The Reputational Damage of Non-Responsiveness

VCs love to say things like “we are entrepreneur friendly.” It’s trendy, catchy, and looks good on a blog post. But, as I’ve said in my post Your Words Should Match Your Actions, one can “damage their reputations by having their words not match up with their actions.”

Now – this post isn’t about responding to emails. Nor am I trying to be preachy. I’m not trying to explain a new behavior. Rather, I’m making an observation about something I’ve experienced – both as an entrepreneur and investor – since my first angel investment in 1994.

Here’s the situation, as reported this morning by an experienced CEO of a company we are investors in.

“We’re raising money.  I have a good intro session.  Prospective investor wants to meet in person, see a demo.  We have a good 2nd meeting.  We agree on action items.  I go away and follow up.

Radio silence.

Follow up again.

Radio silence still.  

The first time it happened I was inclined to think it was the investor and that they just couldn’t find the time to send an email response saying, “sorry – no longer interested”.   Then, it happened again this month.”

Now – initial non-responsiveness – whatever. Lots of people don’t respond to emails, intros, or requests for meetings. But after two in-person meetings, to be non-responsive is just plain rude.

How hard would be it be to say “Hey – great spending time with you – but this isn’t something I want to pursue.” Or maybe “Sorry for being slow – I’ve been swamped – I don’t have time for doing this right now.” Or – well – anything.

I’ve had this situation come up so many times that I’m immune to it. I assume that the VC isn’t interested. But I’m amazed at how the reputational damage follows the person around. And then – at some point in the future – that VC is looking for a response for something. Hmmm …

I’ve had this happen with LPs. When we went and raised our first fund in 2007, plenty of people wouldn’t meet with us. That’s fine. Lots said they weren’t interested after a first meeting. Totally cool. But some met with us but then were completely non-responsive after the meeting. Ok – whatever. But when those non-responsive LPs call me today asking for something – whether it’s to get together to “get to know me better”, or to get a reference on someone else they are looking at, or to learn more about what I think about the market for hardware investments, it’s really hard to get on the phone and spend time with them. I do – because that’s my nature – but I always remember their non-responsiveness.

I hear – and say – “No thank you” all the time. Every day. 50 times a day. That’s just part of the role I play in business. But I always try to say “No thank you.” It’s just not that hard. Especially when I know someone, or have engaged with them in some way.

Are you the guy the experienced CEO just encountered? How would you feel if your name – and your firm’s name – just went out via email to 60 CEOs attached to this story? Maybe you don’t care, but if your message is “we are entrepreneur-friendly VCs” you just undermined the reputation of your firm in a major way.

  • Great post – I think the root cause is it is a “norm” of behavior for VCs. It’s easier to do, I would argue at least 50% of them do it, and because of that entrepreneurs (and yourself) are immune to it and there are zero consequences. I’ve had similar great meetings with VCs – with very warm intros from OTHER top tier VCs – result in absolute complete radio silence. The other thing so tough is as a sales oriented CEO who usually reads meetings correctly you realize 2 weeks later you had absolutely no clue.

    Brad do you really think there are any reputational consequences here? I could name a few other examples of what I would call bad VC behavior that no one, I mean no one (existing VCs, other VCs, entrepreneurs) seem to care about (another one would be coming in and working actively to proactively screw the Angels who put up all the initial risk). And my conclusion is because they are the norm and that’s it.

    • I think part of the reason it’s a norm is that it didn’t used to matter. However, if you believe there is a shift in the power dynamic between VC and entrepreneur (e.g. more of the power is shifting to the entrepreneur), when combined with greater transparency around communication, and stronger networks, it can suddenly matter a lot.

  • This goes for VCs, Partners, Customers and Community, not to mention fellow employees

    • Yup.

      • John Fein

        Agree this applies to any role. When I’ve experienced it, the two main lasting impressions were 1) This person is discourteous and 2) They didn’t keep their promise.

