I’m often asked about the differences between being at a VC and being an entrepreneur and whether I prefer one or the other.
The biggest difference I cite is that Venture Capital often feels like an “individual sport” while startups are a “team sport.” The reason is that at a VC you have a group of partners who often have different focus areas of excellence, each pursues deals in their respective field, each makes investments and sits on boards and each spends their most difficult hours tackling problems at portfolio companies vs. solving the challenges at the VC itself. You come together as a team one day per week (the “Partner Meeting,” which for most firms is on Mondays) and mostly share the news & information from your portfolio companies or evaluate new deals.
Startups are team sports because you’re all working on the same shared objective of the company. Startups often have mission statements, goals & objectives and the best roll out company wide processes to align the CEO’s goals with the executive management goals with the next level staff goals all the way down the organization. The top-line results are shared because every member of the org ought to be contributing to the same goal.
As a result many VCs feel like amalgamations of individual contributors and don’t necessarily have a shared “core.” This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. The best firms I have interacted with over the years seem to have more of a sense of shared mission & values. The truth is that the newer the firm the easier that shared mission is. When you’re on Fund I or Fund II it is often a founding team that all started together, knew each other before and went through the trenches together to get a fund raised.
There is a lot of uncertainty about the state of the private, high-growth technology markets and the venture capital markets that underpin them. On the one hand innovation is clearly at an all time high unleashed by smart phones, fast telecom networks, social networks that spread commerce and the fact that we are all one click away from buying things on Amazon, Apple, Google or PayPal.
In 2012 I penned an article called “It’s Morning in VC” that highlighted many of these trends and in 2014 I published a series of data in this VC SlideShare presentation of “Why VC is Much More Compelling” now, which updated many of our earlier analysis.
Fast forward 3 years and looking out into the 2016 horizon, what do I see? Perhaps I would call it “Mourning in VC” as in mourning for the days of rational behavior.
One of the least understood parts of the venture capital industry and venture capital firms is how investment decisions actually get made. The truth is that each firm is different and there isn’t one standard but over the years I’ve talked with enough of my peers to get sense of how many firms work.
Often if it’s a bigger firm (say 4 partners or more) and it’s a super small investment for their fund size (let’s say $250-500k when they normally invest $5-7 million) they will just require 1 or 2 partners to decide. For anything that would be considered a normal investment for the partnership most firms try to make sure every partner has seen the deal and has a chance to weigh in. That’s why the investment process begins with a partner meeting and if they really believe in your business then they “champion you” by inviting you to a full partner meeting.
What happens next feels like a black box to outsiders. They only know if they get a yes, no or “I need to do more work” after that process. Some firms have formal voting structures but in my experience most don’t.
Our perspectives on the topic wax and wane with market cycles. We love capital efficiency until we love land grabs until we abhor “over funding” until we get huge distribution & ring the bell for more funding until we attract every non-VC on the planet to invest in startups until it crashes and we start the cycle all over again none the wiser. Amnesia sets in and we get back on the merry-go-round for the next cycle.
I saw this great image on Twitter courtesy of Simon Wardley, CC3.0 by SA. (blog here). It’s kind of a truism for life and certainly our industry. I see it in many newer VCs. They enter the industry knowing that they know nothing. Same as I felt. If one entered between 2009-2015 he or she is no doubt in the “hazard” phase where one need to be careful about thinking he know more about the industry than perhaps he do.
We’ve been dying to tell you all for a while that we had raised a new venture capital fund and of course given SEC filing requirements the story was somewhat already scooped by the always-in-the-know Dan Primack a few weeks ago.
We raised $280 million. Our last fund was $200 million but as you may already know since we raised that fund we added new partners Greg Bettinelli and Kara Nortman and Venture Partner Hamet Watt – all of whom are busy looking at new deals for the firm in addition to Yves Sisteron (the founder), Steven Dietz (also part of founding team) and myself.
The speaks to the continued confidence in the venture capital markets and
Let me start with the news that I’m excited to share with you. After years of trying to persuade Kara Nortman to become a partner at Upfront Ventures I can officially announce now that she’s joined us effective immediately.
I have known Kara for 7 years and knew almost immediately after meeting her that I wanted to work with her one day in some capacity. Thus began my marketing campaign. It is rare to find somebody who matches exactly what I’m looking for in a partner so when you find it you act:
Academic rigor (Princeton undergrad, Stanford MBA)
Competitive (Athlete: skier & rowed at Princeton, hates losing at everything she does)
Investment experience (5 years a VC at Battery Ventures)
M&A experience (Morgan Stanley and later co-headed M&A for Barry Diller at IAC)
Operating experience (Helped run parts of CitySearch & UrbanSpoon, tons of product management experience, Board of Hatch Labs which helped spawn Tinder)
Startup CEO experience (Founded P.S. XO along with my good friend Soleil Moon Frye.