would love to use it if there was one! Presume they will need to bootstrap and can't VC funding ;-)

The funded but it never took off

One interesting thing I've learned as a technical founder is that the difference between lame business people and great business people is actually just as big as the difference between lame engineers and great engineers, if not bigger. Great business people and investors will give you actionable insights, lame business people will give you generic business advice that will waste your time.

Financials/execution/governance are surprisingly similar to programming. You have to have a solid overall design, and a bug-free implementation.

A great architect creates frameworks and structures that enable less-experienced people to be productive as well, while simultaneously making many of the typical errors impossible.

In a typical startup, the "business guy" is responsible for both the business insights, and the actual running of the corporation. On the other side of the fence, the technical finder is responsible for the product ownership and implementation. Both parties would benefit from reflecting on the similarities.

One of the big ones for me was realizing a "business visionary" who can't create a cash flow forecast is about as useful as an enterprise architect who can't code fizz buzz. It's not exactly in the job description, but being useless at the implementation almost always makes you useless at the design too.

Speed is one of the most underemphasized traits of a great VC for founders. While fundraising, a quick yes is the best answer, but a quick no is the second best. Investors who follow this are truly founder friendly: it's easy to stall and wait for more data, but it's actually helping the entrepreneur to just say no. Those are the investors I want to pitch again later.

It's no surprise founders rank speed highly while investors don't. Find investors who care about speed and you'll find a great partner.

>It's no surprise founders rank speed highly while investors don't.

There may be some nuance missing in the slide.[1]

Based on the article's text, that right column should actually be subtitled "what VCs think the founders rank as most important" instead of "important to VCs".

The left side is self-reporting (founder's ranking). But the right side is a "Theory of Mind"[2] exercise (what VCs think founder's ranking would be).

I'm not a VC but it seems to me that that "network/rolodex" should be higher rank than "speed". I wonder if founders rank speed above "rolodex" because many startups' bank accounts are near zero and they can't make payroll next week if the VCs drag their feet. Financial duress scenarios like that during fundraising may make founders overemphasize "speed of a deal" to the detriment of other more important factors.

[1] https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/800/0*VvTVys39uVMHqtbZ

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_mind

At least anecdotally, I don't hear much from founders who are that close to zero. In my experience, speed is important because slowness drastically increased cognitive load and somewhat increases risk during fundraising. And also because fundraising is a distraction from why they got into it.

One way to think about it is in terms of a graph of number of VCs they have to think about/deal with at once. They're going to start the fundraising process with a list of firms, people, etc. Let's say that each week they take on n new items. If it takes 4 weeks to get an answer, they're juggling n*4 balls, many of the conversations in different states. Complexity goes up and/or throughput goes down. It's painful.

I suspect for entrepreneurs speed it also code for clarity, in that the "vc no" (and specifically the "California no" [1]) often present as slowness when it's really about something else inside the VC.

[1] http://ross.typepad.com/blog/2005/04/the_vc_no_and_t.html

I think it’s as simple as, VCs want to believe Founders care about the things they’re investing in heavily.

The same way we would all like to think hiring is about qualifications and skills, but really it’s almost always more heavily about relationships.

>Speed is one of the most underemphasized traits of a great VC for founders.

Definitely. Well that, and writing checks.

If you're printing money, live in the United States, and have an IQ of 120 (a bit over 1 std deviation above mean) from a high-tech startup, it should take less than an hour to raise $100,000 seed round on standard terms. Okay, call it a week, even a few weeks or months.

Instead, for 90% of founders who match that description, 1 year of full-time work trying to raise the mentioned seed round would not be sufficient to do so (about 2,000 hours of work). In fact "impossible" may be a good description of the possibility for them to do so.

Without reference to sources, take a guess: how many first financings for startups will have happened in 2018? Let's work through this together, I'll give you some data, you can use it to work on your guess, then I'll reveal the answer.

