Bothsides of the Table

Do VC Platforms Make Sense?

Posted on Jan 3, 2016 | 0 comments

In the VC insider baseball world a discussion has gone on about “VC platforms” over the past 5 or so years. While firms define platforms differently, let’s just say they are the services that a VC offers outside of investment capital and partner time on boards or providing intros.

Examples of VC platform services include: recruiting, marketing, design support, inside sales reps, consulting, accounting services and so forth. Each VC has their own take on which services to provide and mostly they’re free but some smaller VCs charge portfolio companies for use of these services but usually at a cheap cost.

[Side Note: Upfront has hired Kerry Bennett as a member of our executive management team to run marketing – please follow her on Twitter here]

Platform services aren’t a new concept – in the late 90s a new breed of firms emerged who provided services that hadn’t typically been offered. The two most prominent – Internet Capital Group (ICG) and CMGi – raised the bar for others and every firm in the Valley seemed to have a new war for services. But it didn’t last long as the dot com bust gutted both of those firms (ICG survived but in a smaller format) and many non-investment execs hired by SV firms were jettisoned through down sizing. After all, you didn’t really need a recruiting department when half of your companies were shutting down and the other half were laying off massive amounts of staff.

The new war for platforms has mostly been waged by Andreessen Horowitz who have raised astounding amounts of capital and therefore had the fees to put into providing more services for entrepreneurs.

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What drives economic inequality in the US? Should we be concerned about the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many?

I am not writing about this out of the blue – this seems to be the topic of the day in my social stream based on blogs written, retweets rendered and attaboys handed out.

I found the conversation a bit disconcerting. Yes, income inequality exists and yes it’s a natural consequence of capitalism and other forms of government are decidedly worse than capitalism because they inefficiently create and allocate resources. But the celebratory nature of today’s conversation felt tone deaf and seemed to ignore the rules that get bent in favor of those with resources or born into privilege.

So in stead of celebrating income inequality perhaps we would be a bit more compassionate about it.

Here are a few things on the topic worth pointing out, in no particular order. :

1. Founders start companies. They get huge tax breaks for doing so. They get to have “long-term capital gains” taxes which are much lower than short-term capital gains taxes paid by people who have stock options or income taxes paid to workers.

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Having time to think about “leadership” at most startups feels like a luxury. It feels like something you could turn your attention to once you have tens of millions of dollars and a large staff to run operations and you could step back from it all and think about how to lead.

The reality of most startups is about survival. And because running a company requires money to fuel staff and offices and acquire customers and the like, much of the time spent in early days at a start feels like a constant struggle to raise money, convince others to join your company when they can get offers from companies that have more money and convince existing staff to stick with you despite the hours and stresses and set-backs.

But of course all of these things are intertwined. Those who know how to lead are those who have an easier time doing all the things that feel like such a struggle. So spending time thinking about what your leadership style is, whether it’s effective and what you could do to improve it can yield dividends.

It’s a new year – 2016.

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Like many of you I read in awe last week about the accomplishments of the Washington Post since Jeff Bezos acquired the company two years ago.

The killer chart is below:

In the article it raved particularly about the WaPo’s amazing mobile app and how Bezos personally intervened to get the team to improve loading times – whatever the short-term costs.

“His focus on customer experience has become a near mandate within the news operation.

Executives say Mr. Bezos has encouraged experimentation and building scale ahead of short-term financial gains”

I have been a long-term admirer of Bezos. I also have been a long-term reader of the Washington Post. I’m a political junkie and an admirer of the news media world having studied it since college. When the New York Times got ahead of the WaPo in the digital world I subscribed to a paying digital edition of the NYT. I didn’t really feel like I needed to pay for both so the WaPo took a back seat.

With this article, plus my recent frustrations with the NYT mobile (cr)app, I thought I’d give the WaPo a try.

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I came off of a few tough weeks at work. In part that’s why you’ve heard less from me recently. I had some good days and bad days like most of you. I had a very big negative surprise which I’ve mostly worked through but will take time. And I’ve had some good moments, too, for sure.

But through all of this I’m always reminded that in tough times some people pull up their socks and help get the job done while others turn to being critics: Even some who don’t actually take risks or accomplish things but love to opine. And at just the right moment when my head was about to explode Twitter came to the rescue

Remember, it’s better to create something and be criticised than to create nothing and criticise others.

— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) November 22, 2015

Or I guess more appropriately Ricky Gervais came to the rescue with his Tweet. I stepped back and realized how true that was. I took a moment to feel better about some of the things I’ve accomplished and my goals for 2016 vs. being too off put by the critics lest they win.

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