  • This behavior is pretty frequent across the board – we’ve talked abt it. I see a clear diff between now + even five years ago wrt people’s responsiveness. Just like you, when it happens, I don’t forget.

    And I mention the prev unresponsiveness to others downstream: “Yeah, but he’s flaky… engage, engage, engage… then SILENCE” etc. This pattern repeats a LOT.

    • I used to think flaky was cute. Now I just find it annoying.

      • Clermont1

        I used to think my own flakiness was cute too, then I realized it’s just something in my brain that shuts off pieces of information. Now that I know, I use whatever I can to set reminders, make lists etc. It’s more than annoying; it sucks for me and those I affect. At least I’m aware of it and choose to work on it. obviously an intentional blow off is not the same.
        The sad part to me is that the intentional flake has an opportunity to be a mentor to a young rising CEO and doesn’t simply lead by example for the next generation to learn from.
        You could have easily posted the name and firm. Thank you for doing what you do, BF. – N

  • As Seinfeld would say- Who are these people.

    One think I know for sure is: What Goes Around, Comes Around.
    And usually, it comes around to bite you, especially if you thought it won’t.

  • Who would have thought that to maintain a good reputation in business that all you needed was manners, like an old 19th century gentleman?

  • It is just easier not to say anything for a VC. Why say “no” when something might change tomorrow. It comes at the expense of the entrepreneur and most entrepreneurs do not forget.

    • Yup – while easier as a task, it’s not “easier” if you are playing the long game and care about your reputation.

  • Well this is why exists. I wish they would update their design though.

    • Maybe, but TheFunded is just one data point. It has negative selection bias. And TheFunded has banned a lot who have tried to game it – so it’s missing plenty.

      • Yeah, it’s totally flawed, like crunchbase, but in the absence of any alternatives….

  • I couldn’t agree more. Isn’t this just good manners?

    • Yup – but a lot of people apparently don’t give a shit about manners.

  • Adam Marcus

    Brad there are actually a few firms that we encourage our ceos to avoid for this very reason. Too many hard sells followed by crickets. Its pathetic.

    • Yup – I’ve got a list that I don’t bother with anymore.

  • Defrag/Glue

    Great post….and I’d add entrepreneurs to the list. As an investor, the surest way to lose my interest is to be non-responsive.

    • Yep. I see this across all roles – other entrepreneurs, VCs, customers, partners. It’s easy to think ‘it’s me’, but then there are the others who are consistently – over years + years of interaction – highly responsive.

  • robchogo

    Great post. The equally annoying cousin to unresponsiveness is hanging around the hoop. Being barely responsive but only to maintain optionality until there is external pressure or momentum.

    • SHITS – Show High Interest Then Stall.

    • Marc Summe

      Rob, I think “hanging around the hoop” is what is happening 99% of the time VCs are unresponsive after a few meetings. VCs are just hedging. Its in case the VC gets that third of 4th follow up email from the entrepreneur that says “just wanted to check-in again and let you know that Revenue has tripled in the last couple months”. Then suddenly they can jump back into the conversation. That doesn’t make their behavior any better, but it’s distinctly different from not “having the time to write a simple no”. Its intentional. Doesn’t make it any easier to deal with though. We had this happen to us when we tried to raise money for my last startup and it sucked.

      • robchogo

        I’d argue that being unresponsive is intentional as well. Yeah, totally sucks.

        Sometimes, we genuinely will give a “not yet” response. It’s a minority of the time, but sometimes you genuinely are interested, but are looking for a couple additional pieces of evidence to build enough conviction.

        • Marc Summe

          Yeah, I’d argue that general unresponsiveness is often not intentional. People have a lot of things to do and they have to prioritize. It’s different though after you have a few meetings. The key is to be transparent. The experience wouldn’t be as bad for the entrepreneur if the VC actually said “not yet” and then outlined what additional pieces you are waiting to collect.

