Tuesday, May 28, 2013

VC Whisperer Thought #5: VCs and Entrepreneurs Need To Smarten Up and Hire Investment Bankers

VCs and entrepreneurs need to smarten up. You aren't good at everything, you don't have infinite amounts of free time, and you don't know everyone.

So why is it that both VCs and entrepreneurs feel they are particularly well-positioned to spend all kinds of time raising money? Why are both groups so allergic to investment bankers?

Does the CEO of a startup do all the coding and UX work himself? No, he hires experts to do the work for him. Since when did it become the CEO's job to spend his time on the road meeting with investors? That's downright negligent in my opinion. And it is even more negligent if the VC encourages this behavior. The entrepreneurs I back should be focused on building their business, not running around doing tasks for which other people are much better equipped.

Granted, the founder of a startup shouldn't be hiring bankers to raise those first couple rounds of financing. It's helpful to do that yourself. You refine your pitch, you get great feedback. But once you're at the point where the business is raising $10M+, why wouldn't you bring in experts for help? Why wouldn't you offload a lot of the grunt work required to make such a financing successful? And why wouldn't you expand your own network by paying for someone else's. The time saved that you can then use to grow your business is invaluable. And if you're the VC who thinks you can play investment banker for your startups and make introductions, then I'm sure glad I'm not your LP, because clearly you've lost sight of what's important - finding and getting into great deals, not going on roadshows with your companies.

The stigma and aversion to investment bankers in the VC/startup world needs to end. In fact, the best VCs and their most successful portfolio companies often use investment bankers on a regular basis. I've worked with some of them. Smarten up people. Stop thinking you can do everything yourself, and even if you can, it's not a good use of your time.

VCs and entrepreneurs shouldn't be spending all their time raising money.
Leave the financing work to the financing experts - investment bankers.
Don't assume you can or should do everything yourself.

Monday, February 25, 2013

VC Whisperer Thought #4: Networking Is Important So Get Better At It!

Being successful in business is all about people. If you can't deal with people or connect with people, then don't go into business. Be a programmer. Be a writer. Find a job where solitude reigns and where you don't have to deal with people, and the politics and sensitivities that comes with that. After years of traveling for work, there are a number of things I've discovered when it comes to successfully meeting with new people, maintaining relationships, and then extracting something useful from those relationships.

This will be part 1 of a multi-part series on some of the best tips and tactics I've learned so that you can get the most out of your networking and relationship-building efforts.

Don't go in with an agenda.

Forget about building a relationship. Just securing a meeting with someone you've never met is virtually impossible if you go in with a very specific agenda. Unless you have something that will guaranteed make the person you're trying to meet immediately richer and with no effort. Then anyone will take your meeting. Barring that, it's far better to meet with people when you don't have anything to ask for. It's much more genuine. People feel like you're taking the time to talk to them and get to know them without wanting anything from them. It makes meetings much more relaxed and generally people will open up more.

Going in with no agenda implies that you need to plan your networking far in advance. It means you need to get to know people before you have any need for them.

Give before you get.

This one should be obvious, but there's no better way to build a relationship with someone, than by offering help first. By investing in a relationship before you ask for anything, you've created goodwill. And it's human nature to want to give back to someone who helps us. If you give before you get, when it comes time to ask for something, the other person will be far more likely (virtually guaranteed) to go out of their way for you. That's powerful.

Make sure to follow up.

This doesn't mean follow up with a summary of everything you want, and everything you asked for. This means take the time to write a thoughtful note that the other person will remember.

Being successful in business depends 100% on your ability to deal with people.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

VC Whisperer Thought #3: Quebec City Conference 2012 - A Breath Of Fresh Air

In just under 2 weeks, some of the largest investors in the world will converge on Quebec City, as part of an invite-only conference, appropriately called "The Quebec City Conference"  (QCC). This is the kind of conference that we need more of, especially in Canada. There are enough demo days, startup drinks, and other forums for entrepreneurs to meet each other, and for entrepreneurs to meet investors. However, there is definitely a clear lack of places for investors to meet other investors and for GPs to meet LPs in Canada. The Quebec City Conference fills that void, and more importantly, brings the right people and money to Canada.

For many years, I've been saying that the current Canadian venture capital ecosystem is fundamentally broken. There are many causes...too many to cover in just one post. And while many valiant efforts have been made to encourage more entrepreneurs and more startups, the money and returns simply haven't materialized as expected. Why is that?

  1. First, venture funds are still primarily financed by various government entities and public funds. Governments have completely different incentives, and often impose stifling measures on the venture funds that they finance. Relying solely on government sources of capital also makes the entire industry extremely vulnerable in the long term - not good if you're trying to create a sustainable ecosystem. 
  2. Second, no venture funds have really taken any risks. No one has gone out and built a fund that does things differently in Canada. No one is thinking outside of the box. 
The kind of meetings that will take place at the QCC will hopefully help to attract and diversify the pools of capital that are available to canadian funds. And they will hopefully encourage conversations that will generate new ideas to turn the industry around.

An area of particular interest to the VC Whisperer at the QCC is the Public Policy Forum on Venture Capital and Innovation. There should be good discussions on the role of incubators and accelerators, on new VC models, and on the role of government. As always, you will find my thoughts here...

Getting investors together is necessary if we want to fix the broken VC ecosystem in Canada.

Friday, August 3, 2012

VC Whisperer Thought #2 - Don't Get Ahead Of Yourself

I often hear first-time entrepreneurs have grand plans for their business. They want to raise thousands or millions of dollars, buy assets, and set up offices. This is a waste of money. For the love of god, please don't spend one penny more than what is absolutely necessary to acquire a customer or validate your product or business model in some way.

The hurdle that has to be overcome with any business is getting to profitability - generating enough revenue so that you aren't losing money. Your chance of success goes way up if this bar is set very low.

While this sounds simple enough, so many entrepreneurs get lost in their vision or their dream, that they lose sight of this simple rule.

Don't get ahead of yourself. 
Don't spend a dime unless you absolutely have to, or until a customer is paying you.