Insider Tips for Dealing Expertly with VCs
I love HBO’s 'Silicon Valley' -- and my favorite characters are (of course) the investors. A quick primer for those who, for whatever insane reason, haven’t watched the show yet: There are passive but calculated VCs at a firm called Raviga Capital, and then an ultra-involved angel investor named Erlich Bachman. Fresh off an exit of his own company, Bachman has turned his house into an “incubator,” and lives, eats and breathes with its primary tenant: The team from Pied Piper, our heroic, hapless startup. Bachman is involved in the business in every way imaginable. It drives everyone a bit nuts, but there’s little they can do about it. He fronted the space to launch the business, so he gets to set the house rules -- literally.
This setup is hilarious to me because, well, I am that dispassionate form of VC being lampooned on-screen. And I see versions of those hyperactive, early-stage investors all the time. These people had great success and now have a lot of money and time on their hands and don’t want to just play the market. They want to get involved -- and so they find a promising company to invest in, and then enmesh themselves. This can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the investor. Some will become valued mentors. Others are just, well, bored.
But here’s what you should know about dealing with folks like Bachman or Raviga Capital: Both will be hands-on. The only difference is how.
Keep in mind, no matter how small an angel’s investment is in your company, when they wake up that morning checking up on your company might be the most interesting part of their day. As such, they are often anxious to roll up their sleeves and pitch in where they think they should. And a startup needs all the help it can get, so it’s often impossible to say no to an angel’s whims and desires.
Later-stage investors -- the VCs like me -- manage more passively. We won’t talk daily, or even weekly, and we certainly won’t hang out at your home. Entrepreneurs often mistakenly believe that means we’re hands-off. Wrong: We just prefer to exert influence via more defined and traditional board member roles and to direct more of our time to cultivating interest from our VC peers in the next investment round. We know that directing a CEO on day-to-day operations will result in a tense and less than productive relationship. (The exception: If your business is sinking, we will gladly step in to take a more active role if we think it’ll help.) Plus, every VC is working with more than a handful of startups at any given time, so we simply don’t have the bandwidth to hold a founder’s hand on a day-to-day basis.
In 'Silicon Valley,' every investor is a cartoon character. But in the real world, there’s a pretty easy way to understand investors’ expectations: With an angel or a seed investor, your lunch will likely be inside their fridge. A VC will just invite you out to lunch -- occasionally.