A good place to start your thinking is that if we take a single academic cohort, say, people graduating college this year, there will be about 2.03 million bachelor's degrees conferred[1]. If we then look at every single year (you can try to raise money any year from when you're 18 to 80), and if we add people who dropped out without an undergraduate degree -- this is true for Bill Gates and Steve Jobs for example -- we might expect, say, around 200,000 seed-stage financings nationally at the very, very lowest-end. On the high end, I'd be pretty shocked if there were 2 million, since that would be 1 out of every 162 people living in the United States receiving seed funding this year (or 0.6%) and not that many people are starting companies every year. As mentioned, that's the number of undergraduates graduating annually. Some more data for you: the number of businesses in the United States less than a year old is around 650,000[2].

Okay, ready? Here is the actual number of startup first financings that will have occurred in 2018: 1,750 [3]

That is less than half of the number of undergraduates who are just right now enrolled at just MIT. [4] Would you fund one of them who just started printing money? How about someone who graduated from there (or dropped out) 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 years ago? Or from Stanford? Or Harvard? Or UC Berkeley? Or indeed anywhere else where they learned to program and start printing money.

If you're a VC the answer is "No, you wouldn't".

Do these numbers make sense to you?

At the moment I can't raise < $150K with paper millionaire cofounders. I can't get a term sheet even at an 80% discount (discount I offered on a safe note). (Okay a VC offered me <$20K for effectively 51% on non-standard terms.).

But I shouldn't be doing that - trying to raise money, I mean. I should be selling cereal: because Airbnb, a technical company that was renting apartments over the Internet, found it easier to sell cereal profitably on national television than to get first financing.[5]


[1] https://www.quora.com/How-many-students-graduate-college-in-...

[2] https://www.bls.gov/bdm/entrepreneurship/entrepreneurship.ht...

[3] https://imgur.com/a/HZIIY0h (I just counted pixels, the precision is shown by comparing 2007). Reuploaded from: https://www.economist.com/business/2018/06/02/american-tech-...

[4] http://web.mit.edu/facts/faqs.html

[5] http://www.businessinsider.com/how-a-box-of-cereal-and-being...

Most people who raise seed rounds aren't "printing money", and quite a few people who are "printing money" are printing the wrong kind of money to raise venture funding on.

>and quite a few people who are "printing money" are printing the wrong kind of money to raise venture funding on.

Only if you agree with the premise that "Venture Capitalists Get Paid Well to Lose Money".[1]

(I don't agree with that conclusion, I just think they're not writing enough checks for their own purposes.)

In that case the right kind of company in 2018 is an AI social media machine learning cloud platform startup, and there's a whole lot fewer than 1000 of those total worldwide due to the simple fact -- and I think you can see the end of this sentence coming -- that I just spouted gibberish.

More seriously, when Airbnb was founded ten years ago it wasn't the right company either, and the only pivot it made is from being a "rent out your apartment to tourists over the Internet" company 9 years ago to a "rent out your apartment to tourists over the Internet" company with 4 million lodging listings in 65,000 cities and 191 countries which has facilitated over 260 million bookings and as of a year ago, closed a $1 billion round at a $31 billion after becoming profitable in 2016.[2] The founders did this by selling cereal.

[1] https://hbr.org/2014/08/venture-capitalists-get-paid-well-to...

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-airbnb-funding-idUSKBN16G...

[3] https://imgur.com/a/X6Ncr5E (Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20090601000000*/www.airbnb.com )

No, sorry, you're right that venture capital as an asset class underperforms most other investments, but that doesn't mean that every company that is "printing money" should receive investment. The mathematics of venture investing only work for a subset of businesses.

My company has a Y2 ARR(!) and revenue target that I think would make a lot of YC companies pretty happy, but we are not a sensible investment for venture capitalists.

Actually you're an extremely sensible investment. :)

If you could close it in an hour how much money would you raise on standard terms and at what valuation? (You can list both as a multiple of any metric you pick - any metric, including unjustified projections if you want - if you don't want to name figures here.) Obviously given what I just shared I'm not a VC.

No, we're a nonsensical investment: there is no story we can tell about how our equity becomes liquid in 10 years, and our growth, while very pleasant for us principals, is unlikely to lead us to a place where our eventual liquidity would pay for the failures of the other 9 companies in a portfolio that included us.

