Metaphor: VC as a Produce Supplier

I was in a meeting with Rich Miner from Google Ventures on Friday with some entrepreneurs we are working with on a potential investment. While the team isn’t a rookie team, they’ve never worked with VCs before and they’ve been wrestling around the dynamics of how to interact with the two VCs in the room (me and Rich) and the various angels that are part of the seed round we are planning to do.

In the middle of the discussion, Rich used a brilliant metaphor of “VC as produce suppler”.  The CEO was talking about how she realized she was the lead chef in the kitchen, but viewed us as some combination between sous chefs, owners, and the diners in the restaurant.  This was apparent in the interactions – was she trying to “please us”, listen to us and do what we said, or put us to work?  This was made even hard with the handful of angels involved – where did they fit in?  And, it was clear that the kitchen was getting crowded.

In this middle of what was a rambling conversation, Rich said “think of us as produce suppliers.”  He said something like: “We bring you produce.  Some of it will be awesome and you’ll want to use it immediately.  Some will be moldy, or won’t fit in your recipes, or you won’t need any more of it.  And sometimes we won’t show up.  Occasionally you’ll want to put us to work in the kitchen teaching you how to make a new dish with our produce.  Other times you’ll politely ask us to get out of the kitchen so you can get some work done.  And – ultimately – all of us – the investors (VC and angels), the entrepreneurs, and the employees are the owners!”

I’ve editorialized, but I stopped, wrote it down, and asked Rich if I could blog it.  It’s one of the best, freshest, and crisp metaphors for the VC / CEO relationship that I’ve ever heard.

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  • Scott Yates

    So, in this analogy, who are the dishwashers?

    I say Biz Dev. They try to make everything look nice and clean, but really all they want to do is go to the alley and have a smoke.

  • @lucaf

    I think it is indeed a great metaphor for a positive VC / CEO relationship.

    However sometimes things don't go very well (at least so I hear…). You should add that the produce supplier is also a majority owner of the restaurant, and s/he has a ROFR on letting in other produce suppliers. I am afraid that the metaphor then becomes a little less… ahem… fresh and crisp…

  • davidu

    I don't see it. It's been too long since you were involved in a company that has had to terminate a VC as an investor I guess.

    It's so much easier to fire your produce supplier and hold them to a higher standard than it is to fire your VC or hold them accountable.

    • Brad Feld

      Totally valid point.  I guess I’m using the metaphor in the “good VC” example vs. the “bad VC” example.

      • @consultski

        I still like it. However, davidu's point is an excellent one.

      • John Minnihan

        Some of my best friends are VCs, so it's difficult for me to think in terms of 'VC as enemy'.

        Though I have raised capital (10 years ago, f&f round of $700k) and negotiated a term sheet for $4MM (pre-money $8MM), I never closed that A round due to the collapse of the capital markets in spring 2000. So, perhaps I was spared from that whole aspect of the VC-CEO relationship.

        All I can say for sure today is that one must choose to do business with someone that one actually respects. For me, that means someone I'd have dinner & a beer with socially, for no purpose other than I dig their company & enjoy the conversations I have with them. I'm happy (and fortunate) to be able to say that I have that type of relationship with the Foundry guys, and in fact look forward to my dinners w/ them. (hey Jason…)

        It's all about the relationship.

        • davidu

          Really well said, and of course, as I'm sure you would — I'd apply it to my employees, my management team and my corporate partners, too!

          My only point was about the analogy, and wasn't meant to comment on bad VCs — though having been with some before, I feel fortunate to have strong and experienced board members at my company now. :-)

          • John Minnihan


            And yes, I'd apply that to all of my associates at this point. There's just no upside – really – in spending any time w/ jerks. Been there, done that. No upside at all.

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  • Tyler Crowley

    In the restaurant metaphor wouldn't it make sense to think of VC and a nice big field of fertilizer :)

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