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We have investments in a lot of companies that are growing very quickly. They end up on the calling (now emailing) lists for a bunch of VC firms who have an outbound deal flow program. These emails ofter appear immediately after a large financing is announced.
Recently, I’ve been forwarded a few of these emails from CEOs of companies I’m an investor in with the question “how do I deal with this?” I realized I was giving the same advice each time so I figured it was time for a blog post on the issue.
The first email that you get looks something like this.
Hope all is well. I want to reach out to introduce myself and reintroduce my firm as you may remember trading emails with one of my colleagues a few years back. I also wanted to pass along congratulations on the round you and the team raised. It is obviously a testament to the continued progress and success you and the team have made since our last check-in.
Given you raised capital recently, I don’t imagine there are any funding needs in the immediate future, but I wanted to reach out to put our firm back on your radar screen. We seek to invest $somebignumberM+ with a huge focus on internet and therefore wanted to reintroduce us as a relevant party for the future.
If you’re up for it I would love the opportunity to briefly introduce our firm, our strategy and portfolio, and discuss ways we might be helpful in the future. I look forward to catching up.
As a CEO, the real value to you right now is what someone like this can do for you. In addition, they are offering to introduce themselves to you in order to earn your trust and interest when you do a next financing. So taking a meeting where you (a) get a deep overview of them, (b) learn about their portfolio, and (c) ask them for specific help with specific companies in their portfolio is how you make this worthwhile while building the relationship.
My advice is to do the following
- Go through their portfolio – make sure there are companies you want intros to.
- Have a meeting – don’t go out of your way for it, but do it when convenient. Don’t do it on the phone – do it when you are with them or they are in your town.
- Do NOT have this meeting about your company. It’s an intro of the VC firm to you.
- Do NOT feel compelled to go through your business other than at a very high level.
- Ask specifically what the VC firm could do to be helpful as you grow.
- Ask specifically for introductions that you identified within their portfolio.
- Give them assignments – see if they follow through.
It’s always hard as an entrepreneur not to pitch your company. But resist in this particular case – use this kind of a meeting to learn as much as you can – about the VC firm, and what they know about the market you are playing in, and how they can help you right now. If you give them assignments and they don’t follow through you learn a lot. But if they do follow through, it tells you even more and can be helpful to your business.
I discovered Josh Breinlinger’s blog this morning via a tweet from @stefanobernardi. I added it to the Ask the VC blogroll, read carefully through his post VCs are liars. And so am I, and declared it the VC post of the day.
And – Josh is right – it’s super hard to say “you suck” or “your team sucks” as a reason for passing. Most VCs aren’t willing to do this as they either don’t want to deal with it, don’t have the emotional constitution for it (it’s hard to say no constantly throughout the day, every day), or don’t recognize that’s the actual reason they are passing.
At Foundry Group, our most common reason for passing is that what you are working on doesn’t fit within our themes. We try to pass on these companies in less than 60 seconds. If you assume that you are one of the 1,000 or so companies a year we see that fit within our themes, we quickly narrow it down to about 100 companies that we spend real time on based on one of three reasons.
- We don’t like the team
- We aren’t excited about the business
- You are too late stage for us
We usually figure this out in the first meeting. You’ll rarely get past interacting with one of the four of us if one of these three is the case. I’ll come back to this, especially point #1, in a minute.
If you end up in one of the remaining 100 companies a year we look at, recognize that we’d probably like to invest in your company. So by this point we like the team – that’s the not the reason we end up passing. Nor is it the business. Our challenge is that we can only invest in a dozen companies a year. We’ve purposefully constrained the number of companies we invest in a year to 12 +/- 2 (our fund is $225m, we have four partners, and have no interest in ever growing bigger.)
100 companies a year we love? 10 – 14 potential investments a year. How do we choose? At this point it’s completely qualitative. We just spend time going deep, individually and together, on every company in this set. We dig into the people and the product. It’s usually pretty obvious when all four of us are off the charts excited about investing. If we aren’t, then we don’t.
The toughest cases are the ones where we are excited, but something qualitative is holding us back. This is always either people or product. But it’s not because we think the people (or the product) suck – we are way past that point. Rather it’s something that just doesn’t catapult it into our “we are out of our mind with enthusiasm about investing.”
So – in our case, the equivalent of “the people suck” happens early – as we narrow from 1,000 to 100. In those 900 that we pass early in the process on, often people issues are the drivers. It’s not necessarily that the people suck, but it’s often the team doesn’t inspire us, we don’t click with them, we think there are weaknesses somewhere that are significant, or we just don’t get the right vibe. We are often wrong on this, but if asked will be blunt about it. It’s hard, so it’s more “reactive” when someone asks rather than “hey – we’ve decided to pass because you suck”, but we try to never hide behind something else when someone asks for feedback.
Having now done this for 18 years (eek) and said no to people about investing somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times, it’s really hard to tell someone the reason is them. But, when asked, I try. And I’ll keep trying.
On the heels of all the noise around Groupon’s $100m financing at a $7.5b (billion) post valuation, I thought I’d put out a call for “old VC term sheets – prior to 1990.”
My partner Jason Mendelson and I are working on a book titled Venture Financings: How To Look Smarter Than Your Lawyer and VC. The final draft is due at the end of February (feel free to give us your sympathy if you happen to see us between now an then) and based on my previous experience with our publisher (Wiley) on Do More Faster, I expect it’ll be out by the end of Q211.
The basis for the book comes from the Term Sheet series that Jason and I wrote on this blog in 2005. We’ve updated the series for the current reality of 2010 (of which much is very similar to 2005, with some differences), talk about lots of different twists that have appeared, and tell plenty of stories to illustrate what the implications of various terms and financing configurations are.
As part of this, I’m looking for some early VC term sheets. I started by trying to hunt down the original Digital Equipment Corporation term sheet (or letter describing the investment) from AR&D to Ken Olson but came up dry. Today, as I was working on some stuff, I realized it would be interesting to look at some term sheets from the 1970′s and 1980′s in whatever form they are in.
If you happen to be in possession of an older VC term sheet – either for a company that was successful or one that was a failure – I’d love to see it. You can email it to me if easy, or drop me a note and I’ll tell you where to fax it. I’ll make sure I honor your request to keep it anonymous if you want me to (either you, the company, or both) but of course would love the ability to weave it into the book where appropriate.