It's not a moral debate. The portfolio math has to work, and things have to work on a timescale that works for fund LPs. At the end of the day, venture capitalists are simply an adapter cable that plugs small chunks of LP endowments and funds into baskets of companies with an N% chance of exiting >7x within Y years. If your company can't do that, the adapter cable doesn't fit your company.

You seem to be mostly right. In the past, VCs funded crazy moonshots and local banks funded sensible old-school companies with 10% per year growth and 15% profit/revenue ratios.

Small community banks don't really exist anymore, and large banks don't really seem to be funding anything under $10 million nowadays, except mortgages.

> We're a nonsensical investment

for a standard VC, sure. Maybe there's a venture investment philosophy for non-unicorns. [0]

[0] https://sparktoro.com/blog/raised-a-very-unusual-round-of-fu...

This doesn't really offer that; it documents a seed round raised by angels by a company that doesn't want to engage institutional VC because they demand a 10x success.

VCs aren't demanding 10x successes because they're lazy; they do it because the winners have to pay for the losers. This isn't even a VC-specific pattern; you see it in almost every hits-driven business.

Respectfully, I think this is a rather muddy estimation of probabilities and returns, as I can illustrate like this:

Suppose I had $100 million to spend on literal lottery tickets and my goal was to average a 10% per year return on it across all of my "investments". Mainly I try to find places that haven't paid out a large jackpot yet receive low media coverage, so that I have a positive expected return: then I buy a whole lot of lottery tickets there without alerting my competitors to the fact that the lottery tickets have a positive expected value due to the accumulated jackpot, that people seem unaware of.

Now: if my bank where I'm keeping the $100 million, which is stable and conservative, gives me an offer to purchase a 1-year bond from them that pays 12% should I take it? Will it help me achieve my goal of netting 10% returns?

You may think, "No - because that 12% is not going to pay for the non-winning lottery tickets."

But this is muddy thinking because the 12% is not in the same basket of risks as the lottery ticket purchases. It is simply incorrect thinking to group them together.

So yes, tying some of the money up for a year in a bond that pays 12% will help me make my goal of earning a 10% return, even if my strategy is to earn 10% by buying jackpots.

Of course I can be stupid and blow the $100 million on nationally announced huge jackpots where everyone else knows about it and all my competitors are also buying tickets, so that the expected value of the tickets is actually less than I pay for them. That's before the loss that I take on all the logistics, my office, etc. This is kind of what VC's do. They lose money.

You can characterize it descriptively, but please don't call it a sensible strategy.


I'm still curious about your answer to how much money you would raise (perhaps expressed as a multiple of something) and at what valuation (again as a multiple of something, even projections if you want), if you could close it in an hour no questions asked. Just to throw this out there, I wouldn't raise $100 million at a $1 billion valuation for example, since I don't have any good use for $100 million. How much would you raise if you could, and at what valuation?

Forget the VC's, they're not in this conversation. We've already established they're in it to live on someone else's dime and lose money ;)

>Suppose I had $100 million to spend on literal lottery tickets[...] Now: if my bank where I'm keeping the $100 million, which is stable and conservative, gives me an offer to purchase a 1-year bond from them that pays 12%

In your hypothetical... if "lottery tickets" are the metaphorical stand in for "unproven startups", what does the bond paying 12% realistically stand for?

There isn't a AAA-rated bond that pays 12%. Or, to generalize further, there isn't an investment vehicle <X> that guarantees to pay VC_hoped_for_returns plus +2%. (In any case, if we're talking about AAA bonds, the LPs can just invest in that themselves without involving VCs as middlemen. E.g. you don't need VCs to buy US Treasuries on your behalf.)

To get higher interest rates that compete with good VC returns, you're getting into junk bond territory. Junk bonds have higher risk for defaults. Junk bonds require more research to assess returns. One could also try to sell the bonds on the bond market before the maturity but either way, you're now back in "lottery ticket" territory for bonds.

You're creating fictitious scenarios that don't have realistic choices.

I just meant to show the probabilities. (Such a bond wouldn't have to pay for non-winning tickets.)

