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Ask HN: VCs Who Read?
7 points by literatithrow 3 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 20 comments
We’re raising for a new AI venture. The tech behind it is very different in approach and implications. We’ve found it takes at least half an hour even with the most receptive of people to get the scientific point across, leaving little time for the consequences to sink in or to talk about the company and where things are headed. Dropping the science part makes the discussion ungrounded and detached and the claims unbelievable, and we don’t have enough graphs that go up and to the right to make that okay.

We do have a human-readable summary. It takes less than 30 minutes to go through and will elevate the meetings for all involved. But apparently the deck-then-meet pipeline is so entrenched even a small change to the dance routine smells as a bad signal. The text is our most effective way to get the point fully across. What to do?

I am VC. I invest in hard tech. That said, opinions are my own.

Unless you come in with a strong background reputation or intro from the top 1% of our network, I would probably not read a document that takes 30min. I cannot imagine many people would without enough incentive.

Think about it this way, if you're going to commit to watching a movie, do you do research beforehand to choose? The common joke is you spend more time searching for recommendations than just watching. The psychology is we want to de-risk committing our energy/attention. This similarly applies to founders sending technical tracts. We do eventually read a tremendous amount of technical details (lit reviews, white papers, etc...) but only after we have understood that the opportunity is worth the effort.

Okay, all that said, there is a deeper code smell here. I think you are likely mixing product implementation with market opportunity. Description of the implementation of your product takes lots of time and explanation as you state above. BUT, you should not be doing that in your first pitch. The first meeting should be explanation of the market opportunity. You aren't selling your product. You are selling your market. If I'm sold on the market, I want to hear why your product captures it afterwards, not before.

What do you do with easier tech but weak reputation?

Imagine a silly crazy pitch for wind powered Tesla for Shipping.

The market is very large. The concept uses existing components at reasonable pricing. Some clever engineering tricks really improve the numbers. It is cheaper than existing green proposals. There is a detailed excel simulation to play with.

There also appears to be a strong lasting network effect (!!)

At what stage do you write the first million dollar cheque to unqualified founders?

I wish it was as easy as a nerd insisting on the technical details rather than the big picture. What we do today with AI is backward-looking automation on a grander and fuzzier scale — lots of money to be made here, but it’s actually the complete opposite of intelligence. I’m stumped on getting this point across (no royal road to geometry?) and without it I have to compete with threatening war chests on the wrong playing field.

> We’ve found it takes at least half an hour even with the most receptive of people to get the scientific point across.

Do you really want VC money if this is a science-based new tech with large ramifications? The deal you make with VCs is to focus on huge returns - make cash fast or die. If this is a result of serious scientific research, is that truly your goal?

That is why they are set in their ways, too - they want businesses who are at a point where pushing for hefty returns is possible. Not being willing to sit through 30 minutes of explanation is an effective filter to not get into heavy research efforts that will take too long to come to fruition and not meet their 3-5 year turnaround target for their returns.

I'd think seriously about your path forward and seek something other than VC funding.

There are govt programs to fund more "speculative" projects. See DARPA, IARPA, NASA SBIR, etc. if you don't mind working with the govt, that is.

I would question whether you're really at the growth fundraising stage if you can't concisely summarize the offering and problem it solves.

How are you going to get customers / revenue if nobody can understand what you are doing without a long explanation?

Maybe you should look for research funding if it's more of an academic problem. Or if you really believe it's time to grow a company, find someone better at targetting messaging to VCs.

I can sympathize, I'm actually in the process of something similar, and was told recently that basically any explanation that appeals to me (as an engineer) is going to be off-putting to the folks I'm pitching to.

I'm not a VC, but I'm not going to read your half an hour manuscript.

I sometimes read post here that take a long time, but it must be interesting. I'm using a modified version of the Crackpot index https://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html but in my version you start with +5 points. So the problem is to get a few negative points before I close the tab.

(Published in Nature or Science is a -1.)

* What can you do now that nobody else can do?

* A nice technical graphic. (Or a table, but I prefer graphics.) I just skip the blah blah and go to the graphic.

* Did you publish it somewhere? Did you published something in the same field? Do you have a successful previous project in the same field?

Perhaps you will have better luck with a technical angel investor that already worked in this area and can skip the first 15 minutes of your summary. (Or at lest skim the first half and ensure it's correct.)

This is a hoot...

   Published in Nature or Science is a -1
because it is so true, particularly in areas of science other than molecular biology.

If you're trying to explain anything new you need to be able to it in many different levels of detail.

You need to describe the pain you relieve in a sentence. For one venture I was involved, "Get the Government Off My Back" was the slogan. Not to overthrow or deprecate the government but to give Caesar what is Caesar's and be done with it.

You need to process and reprocess your material until you have a deck, not just to communicate with VC's but also to communicate with customers, vendors, potential employees, etc.

The #1 fear I have with any A.I. venture is that the solution will reach some certain level of accuracy which is not good enough and won't get past it. I think of all the flying machines people made before the Wright brothers, who were the first people to understand that you have to control roll, pitch and yaw or else you'll tumble. You've got to have a realistic plan to solve all the problems on the way to product-market fit and have that reflected in a deck.

Publish the human-readable version.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." – Howard Aiken

I have seen a lot of AI tech that took pages and pages to explain how it works.

However, it only takes one paragraph or picture to explain the product/business benefits.

I see founders get really attached to the technical details of their approach. They think it's so important that they're using linear attention or whatever. Yeah, it is important, but that's not your pitch for why a VC should care about your startup. Your document is a small piece of the technical due diligence they'll do later on in the process once they even care. Your pitch should be why they should care in the first place, and if you can't fit it into 5 minutes, that's on you.

Hi - I've worked at a few VC firms.

"What to do" -> What do you want? Normally people pursue VC for (1) brand (2) capital and (3) resources capital can't buy, in that order.

If (1) -> check out hn.algolia and how to pitch seed stage funds. Also happy to offer more specific advice.

If (2)-> same as (1) and/or pursue quickly deployed grant money (check out grant finders for startups). Recommend the startup angle, my understanding is scientific grants are slow to get through.

If (3) -> see (1)


Venture is a game of ruthless prioritization. 30 minutes, and I realize this sounds glib... is a lot. There are 10^6 (7?) startups you can look at. 30 minutes for every Delaware C corp doesn't scale well.

Good luck!

I wish I’d qualify the top post more. I’ve previously raised several rounds for a SaaS company. I can get the meetings. But this is Hard Tech, and something no one else is pursuing, and this results in a conversation where they come wholly unprepared and we spend the bulk aligning on what is this thing and why is it different, and if we try to gloss over that there’s no foundation to the claims we make.

VC are nothing but money managers. Think of them in those terms. You need to show them the pot of gold sitting at the end of your journey, else it won't work.

Find a champion if you can who is respected in the industry and who understands what you're doing. It can be a Prof, AI/ML practitioner, or a CTO or such a person. Get them as an advisor and them ask them to make intros to their network and vouch for you, and go from there..

get the scientific point across

It's probably better to get the business point across.

Because it better correlates with building a business which is what venture capital is for.

And it might be good practice here in the sense that selling your business to VC's is analogous to the key task of selling your business's product to customers. Good luck.

Ethos, Pathos, Logos. Credibility first, then emotion, then logic. In decks, that's team first, then market size, then what the product does.

Sounding unbelievable is fine, that's what VCs are for anyway. But you have to convince them it's worth reading before anything.

I can help you write a pitch if you have a contact method. You can make a new account on proton. Will send an initial message there.

Distill your idea down to 3 paragraphs.

Why not just show an example(s) of practical use?

How much you raising?

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