Balancing Conventional Wisdom

There is a lot of conventional wisdom out there. Most people are happy to share even when not asked to do so..

And often it sounds really smart. I am referring to the kind of things that just make sense when you hear them. For example:

Founder A is looking to raise money for their startup. They will ask fellow founders, friends, family, investors, read blog posts and listen to podcasts. She will hear statements like the following:

Take whatever you can raise. Raising $1M is the same work as raising $2M or $10M so raise more if you are already raising.

Diligence your potential investors. Be sure they add value beyond capital and that they will be there for you during the hard times and not just the good times.

Raise only what you feel is completely necessary. Grow through hustle and hard work to create value that will be recognized in the next round’s valuation terms.

These three statements all make sense but could actually be contradicting each other. The best board member may not have the deepest pockets. The more capital you raise, the faster you can grow, right? Or are hustle and grit more important?

Let’s take this one step further.

Investor B is considering an investment. In “VC school” they were taught the following:

Never miss investing in a great company because of valuation.”

Be sure to make the numbers work because it is all about returns to your LPs through your ownership percentage.

Both are really important points. Which often contradict each other. This exacerbates the challenge faced by our Founder A above as she tries to develop her fund raising strategy and navigate the process, balancing the feedback she receives from each pitch.

Creating a balance and clear path from all of this good advice, is not simple. It is the “art” part of venture capital. Different funds have offered alternative approaches to solving this.

The large firms – A16Z or First Round Capital – have done a great job of creating value beyond their capital and an ability to support companies long-term. They are truly great investors and not just a brand name. But these types of offerings are limited to large funds who generously invest portions of their management fees (the larger the fund the more fess there are to go around) towards creating these support systems for their portfolio companies.

Smaller funds need to be more creative. A lot of the value is added through the active involvement of the investing partners themselves, with limited support staff if any. This makes the balance a lot trickier. I really like the approach created by Founder Collective (and now copied by many other small funds including SapirVP) by which they focus on getting all their capital in early and then position themselves to be diluted alongside the founders. This creates an alignment that I have found valued by most founders. In return the founders are willing to give up a little more equity in the early round so as to have such an investor onboard and in their corner for the subsequent rounds. 

Both approaches focus on value-add investing. These were the best type if investor I’ve worked with and from whom I learned much. Now it is our turn to provide this for the next generation of great founders.

I think it is important for Founder A to remember that when an investor says that they are “founder friendly” that does not necessarily mean that they are exactly on the same page. There are different interests at play. Maintaining this balance is not simple and can often derail an investment process. As I am constantly reminded. But when the balance is established great achievements can be realized together.

For further reading on this topic I suggest Jeff Bussgang’s Mastering the VC Game.

Musings from a second lockdown…

We have now been in our second lockdown for 2 weeks and we have at least another two weeks to go. While our work is being done differently, it has not slowed down. On the contrary, we are finding ourselves busier than ever with even more to juggle. Despite no need to commute.

Since we are at the mid-way point of this lockdown period (we hope!), I thought it might be a good time to stop and reflect. Here are some observations and musings from my mind wandering. I welcome your feedback and perspective.

  • Deals are getting done in the VC world. Valuations are down but some may say this is just a “correction”. That is ok as long as we aren’t slashing valuations just because we can. Rather it should reflect companies adjusting to COVID and understanding the long-term impact on their market. In some industries that might actually raise a company’s valuation (Amazon? Zoom?).
  • As long as the players continue to act in good faith then good deals should get done. Founders need to be a little more modest and investors need to be a little less greedy. Don’t forget, this is a repeated game and long-term brand matters.
  • Real estate is going to change. Across the board and across geographies. I should have bought into many of the deals I have seen the past couple of years but passed on because “I wasn’t doing real estate…” – invest early and often. The secret of compounding.
  • Remote work will remain significant, but I don’t think we will eliminate offices entirely. The adoption of tools and new practices was accelerated but so are the downsides to it. We will not all just work from home going forward. But more of us will, even if just part of the time.
  • EdTech is more complicated. Thank God I am married to a licensed teacher who wasn’t actually practicing that craft when COVID hit. She is home shepherding our kids through classes and assignments while not actually needing to teach a class remotely herself. Teachers and students need to be back in a classroom. That is, until we can actually bring a virtual classroom experience to the home (pick your futuristic pop-culture reference). Not all learning needs to be done in a classroom – I am glad to see more assignments and work done virtually – but this Zoom thing isn’t working for us.
  • Digital Health is also a different story. Here I think we will see the longest and greatest impact as technologies enabling telemedicine, health operations efficiency, discovery and diagnostics are all being rapidly adopted by an industry which has been reluctant to change. There are many more elements here that I think will stick around once we get past this pandemic. If only for the fear of the next one.
  • As I have written before, for me personally and for my “job”, the lack of in-person meetings has made things more complicated. Sure, I hate sitting in traffic like everyone else. And air-travel gets old quick too. But I miss being able to spend time with people and get to know them. To pick up on the non-verbal cues and body language. See them in their element and in other settings beyond their Zoom-background-of-the-day. I look forward to walking through the labs and “feeling” the team/science/product/culture of each company. I’m even ready to got back to coffee-shop meetings which I had become bored with. Please make my latte soy. Thanks!

New Year Restrictions

In Israel we are on our way into lock-down. Again. Just as the Jewish High Holidays are upon us. A time of coming together to bring in the new year with prayer – giving our thanks for the previous year and sharing hopes for the new one – with family and friends, in synagogues and around our tables… Well, that is not going to happen this year.

While some may argue that this is most fitting considering the past 6 months, it is still frustrating. Frankly, I think we could have done better.

It is easy to blame the government (now that we finally have one!), and some might even say that they prefer this approach as the easy way out. It seems to me that the timing of the lock-down actually makes sense. Besides it limiting the masses customarily coming together, it also takes advantage of the numerous vacation days already built into the Israeli calendar during this time of the year. In their defense, I do realize that this is the first pandemic they have been called on to lead us through. But the numbers are rising quickly and every delay creates a sense of “too little, too late”.

The period leading up to Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year – is a period of introspection. Taking stock of where we are and who we are. Compare these with what and who we want to be. Make commitments to do better in the new year… Take personal responsibility for making the world a better place by each doing our part.

“An early lesson I learned in my career was that whenever a large organization attempts to do anything, it always comes down to a single person who can delay the entire project.”

Ben Horowitz
The Hard Thing About Hard Things:
Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

I look around and I know that we can do better. We must take personal responsibility to adhere to the social-distancing guidelines, while creating personal accountability for the health of others in our communities.

That is the only way we can contain the pandemic, as we continue the search for a vaccine… May it arrive swiftly in the new year so we can start to rebuild – emotionally, economically and, most importantly, together.

Shana Tova! May it truly be a good year of health and prosperity for us all.