Whole scenario is totally unrealistic. (Though if I parked $100M in cash at a bank I would not be surprised if it offered me a AAA bond @ 12% for, say, $500K. This will cost them $60K per year or 0.06% of this totally unrealistic principal. Maybe they'd do this to mollify me, I don't know. Point is, if my target is 10% returns then I should accept!)

What the bonds stand for is tptacek's business, which " has a Y2 ARR(!) and revenue target that I think would make a lot of YC companies pretty happy" but is "not a sensible investment for venture capitalists".

You're saying we could do a debt financing to expand the business. Yes, we could do that. We wouldn't, because debt sucks, but I agree it's an option that is available to us, where venture funding is (I think, and am fine with) not.

>where venture funding is (I think, and am fine with) not

well yeah, if someone doesn't want venture funding no VC is going to beat down their door and make them re-do their business plan so they can take an equity investment :)

what I said applies more to companies that do want or need venture capital for their plans. These startups are not getting enough first financing checks.

In addition to the point 'jasode makes, I think there's an additional unrealistic subtext to the argument you're making, which is the idea that companies with stable but unspectacular growth are somehow less risky than shoot-the-moon startups.

But this just isn't true. In addition to the fact that companies fail a lot more often than operators recognize, there's the fact that a company winding down after years of solid but unspectacular returns is also a failed investment. Companies don't have to lose product/market fit to "go out of business". All they have to do is fail to compete with the operators other options. Eventually, somebody else will outbid the company for key talent.

Slow-burn companies can keep going for decades before this happens. It's not bad to be a slow-burn company! I've spent most of my career in them! But to take money from LPs, you have to have a story about how you can pay them a return.

Yep: for companies at their first financing stage, "companies with stable but unspectacular growth are somehow less risky than shoot-the-moon startups".

When small community banks disappeared (as nikanj points out), who would have financed these "sensible old-school companies with 10% per year growth and 15% profit/revenue ratios", that didn't make them riskier.

Meanwhile your subtext is that you just don't want to raise money. You spent a lot of words pinning it on how it's bad for VC's but all I asked you is what term sheet you'd write for yourself if you closed an hour later. None: you don't want investment. That's fine!

Companies with 10% growth Y/O/Y fail all the time. A portfolio of 10 of those companies will consist primarily of failures. Most of the companies in that portfolio will cease to exist without returning money back to investors. By your own definition, none of them will grow explosively, and so the winners can't pay back the losers. Pick a success rate and an investment multiple for the winners and do the math.

Banks do fund businesses like this, all the time. The difference is that they fund with debt instruments, not equity. You're obligated to pay them back and can't deliberately manage your business to avoid the obligation (chances are, you'll have to co-sign the obligation personally).

If all you're arguing for is broader availability of lines of credit, by all means, keep asking for that. But that's never been what startup investors provided.

I defined what I was arguing for: more checks written to startups that are already printing money and raising their first round.

In 2018 more than 1,800 startups are fantastic equity investments at a time when they're printing money, and VC's are idiots for writing 1,800 first funding round checks to startups total, nationwide. I couldn't believe how low that number is. You said, "well yeah they're printing money but it's the wrong kind of money". You would have called Airbnb the wrong kind of startup and you would have stood there and told me VC's are totally right not to invest in them. 9 years later here we are, $31B+ valuation.

It couldn't raise its seed round and it's obviously because VC's are idiots who are paid to lose money. It sold cereal on national TV instead. That's a fact.

No, Airbnb was self-evidently not the wrong kind of money. It was unclear whether Airbnb could succeed, but if it did, it was obvious how it would make truckloads of money. It’s practically the archetype of a shoot-the-moon business model.

why isn't the fact that they're printing money on that model proof that they can succeed in that model?

I think we're talking past each other. I brought my company up as an example of "the wrong kind of money" because we're a services company, and no matter how much money we're printing today, we're unlikely to liquidate for 10x forward revenue. Airbnb, on the other hand, has a business model that can do that.

OK. I had thought you brought it up because you couldn't land any funding despite being able to generate great returns. Actually your example is orthogonal to startups that can't raise money for their big plans.

My original point was just that VC's don't write enough checks. thanks for the exchange.

The crux of your arguement is that the same returns can be derived using different set of probabilities and different kind of companies which probably won't achieve hyper growth but still are profitable and nice bet.

