Both Sides of the Table


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. In a funding round with 1 or 2 VCs and 15-20 angels or 4-6 seed funds if you gave every investor you financial information and performance metrics your proprietary information would increase in its probability of leaking out.

But shouldn’t an investor who has given you $50,000 of his or her hard earned money be entitled to know how you’re doing? Yes. And no.

I am generally a fan for providing management updates periodically for all investors but in doing so you must assume that what you send out will get read by others and thus hold back on your most sensitive information.

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Last week a company we enthusiastically backed, uBeam, led by a very special entrepreneur, 25-year-old Meredith Perry, announced a $10 million round of financing.  The press around the raise & company was fantastic and the promise of their technology – wireless charging that works as easily as WiFi – would positively affect many of our lives. What person hasn’t crouched at an airport to get 18% extra on one’s battery before boarding an airplane?

But then one person – who happens to be a physicist – wrote a back-of-the-envelop calculation of uBeam and said it’s not physically possible. His math was correct and I can hardly blame him for taking a guess at what uBeam does but every assumption that he used was wildly inaccurate. uBeam’s tech does work and I have safely seen it demo’d in the real life many times. Most of those that have been privileged enough to get a look at what they are actually doing have moved from skeptics to believers.

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This weekend I was reading the NY Times online and I came across this excellent piece about ADHD written by Richard Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry. In the article the author talks about the condition of the brain – which affects up to 11% of American children in which people with ADHD (or ADD, which doesn’t have hyperactivity) – in which people with ADD have a low tolerance for routine tasks and thus they seek out “novelty”.

The author believes this may have had an evolutionary advantage. He specifically notes the people with ADD

“are drawn to new and exciting experiences and get famously impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world.”

The author talks about one of his patients who was bored and unsatisfied in his job and found his tasks too routine.

“he quit his job and threw himself into a start-up company, which has him on the road in constantly changing environments.

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When I first met Meredith Perry she was 24. That was three months ago this week. Today I’m handing her the largest A-round check I’ve ever written as a VC as we lead her $10 million A-Round at uBeam.

As I’ve written about recently, at Upfront Ventures we started talking a couple of years ago about wanting to fund stuff with more meaning. I think this is a combination of being realists as venture capitalists that outsized returns in our funds must come from taking on bigger, more impactful projects that can move markets. It is also a function of the stage of much of our careers where we aren’t interested in playing small ball with incrementalism on how to squeeze out an extra 5% of margin by optimizing the Internet slightly better.

The reality is that as VCs we have limited allocations of where we can spend our time so we want to attach ourselves to projects in which we, too, can be passionate.

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I’m pretty on record as saying I don’t think many private-to-private tech mergers make sense. They are often done from a position of weakness. Something in both companies isn’t working, which is why they come together.

I often don’t believe in the therm M&A because in my experience mostly A works.

But of course there are always exceptions. And even when I remain skeptical sometimes opportunities present themselves that prove one should never be absolutist.

As many people know I funded a company called Moonfrye almost 2 years ago led by two amazing women – Kara Nortman & Soleil Moon Frye. Our goal from the outset was to build a great eCommerce experience that could compete with Michels on one side (for DIY / crafting) and Party City on the other (throwing events / parties / celebrations).

The thesis was simple. Mom’s struggle to plan events and activities for their kids. Most products out there suck so mom gets stuck with angst of wanting to have decorations, activities and chatzkies for other kids to take home. What should be an enjoyable experience turns into a time-suck obligation and angst-ridden day of self questioning.

Our product name is P.S.

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