  • And this is on all levels. People requesting trials and demos and consuming a lot of time, then ignoring all future correspondences from a company. Vendors signing up smaller consultants for key work, then AP ignoring inquiries on late payments. Job seekers feeling like they made great connections in 2nd and 3rd rounds, then being ignored for months by some HR manager type.

    This basic courtesy of closing the loop is low hanging fruit territory of being a decent human being. It requires so little effort as you say to just acknowledge that you’re moving along, or don’t have time to make the decision, or made a different decision. People who act like that have more of a spine problem than a too busy problem.

  • Amen. I am raising a fund. Had a guy say no, but he would love to have a look at my deal flow. Nice. Thank you very little. At least he had the courtesy to tell. Me no

    Your post brings up another question, what is a reasonable amount of time entrepreneurs should expect for due diligence?

  • Brian G

    Completely agreed. I encounter this every day and it never ceases to amaze me how oblivious people can be to this. My grandma always told me what goes around comes around…always. She was right then and it still holds true today. I frequently wonder what degree changes in communication mediums (email, text, etc.) have on amplifying this type of behavior.

    Somewhat related are people who have a signature line “Sent from my iPhone, please excuse any brevity and misspellings”.

    • I prefer the creative sig lines, such as “Sent by my Palm V”

  • SchadenFreude

    For one potential investor – who swore in the first meeting that he “didn’t waste entrepreneurs’ time” – we traveled (out of state) to 2 meetings, 3 separate diligence meetings with ‘experts’ in our field, had a term sheet on the table, then crickets. We eventually heard second hand that he ultimately wasn’t interested, but he didn’t have the courtesy to just tell us no. So frustrating! And a massive waste of our time. Why do ‘successful’ people – particularly investors – think they can behave this way? There should be a public shunning.

    • That’s a great example of the worst behavior. If they give you a term sheet but then vanish, they are just bad people.

  • It’s easy for people in a power position to forget that they will one day need something from someone else, and what goes around comes around.

    I’ve had a couple exchanges with you, and know others who also have, and I must say your money is where your mouth is. I’d venture to say that you’re the most polite and genuinely good-natured VC out there, at least that I know about!

    Even if no one follows it, thanks for setting an example!

    • Thx Brandon. Yeah – I used to think this was just powerful people being busy, but now I think it’s just rude / arrogant.

  • I don’t understand it. I met with a partner of a VC firm, was recommended by one of their investors, and got the radio silence treatment afterward even though he said he was very interested in what we are working on. I don’t get it but I wouldn’t be inclined to work with them after that.

  • Agree that non-responsiveness is just another way a VC says “No” and avoids the difficult conversation of having to tell a founder bad things about his/her idea, business, etc. Going silent after two meetings and agreeing upon action items is just plain douchey, and that type of behavior rightfully hurts the VC’s reputation. At that stage, aren’t founders entitled to ask for and receive a modicum of feedback? I think they are.

  • Brad – When i asked you for on advice about going to O’Reilly Fluent conf as a startup – which FWIW we subsequently won 🙂 .

    You said you didn’t know, why you didn’t – and you were clear about it.

    As feedback that’s nearly as good as an answer.

    I rank responses as follows:

    1) Best – An authoritative answer (Yes, No , Cannot with reason)
    Eg. Would love to but can’t as we just offered a termsheet to X in a similar company – have had this twice now FWIW – they backed the wrong horse 🙂
    1= ) I clearly claim ignorance – refer hat-tip above : )

    3) No response (per your blog post – often simply rude) – but I can at least take no response as an answer !

    99) And by far the worst – a dishonest response – a “please keep in touch”, “sorry we didn’t get back to you earlier” but, “have you found a lead investor yet” (very common).

    Further point – Sadly MSusters’ well reasoned “we invest in lines not dots” is now becoming a mantra for people at the end of a long line of such dots who haven’t the balls to say no ! (I hope they read this:)

    • And “lines not dots” is not universal (e.g. we don’t view the world that way). However – it’s become – as you said – a lazy investors mantra.