VC constraints:

1. VC has to get out within a specific timeframe, let's say 10 years and return all money to the LPs.

So VC can't afford to wait indenfinately collecting narrow streams of money.

That leaves you with very limited opportunities.

2. The number of companies they can deal with is small. There is a cost per transaction (funding), fewer transactions you make, better you do. But some transactions are must for VC math to work.

Banks also used to make only big loans in past. Micro lending is a recent thing. Algorithmic underwriting which doesn't even require manually looking at the balance sheet is based on heavy data collection, KPIs made feasable by technology advancement like big data processing etc..

3. VC can't fund anything which doesn't match their investment thesis. The LPs often start fund with a specific mission, for example, "advancement of AI for humanity". The VC partners often are veterans in specific industry and their resources are often useless in other industries.

This further reduces the number of companies they can fund.

4. You seem to assume all VC are chasing returns, well no! If our mission is "AI advancement". It's much better, if we've 2-3 focused winner companies in this niche. Fewer companies achieve better leverage, industry penetration, economies of scale and ofcourse, too big to fail.

5. Most of those small profitable companies are not able to keep stable revenue for 3years+.

One of the most misunderstood thing about VC, is that VC money wants maximum returns.

No! VC is a quest for control over new monopolies with enough holding, VC can influence and install their own management.

Money is cheap for them.

Imagine if you are an engineer and you own the largest semiconductor company. It's established fact that the old monopolies die and new disrupters emerge as new monopolies. You can't change this!

What you can do is control new disrupters by purchasing equity in them.

You do this by starting a VC fund and putting money derived from your semiconductor business in the fund. You can liquidate some of your holding it's not too hard.

Your VC funds thesis then becomes, "semiconductor advancement".

Then GPs will not chase the startups which have nothing to do with the semiconductor as their main focus.

If you don't do this, you watch your semiconductor empire dying. If don't even have stakes in new semiconductor disrupter monopoly, how do you maintain your dominance in this industry? That has a price, so absolute returns do not matter.

When a VC funded company dies, LPs do not cry. They cheer because another potential disrupter died trying, this can explain why some VCs are downright bad as they want you to fail.

Secondly, some VC funds have LPs who get their money from industry underdogs and really are after a disrupter who can unseat the current #1. So, they might be more helpful.

VCs are after potential disrupters.

Now if they want to kill the potential disrupter or help it grow that depends on the people who's money is at stake. No one is really going to share their motives upfront.

This was hugely interesting, I read it twice carefully. (Yes, you correctly interpret my argument but I was fascinated by the direction you went off in.)

I can see you're a new-ish member (created 7 days ago and shown in green), and have stealth in your name, but I reviewed your comments and they're really high-quality. I'd appreciate if you would get in touch with me at my email listed in my profile for some out-of-band followup questions. Thanks for sharing your perspective on HN and welcome again. Very good posts.

I recently saw your other post about raising funding for a hardware startup. Have you tried another attempt at crowdfunding (if your first one failed to reach the target)? csallen's indiehackers group may have more suggestions.

There is severe bias in this study. Are entrepreneurs going to really come out and say what they really think? After all they need the money.

Why weren't the institutional investors/LPs surveyed to see what they think of VC/GP value add? I think this would be more telling about who the good/bad VCs are ..... who's bringing home the bacon across the board consistently. A bad VC may do well with one investment, get great feedback from that founder but yet destroy investor capital on all other investments..... meaning the LPs are down on the money they put in.

The Kauffman foundation produced a great study of return performance from VC/GPs back to LPs several years ago. The conclusion was that investing in VCs produced very poor returns. The Russell 2000 index was a superior investment alternative.

The problem with this study is that there are only two agents: founders and VCs. And whatever credit does not go to VCs implicitly goes to founders.

They did a study of married (heterosexual, this is an old study) couples and asked them what % of the housework each did. The percentages always added up to over 100%, and in some cases a lot over.

There were many reasons why people attribute their own contributions to be greater than that of others.

This just seems to be the same phenomenon on steroids.

