VC Industry


VC funding.

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 had just one market since then and it could confuse one into thinking:

every deal finds downstream investors,
every company good or bad finds a home or soft landing (“there’s no downside, people would buy this for the IP alone”)
you know anything at all about brazil, india, china or even saas sales, ecommerce or analytics (you know all these in a bull market)
the more money you give a startup the faster they grow

I think I’m at the expert stage of venture capital and I mean in the Wardley sense. The longer I do this the more humbled I become. Not the kind of false, humblebrag, “I’m always ready to learn” kind of humble but the “who the fuck knows” and “G-d I hope I’m right” sort of humble.

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Whew!

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

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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.

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We all know that funding markets have changed for startups. The trends are well understood: more angels, more seed funds, more crowdsourcing and so forth. We all can intuit the benefits to founders of these trends so there’s little reason to elaborate. What is less understood are the consequences of these changes.

I have blogged about some of the downside consequences of the changes and the private information I have says the consequences are much worse than is reported in the press since few people publicly talk about

1. How founders get screwed on convertible notes
2. How party rounds can burn you if it takes time to find your groove

There’s another issue I can add to your list of things to be aware of – information rights. Generally speaking in venture capital financings the legal documents will specify that only “major investors” (a threshold set in the agreement – which can be $500,000 investor or more). There is a reason for this.

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Prorata rights are one of the most important rights of private market technology investors and yet are seldom fully understood. They often create the biggest tensions between investors who are investing at different stages in the business.

politics of money by bastera rusdi on 500px

These tensions seep out in some angels or seed funds publicly or semi-privately deriding later-stage VCs for their “bad” behavior. I have seen bad behavior from later-stage VCs, believe me. But I have seen equally bad behavior from super early stage investors.

As always a balanced perspective is in order. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Why investors care about prorata rights
Prorata investment rights give investors the right to invest in a startup’s future fund-raising rounds and maintain their ownership % in the company as the company grows and raises more capital. This is important for nearly every institutional investor because once you have 25-50 investments being able to “follow” the investments that are working well is critical to making money. It’s why

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By all measures the past year has been successful. Teams that I’ve backed have sold their companies to Disney, Apple and AOL for substantive amounts of money. Founders have done very well, our fund has done well. Exhibit: Champagne and celebrations.

But the truth is that selling a company doesn’t always feel like a celebration as a VC. Not being a baby about it – my job is to return money to LPs. But I’ve been thinking about what had me a bit down about selling Maker Studios, Burstly and Gravity. Each of those teams were family. And the family extended beyond just the management team to include investors and the boards.

The more I’ve internalized things I’ve come to see selling a company like graduating high school or college. One day you have these great friends that you talk to all the time, you deal with tons of personal issues and drama, you have highs and lows but dammit – you were there together. I went from weekly (sometimes daily) phone calls with senior members of the team or other VCs. And now we barely see each other. And I miss those interactions. I miss those friends.

We’re all still friends but it’s not the same. Life moves on. You graduate.

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