  • Steven Netsch

    Brad… Fantastic. You are the kind of guy that I want to do business with. Your post speaks volumes about your integrity and the kind of guy you are. But why has rudeness become the norm for VCs and almost everyone else as well?

    • It probably has something to do with the general tenor of a lot of things. For example, the nastiness that exists in politics is unbearable to me.

      • Steven Netsch

        Yes it’s not good. People just beat on each other. Thanks again for being a part of the solution.

    • DJ

      I think it’s less about rudeness and more about fear of confrontation. Plus, some entrepreneurs use the “no thanks” as an opportunity to argue their position, leading to more email back-and-forth.

  • Bernardo

    Yep, Brad, amazing post for my moment (we are raising Series A). In Brazil I presume this is worse. Entrepreneurs are still very far from doing the “power shift” with VCs. There are just a handful of firms and several amateurs who entitle themselves VCs but actually have almost no capital or no real fund raised.

    I usually follow up agressively until i get a “no”, but most of the times not even then it comes, or get radio silence, sometimes after “promissing” first meetings.

    Even the “yeses” then to come only after a long “baby siting and ass licking” period. I see it all the time in Brazil that almost only fundraising-oriented CEOs tend to get funded, instead of company, product and result oriented CEOs. Only MBAs, no Engineers. Therefore lots and lots of shitty startups with no real product or value get Series A funding. A bubble will burst soon over here, when VCs with no exits start to close shop…

    VCs here need to understand that, for good founders, the world doesn’t revolve around fundraising, it revolves around their business, product and clients (those deserve the baby sitting!). Or they will end up with companies that can only survive through fundraising, not through real value and revenue.

    • “The world doesn’t revolve around fundraising, it revolves around their business” – this is an incredibly powerful idea / statement. Every VC worth his salt should know this. As should ever entrepreneur.

      • Bernardo

        BTW, now that I see you give insightful replies even to blog post coments, I am a even bigger fan. 🙂

  • This is not limited to the VC world. In biotech business development, we see this a lot from big pharmaceutical companies.

  • I was just speaking with somebody about this topic the other day. Anytime you are selling, this is going to happen. I think it’s a combination of a few things:

    (1) Important person syndrome – In general, most people think they are the most important person in the room. So they will complain that they were too (busy/sick/overloaded/etc). You come second. Frankly, even my personal friends and some family members do this – they don’t return calls or keep commitments. If our own friends and blood can do this to us, I don’t know why we’d be so surprised that a casual acquaintance would too.

    (2) Lack of empathy – I believe you call is sympathy Brad, but i still like empathy better. I have found many people are simply lacking that gene. So what you describe as common courtesy and decency makes total sense to empathetic people, but others simply don’t get it (or don’t care).

    (3) Inability to share bad news – a lot of people just don’t want to deal with the emotions of giving bad news – and let’s face it – telling an entrepreneur that you aren’t going to fund after 2 very positive meetings is NOT going to be taken well. So a lot of people just avoid thinking it’s an easier out (“they’ll get the idea vs. me having to tell them directly”). Clearly it’s a chicken-shit approach, but understandable for people that aren’t empathetic or just don’t like conflict.

    As you mention, I keep track of people who do this – because if they do it once, they will certainly do it again. But I do try to use it to my advantage – I’ve even said to people “you’re not going to blow me off again like you did last time, are you?” I do it with a smile to try to keep tensions low, but it helps to get the idea across that you are looking for an answer, not avoidance.

    Lastly, I’ll go back to your awesome advice that I keep referring to – Give before you get. I will always try to give – even to people who may have been less than generous in the past. If that doesn’t change the nature of our relationship, then I do what they refuse to do – I tell them NO when they ask me for something. I don’t need to explain it or make it sound like any sort of retribution – I simply say that I can’t help them.