They should ask the founder how helpful the VC is compared to the banker, or the advisor on the board. They should perform other sorts of comparisons to add context.

Consider that VC may be performing functions that are useful but are not properly appreciated, for instance, signalling.

Edit: Also consider the VC contribution of raising money and then staying out of the way.

My perspective from the VC side is similar to Austen's (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17284114): a lot of VCs are neutral, some are very helpful, and others are destructive. I've seen this dynamic from both talking to founders about whether they find investors helpful, and from sitting in on board meetings where other investors are present. The best way to understand what kind of investor you're talking to is to reach out to a handful of founders they've worked with and ask them about their experiences.

A few other observations from my 5-6 years so far in VC:

* Founders spend 3000 hours/year focusing on their business and domain while investors spend 3000 hours/year learning about hundreds of business and hundreds of domains. As a result, >95% of the time founders know way more about their specific business than their investors. On the other hand, >95% of the time investors know more than founders about cross-business strategies and ideas. So investor advice is best when it's related to their broader perspective: what kind of recruiting channels work best for the 50 companies they work with? What are tips for negotiating a contract? What are good pricing strategies? How early do companies typically hire a VP of Eng? Most investors won't be helpful for domain-specific questions like "will power plant operators really want this feature in my SaaS product?" or "what's the best marketing channel for reaching power plant operators?"

* Even for a single investor, their helpfulness will vary company to company. My guess is that if you polled the founders I've worked with, 1/3 would say I'm very helpful, 1/3 would say I'm somewhat helpful, and 1/3 would say I haven't helped much. I hope/think none of the founders would say I subtract more than I add. Sometimes it turns out I can help a lot, like if you're looking for a VP of Eng and I know a great candidate who is looking for a job. Other times I can't help at all, like if you want to be introduced to power plant owners and I don't know a single one. I do my best to help when I can and stay out of the way when I can't.

I’ve seen both sides of it now, and can definitely attest to having a great experience with the Flybridge team. From intros that have turned into sales, letting us crash in their office multiple days a week to save on office space, or sharing their WeWork credits so we could book some conference rooms for free. They do things the right way, and are just a really enjoyable team to be around. They’ve been instrumental in helpful us grow during our first year of existence, and we wouldn’t be as far along had we not chosen to work with them.

But, the point of “sometimes” is still a valid one. So, be selective if you are looking for someone who will be more than just a check.

I regularly go from hating VCs (DHH style) to thinking that they are pivotal in creating categories that didn’t exist before. A charismatic founder with a strong vision and supporting VC can indeed change the world (hopefully to the better)

I have a hard time understanding why capital is needed.

For apps, a single person can build a major app in a year.

For products, tooling is often between 50k-1M. Everyone here is a software engineer or similar, so that money isnt hard to make/save.

Can anyone explain? Advice + support is extremely valuable, but I dont quite understand why so many startups go this route.

"a single person can build a major app in a year"

I believe this is false by at least two orders of magnitude. Particularly if major means high scale, with properly researched and designed to your customer, with proper support for users/customer, with proper infrastructure technically, financially and legally wise.

I am all for bootstrapping business and have as role models the likes of DHH more than VC-funded founders. But that doesn't mean I don't understand the need of capital.

WhatsApp is proof that they’re off by at most one order of magnitude. I’m sure others can come up with solo founders who made really impressive things. Plentyoffish and Minecraft come to mind as not necessarily immensely technically complex but having created huge amounts of value as one man shows.

WhatsApp raised VC capital. I dont know about Minecraft

Sure, I can code an app in my bedroom after work in a year, but what about all of the prerequisite customer development (ie talking to your target market and making sure your app solves real problems and has reasonable usability etc)? What about marketing and sales? Support? Accounting? Hiring people (fulltime, part time or contract) who have skills you do not have yourself? Legal advice?

There’s a lot more to running a business than the coding part and these things take time (and sometimes money). The 50k to 1M estimate is greatly inflated by those other concerns.

