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The Game of Innocence

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by MrJames on 2007-12-10

Tags: Preparation Strategy Venture Business

PUBLIC:

Aspiring entrepreneurs be warned. Venture capitalists will provide money for your idea, but they often walk away with most of the value, especially if you are not careful. Like an amateur sitting at a table of professionals, the cards are stacked against your success, so be prepared. Know the game.

Here are some anecdotal facts. There are five times as many people working in venture capital as there are CEO's that are funded each year (~16,500 vs ~3,000). The average venture funded CEO is fortunate to make 1/10th to 1/20th the return on exit as the venture capitalists. Just the legal fees on a later stage deal will run $50,000 or more per party involved, and the venture capitalists always flip the bill, directly or indirectly. Who do the lawyers work for again"

No matter how nice, no matter how fair, and no matter how genuine a venture capitalist appears, you are being out-smarted, out-lawyered, and out-maneuvered the second you sit down and ask for money. The first step in winning is to understand their motivations: (1) control, (2) risk, and (3) opportunity, in that order. Let's take a look at all three.

The entirety of a venture investment centers around control, and control takes many forms: control of the board, control of the voting, control of the investment capital, and, most importantly, control of the management. Venture capitalists are "control freaks," and the psychology of control is embedded in nearly every aspect of the deal legal structure. Assume that most financing terms, from Board meeting frequency to protective provisions have some origin in control, and analyze them as such. Ask yourself: in good times and in bad, how do these terms affect my behavior as a CEO" For example, did Google really need to have 14 Board meetings in one year... ever"

Venture capitalists are excellent at managing risk. It is assumed that at most venture investments fail, but approximately one in ten succeed. Following this simplistic logic, a venture capitalist would need to make at least $10 from every $1 invested in a success to recover from the 9 losses. Now, not every deal is a total loss, but a lot are. Complex protections are inevitably put in place. Let's look at a common scenario: a company receives $10 MM for 50% of the stock in a participating preferred with a 2x liquidation preference. The company sells for $25 MM right after the investment. How much does the founding team make" Nothing. The "50%" is legalese.

Venture capitalists are not very good at spotting opportunities, or they might have better odds than 1 in 10. However, they are very good at "managing" opportunities as a result. Here are some examples. Venture capitalists do not say "no" (for risk of losing an opportunity). They postpone meetings until you are achieving success, and they flock around markets with success stories. Ever wonder why a venture capitalist calls you out of the blue asking about your company" It's probably because a competitor is succeeding. Every wonder what "demonstrate traction" actually means" It means a nine figure IPO or liquidity event in your sector. Your dream is just potential, and you will be held on the sidelines until "the time is right" for the venture capitalists to make money.

The irony is that the venture capital behavior is largely a response to other abuses by CEO's. At this point, however, the venture capitalists have gone too far. The opportunities in building a venture funded start-up are gone for the great entrepreneurs. It simply makes more sense to go it alone.

You can quote me without attribution.

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