    This type of behavior will never go away – it’s human. All we can do is learn from it and figure out how to best deal.

    Great post.

  • Great post, Brad. From talking with other companies in the TechStars class in NYC, I can confirm this behavior significantly hurts the investors’ reputation.

    I regularly talk with entrepreneurs who mention how your thoughtful response to their cold email turned him/her into your biggest fan. Seems like a small investment for a big return.

    Hiten Shah is one of the fews others I know who is off the charts on responsiveness and every entrepreneur thinks very highly of him for it.

    An investor’s personal brand is built by his personal interactions with entrepreneurs more than the logos on the wall.

  • “But I always try to say “No thank you.” It’s just not that hard.”

    This is the key here. It’s just NOT THAT HARD. Especially when you can distance yourself from doing it by using email. I mean, I get that some people are uncomfortable going a bit down the path and then being the bearer of bad news and it’s harder in person or on the phone but… send email.

  • heyehd

    brad, i must say, you have always replied back to me with an answer and i’ve always said thank you because it is such a gracious thing to do.

    but more importantly, 1) it demonstrates common courtesy, and 2) i can move on without having to waste time following up to someone who may have already filtered me to junk.

    an answer of “no” is SO much better than no answer.

  • Nikki Braziel

    We haven’t done a venture round yet, but we’ve found non-responsiveness to be extremely common. We’ve noticed it in particular with advertising providers and reseller partners. It can be hard not to take personally, because it’s easy to hear and internalize the message that “you’re a small company, and your business doesn’t matter as much.”

    I’ve also noticed that, sometimes on our YouTube videos or product reviews, we get nasty comments: “This product really exists?! Someone actually made this?” Or we’ll get a negative Amazon review, one that feels like venting (maybe projecting?) despite having reached out multiple times to a customer to try to replace a defective product or offer a solution, and never having been given the chance to do so. And yes, that negative review is totally their right.

    It’s as if, behind the facade of a business, it’s impossible to see that we’re people.

    Sometimes I have to do everything to resist posting or writing: “Hey. We’re not billionaires who spend our days staring at diamond-studded walls and smelling our cash. We’re a homegrown business trying to bring something fun and innovative into the world. I know which of my employees are still paying off student loans and which ones had unexpected car repairs that set them back last month. I feel personally responsible for all of their rent. And your actions have a direct effect on us, on our team, on our revenue, on our stress levels, on our chances for survival!”

    Whether it’s non-responsiveness to a rate card inquiry (that causes us to scramble for a budget deadline), an excessively harsh product review, or just a reseller who waits for four voicemails before letting me know they’re still considering my product, it has an impact!

    I appreciate the invitation to bring more thoughtful, personal, and authentic communication to all our business dealings. And I apologize for the rant! I guess I’ve never had a chance to talk to anyone outside our business about this.

  • Chris Mack

    The opportunity cost of raising capital is far more than just the equity stake. The time commitment, the lack of focus on the business (and hence, reduced growth), the emotional drain of the silent no’s, and the drain of dealing with large egos raises the cost to the point where only a certain type of first-time entrepreneur will pursue it.

    I think this means more and more first-time entrepreneurs will choose to bootstrap their way to profitability, and let the power balance swing back in their favour before pursuing their first round. This is probably a good thing.

  • you do a good job with this


    You’re right. I see it all the time. There are two situations that can exist. One is a person who doesn’t respond and doesn’t care. The second is a person who is frustrated all day because things are slipping through the cracks.

  • This is a huge problem, and not just for VCs and investors. Same for my meetings with vendors, salespeople, etc. If I spent time with them, then their emails get returned promptly with honest feedback.

  • DJ

    This kind of thing drives entrepreneurs crazy. One thing I’ve found that helps is being proactive about getting the “no.” I wrote about a simple way to do this nine(!) years ago –

  • Rupert Edwards

    Scott Barnetts “inability to share bad news” nails it –

  • Silence after any meaningful engagement is shameful — at best it’s disgrace under pressure. But grace feels like old lore, and shame seems to have moved outside the range of modern human emotion.