Plus, while I can save, say, 250k, that would take me years and then I wouldn’t want to risk all of my savings into one gamble (I obviously wouldn’t take the startup risk if I didn’t believe in what I was building but even if I thought it was a sure thing, I’ve founded two failed startups already, it would be prudent to allow for a high chance of failure even if certain that the business is perfect)

Also, let’s assume everything above is irrelevant and I decide to save up my earnings and go all in on a startup. Let’s say I put 250k in and it takes me five years to save (in reality, I don’t think I could do it in that time, but let’s inagine I can). Let’s also assume that I do as much as work during those five years as possible so that when I have the money, I’m ready to launch. That means that five years from now, I can launch my startup, spend the money on whatever is needed that I couldn’t do previously and hopefully not lose it all (assuming the market still exists, 5 years is a long time in tech land). OR I could give up 5–40% of the company, put up with some hassle of having an investor and launch in a year (assuming development takes a year regardless). That gives me four years to make sure that the remaining % is worth more than -250k (which is where I’m at with the first scenario after that time). The investment route seems like a no brainier to me in this case.

Obviously it is possible to bootstrap a company and it should be the preferred route imho if you can pull it off. For many people, this isn’t an option though and that’s why VCs are becessary.

I suspect it's because many can't save that much early in their career and may not want to bet their life savings.

Alternatively, VC interest is both a cheap experiment in market fit and a boost to your brand. Media is more likely to report on your little startup if it's a YC darling and marketing or sales are at least as important as engineering.

I’d suggest you’re underestimating the amount of work that needs to be done to scale a successful company


Most Americans don't even have a thousand dollars in their bank account.


The theory is, a faster-growing company will outcompete a slower one in a winner-take-most market. You could grow faster with more capital. If you eschew it, someone else will take it and overtake you.

This is just theory to me, as a nonentrepreneur.

Well it all depends if you are in a winner-take-most market.

It's a lot harder to build an app, plus find new customers, handle marketing, documentation, support, operations, etc. Consider you have to do all of this at the same time. It probably can't be done for a "major" app by a single person in a year, but maybe for something small.

Though you still might build it, then find nobody wants it. Now you've wasted a year or more of your life. It happens all the time even with funded companies. You build it and nobody comes... or two few customers to support a real business.

To do something "major", you need people. People want to get paid.

Because if you finance your idea yourself you're going all in. You're basically putting your career at stake there. If you have family then that can be a very difficult choice to make.

The other reason is that if you have other people invested in it (the VCs) they will also try to help you through things like helping you get contacts etc.

Also, even if you build an app that doesn't mean anything. You need to get some marketing campaign out and you need to make sure you don't violate any laws or regulations. You have to do all of this alone.

There is a lot more to running a business than simply writing the code.

Not everyone wants to risk their nest egg on a bootstrapped shot at success. Much better to give up 10%, keep getting a salary, and not lose everything if it fails.

It’s about exporting risk.

> For products, tooling is often between 50k-1M. Everyone here is a software engineer or similar, so that money isnt hard to make/save.

Not everyone lives in SV.

Even if everyone here were a software engineer, we're certainly not all in USA either.

I'm a potter in the UK, FWIW.

I agree that a single person can build a major app in a year. Can a single person build, market, sell, and support that app in a year without giving up their entire life?

I would be very interested to compare the relative success of one man bands like Plenty of Fish and (originally) Minecraft, with VC-funded unicorn-wannabes.

And to ask a different question - can a founder funded by VC money run their startup without giving up their entire life, and a substantial proportion of their potential earnings?

If you raise VC (series A) you can pay yourself a decent salary while keeping a good chunk of equity and building your company. Not a huge salary and not saving tons of money of you live in SF, but you won't be burning resources.

Very different from using all of your resources to self fund it.

POF was a minimalist app in a well trodden market. You shouldn't raise VC to do something like this, and you shouldn't be able to (though yes it happens far too often).

There are many problems and markets that just don't fit this approach.

Among other reasons, capital allows you not to worry about turning a profit until later. See Github, for example, which was never profitable.

VCs (and investors in general) in my experience are money and a headache, but the money is super useful.

Hmm... I will disagree there. Yes it can be challenging but the thing to keep in mind is that a good VC will come with a lot of experience and a lot of contacts that he/she will leverage in an attempt to make you successful.

