Bothsides of the Table


I saw this Tweet recently by Scott Belsky, co-founder and CEO of Behance

conviction > consensus

— Scott Belsky (@scottbelsky) April 29, 2015

It spoke to me because it so resonates with my nearly daily advice to entrepreneurs and VCs alike. I went as far as to call it the best Tweet of 2015 so far because it encapsulated my advice so succinctly. He took two words where I take 1,000!

I am often asked how we make decisions on investments at Upfront Ventures. Every VC firm works differently but when asked about our process I always reply the same way,

We’re a “high conviction” shop

If a sponsoring partner is proposing a deal that is well within our strike zone in terms of check size, stage, tech sector and geography he our she will get the deal done if they have high conviction (and provided another partner doesn’t have super high-conviction in the opposite direction).

A typical investment discussion is not a bed of roses. A company presents. The sponsoring partner makes the case why they are in favor of the deal. The rest of our partners, principles, associates and EIRs can weigh in with commentary on their views of the quality of the entrepreneur, the market, the product, competition and so forth. The can be downright negative and we welcome dissent. I think newer associates are surprised by how blunt we are with each other but I’ll always remember the words of my mentor our founding partner, Yves Sisteron, who said, “reciprocity makes for terrible investment decisions.” In other words, just because you liked my last investment is no reason for me to be nice now.

When the partner hears all of the input he or she goes away to do more research, gather more information and get ready to face the doubters.

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What I love about my job is getting to see teams of super-early-stage companies develop ideas that while raw have potential to make an impact on the market. I love the enthusiasm, the boundless energy and the sense of possibility that comes from having an idea that hasn’t yet been beat up in the marketplace of competing ideas, customer contracts, VC skepticism, jaded journalists or fickle consumers who are on to the The New, New Thing.

If I could bottle this moment and spend all my time here I would be in heaven. But alas I must scale with businesses and make money. And so must you.

Growing a startup is such a tricky balance between staying cost-focused & scrappy versus being impractical with how you spend your time. Clearly the founders and senior executives of a company are the most valuable resources and their time should be maximized on the most valuable tasks. Yet after a seed round of $2 million many are still doing Quickbooks entries, booking hotels & airplane tickets, negotiating offices leases and digging through employment benefits, legal contracts and such.

For a well-funded seed company

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We recently released the video sharing app Ferris and announced that Upfront Ventures led the funding in the company in our seed round of $2 million and I personally joined the board.

We hit the top spot recommended on Apple’s iOS App Store on the day of the launch, which is a testament to the team and all of their hard work. I wanted to spend the rest of the blog post telling you why we decided to fund the company, how we settled on the final product design and our unique way of launching the app.

I’d love it if you’d take a moment to download the app and tell us what you think. Yes, we’ve only launched on iOS for now. That was just a question of limited resources and wanting to get V1 right. We will port it to Android ASAP after our first rev of proper user feedback.

So Why Did We Invest?
As a VC (especially based in LA), I see hundreds of video apps.

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Why do we do all that we do?

Is it for the money? The recognition? Is work a part of life and life a part of work? Is it just the next rung in the ladder after we finish college and join the next grouping of people we’re tied to for a brief period in time?

These aren’t generally the thoughts of  20-year-olds. That is the age where you do more than think. “Of course I work!”

They aren’t often the thoughts of 30-year-olds. You finally accumulate some amount of money. You’re no longer entry-level. You think of coupling, of family, of work/life balance and you begin to feel the weight of a responsibility in the world you never had.

I think the “why” often begins in the 40’s. You’ve had enough ladder climbing alongside peers to form some sense of human motivations. You’d seen enough set backs in lives and careers to take it all a bit more seriously. Often you’ve gotten through the drowsy years of diapers and playgrounds and set the basic trajectory for your children if you chose to have them. Most of us party less often, almost never cart off last minute to some island for frolicking and almost definitionally become less narcissistic.

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I was contacted today by Matt Lauzon, the founder of Dunwello, who I had met previously when he was running his startup Gemvara. I always liked Matt and found him to be quite thoughtful so I enjoy when he reaches out.

This time it wasn’t pleasant.

He was asking me for a simple favor. He wanted me to read some information and if I felt both moved and comfortable he wondered whether I would retweet him. I couldn’t. Not because a retweet was hard for me but because it wasn’t enough.

I used to write personal posts on these pages and I mentioned earlier in the year I would do so from time-to-time. Now seemed the right time.

Matt brought to my attention an issue that deserved increased awareness on multiple front: Police abuse, police cover-ups and child molestation. Why do I feel compelled to write about this? Aside from wanting to help out a colleague and decent person – I also can imagine how hard it must be for somebody in our society to be public about something as traumatic as sexual abuse. It was the second such instance in the past month where this had come up.

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