  • Getting a firm NO saved me an incredible amount of time on a few occasions while raising my last round, especially when it comes from an investor you *really want* in your round.

    You and Ryan when from “we’re interested” to “we’re out” quickly and clearly. I always appreciated that.

  • gloria

    Perhaps common courtesy is not as common as it used to be.

  • Yeah I think we can all relate to this.

    I’ve experienced it dealing with propsects & leads, recruiters, real estate brokers and on and on. I don’t know if it is a consequence of people being overwhelmed with so much media and forms of communication from texts to emails. But the non-response does seem to be on the rise.

    I always have trouble interpreting the silence. Is this disinterest silence, rejection silence, forgotten reply silence or what?

    Personally if I’m overloaded and can’t respond at length, I send a quick one-liner to that affect.

    Ah well, what this *does* underscore is, when you meet people who do respond consistently, WORK WITH THEM. Consistency is key.

  • sb

    anybody(ies) controlling the game of money simply make their own rules…simple….if the sell job, reputation and IP are compelling, along with demonstrably proven biz model [and therefore sufficient skin in the game]…this is what elicits investment funds through any source….especially in a reasonable/efficient manner . most folks looking for funds are on a treasure hunt

  • jetdillo

    I have a habit of writing to people/orgs who’ve pulled the “dropped off the face of the earth” routine on me and saying briefly : “Hi there, we haven’t heard from you for a while so I’m assuming you’re not interested. We need to move on here. Best, ”
    Of course people say to me “Are you crazy!??!?!” “I’d only do that if you never want to hear from them again” To which my response is “Well, I’m not working with them now…”

    It lets me wrap things up and move on to putting my energy where it needs to go. They know where to find me if/when things get interesting enough for them.

  • This is a really important post. I have relatively little to add beyond the many thoughtful comments below, but as a VC I think acknowledging this phenomenon, why it happens, and that it’s unacceptable is worth doing over and over again. I’ve been guilty of this in the past and cop to it. Saying no is hard (especially if you aren’t sure), but that’s no excuse.

  • Its really hard to get any attention from VCs when you don’t have any connections. Me and my co-founder have something really great that can be as big as linkedin, maybe bigger. Our beta is launching next month and we need VC capital to bring it. I know its a long shot, but any advice or help would be awesome. is our angel list page so you can learn more about us. Thanks for your awesome blogs

  • gwong

    totally agree with you Brad

    what I find is the middle level guys/ staffers (who probably is eyeing another job) who would behave like this more often, as they would prefer not to say NO (just in case)

    therefore, I would try do deal with founders of funds or the very top guys if poss both LPs & GPs..

    but even at that level, some might do what you described, and sadly I have to do what you did also as it is in my nature to help but yes, I also remember those moments when they went silent on me. 😉

    sometimes I feel as though we nice guys just have to help to ‘be true to ourselves” but sadly in some situations do get ‘exploited’.. we just have to decide our own ‘rules’ and stick with it.

    (just to fore-warn others, I generally cannot reply to everyone).


  • Barkan Saeed

    Many people just want to keep their options open.. plus the ability to share bad news is not there in most people even in some cases as when you are hiring an employee

  • Boils

    Like it or not “No.” is the second best answer. And it is always better than later, I’ll get back to you, Let me think about it… nauseum.

  • Brian Dickman

    When people mention contacting Brad Feld, I have been known to say…”He’s a great guy. He’s always taken the time to tell me ‘No’.” It’s not all gonna be gold. 🙂 It’s a strange thing to say, but It speaks to the fact that people appreciate an answer even if it’s not desirable.

  • PGJ

    As Brad has said many times. Give before you Get!
    My policy is answer everyone. Help and deliver when you can.
    Pj from Startup Phenomenon and VHG in Boulder.