For me, the value I'd get from an investor would be industry contacts. I'm self-taught, haven't worked anywhere big, and grew up in a not-very-techy part of the country. For the side-projects I have brewing that would potentially be businesses, the value of investment capital pales in comparison to getting my feet in the door to show off my work to people who might be interested.

That's a data point of one, and VCs are dealing with . . . uh, everyone but me. So I'm not making a blanket statement about what value should be. But that's what I would find useful.

"Founders rank speed as their 3rd most important criteria and VCs, in fact, ranked it as the least important one."

This disconnect represents a significant opportunity for new VC firms.

The article says this

"VCs ranked top 3 criteria they thought the founders evaluated them on."

Then the supporting chart is labelled "most important factors for partnering or making investments"

Which is it? Were VCs asked about what they believe founders value, or what they find important in making investment decisions?

Because the article points out track record is rated low. Which makes sense for the former but makes zero sense for latter, so I'm guessing chart was just mislabelled.

Most VCs are running a lifestyle businesses (ironic). I’m going to guess that some of the larger platform VCs are pulling the numbers up so remove those and the picture becomes much more bleak.

Ohh, yeah!!

The value they add is called "money". They give you it every single time(you work with them), not sometimes.

If you expect them to babysitter you, mentor or friendship, from my point of view it is your expectations that are wrong.

You should find emotional support elsewhere. I recommend masterminds.

I am friend and colleague of old VCs of mine. But I did not expected from them in the past more than a professional relationship.

This is probably what makes a good friend or a lover , not being too much needy and dependent.

This doesn’t seem that surprising, most of these companies are “failures” - seems to stand to reason that many of these founders would cast some blame on the VCs (perhaps for not continuing to support the business when it was clear that it was not working).

Also not surprising is the that VCs overestimate their value.

Lastly founders probably have a much more diverse (and perhaps incorrect view - probably fostered by the VCs) of actual value add of VCs.

It’s a broad mix. My unscientific (small) sample has been that the best advice came from the most famous VCs from the largest firms. (It surprised me, but I guess their fame and fortune were well earned)

I’ve also seen extremely helpful late stage strategic investors who brought great customer introductions.

My view is that things deteriorate when the CEO ceases to be honest with the investors, or when the investor is out of their natural element.

I wonder what the value of the Personal Chemistry factor is.. it sounds like just a meta-feature in this study that would be highly correlated/anti-correlated with the other features. I.e. if a VC isn't as strong on the Deal Terms as the entrepreneur would like, it would negatively impact the Personal Chemistry. The link between Personal Chemistry and value add isn't clear to me here

I have to wonder, about the different levels of reported contact, how much is actual VCs over estimating how much they contact they have with companies, and how much is that the VCs who actually responded to the survey were possibly atypical, like the ones who contact the companies less frequently are also less likely to fill out a survey

If a founder focus on terms instead of value add VCs then we shouldn’t be surprised that most VCs are not all that helpful.

What would the value add be of getting the money faster or with less stress vs. the value add talked about in the article? I'm thinking that perhaps security tokens may change the dynamic in the future because they allow a founder to raise seed money faster with less unfavorable conditions.

Fundraising is a distraction. A founder who is engaged in fundraising finds it difficult to focus on their actual business. Being able to get back to the business quickly therefore provides a very obvious value proposition for the founder.

VCs have the rather different requirements. People looking for their money is an ongoing activity for them, so there is no particular advantage in ending that dance with any particular founder. Indeed, not being in a hurry to make a deal when the other side is improves their bargaining position. (Unless someone else is faster.) And the more likely they are to hear about a showstopper that would make them decide to not invest.

The result is that VCs want to drag negotiations on as long as possible..right until the moment that it is clear that some other VC is leading the investment and their possibility of getting a piece of the action is slipping away.

This is why what YCombinator does works so well. They decide very fast on whether you're in a batch. They standardize terms, which makes it harder for investors to drag their feet. And on demo day, every investor knows that they are competing with other investors in an investment round that will close quickly. This forces them to make a go/no-go decision.

Interestingly, the fact that founders get to raise money quickly and get back to their business improves their businesses odds of survival. Which improves the prospects for investing in them.

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