Doing The Heavy Lifting

Most venture capital investments are made, over time, by syndicates. This means a group of venture capital firms develops around a company, usually built over multiples rounds. Some of the firms in the syndicate agree to (or require) having a partner from their firm join the Board of the company.

If you look at the roughly dozen boards I am on, most of them have multiple venture capitalists on them. Some also have independent directors, something I believe strongly in and have written about frequently.

Not all venture capital firms in your syndicate will be the same. Not all of the VCs on your board will be the same. Some will be challenging to deal with. Some will be unproductive and distracting. Some will be nice to have around but won’t do much. A few will roll up the sleeves and do the “heavy lifting.”

It is this latter group that is super valuable. You saw it in action last week when the partners of Benchmark apparently negotiated a change in leadership at Uber. That is hard, painful work. But someone has to do it. And I have seen the partners at Benchmark do it before. They don’t shy from the tough stuff. Nobody enjoys doing things like that, but they know when it is needed and they step up and do it.

I was talking to another VC I work with yesterday about a completely different situation. The company is doing great. We have some important decisions in front of us, all good choices to have to make, but selecting the right ones will matter a lot. This VC has been deeply engaged in the process, providing a lot of super valuable advice, and saying things that need to be said, even if they are not popular. I feel incredibly lucky to have someone like that in a syndicate with me. And I told him that yesterday.

You can put together a list of the top VCs by returns. That is done annually. It’s all nonsense. There are a ton of shitty VCs on that list. Returns matter, for sure. But what really matters is who shows up when the hard conversation has to be had. What really matters is who provides the right advice at a critical time. What really matters is who puts aside their own personal interests and does what is in the best interests of the company. What really matters is who steps into a vacuum and provides leadership when it is badly needed.

When you are picking investors, you should call around and check references. Ask about this stuff. Find out who does the heavy lifting and who goes along for the ride. Pick the one who does the heavy lifting. Because you will need it, frequently.

Fun Friday: Let’s Play GM

So you are Phil Jackson and you’ve got the eighth pick in yesterday’s NBA Draft. 

You want a guard who can be a franchise player for the Knicks.

You can take Malik Monk, Dennis Smith Jr, or Frank Ntilikina.

Who do you pick?

I don’t know much about Frank Ntilikina. I sure hope he lives up to whatever Phil Jackson saw in him. 

But I fell in love with Malik Monk’s game in the NCAA tournament. He’d have been my pick.

Numeraire Is Live

Back in February, I posted about Numeraire.

I wrote:

the Numerai team has now gone a step further and issued a crypto-token called Numeraire to incent these data scientists to work together to build the best models instead of just competing with each other

And roughy four months later, I am happy to write that the Numeraire token is live on the Ethereum blockchain.

You can read more about this here.

Well done Numerai team.

Open Source Funding Documents

Cooley, one of the top startup law firms, has open sourced the legal documents required to do a Series Seed or Convertible Note financing.

They are available on Cooley’s CooleyGo document generation platform and also on GitHub.

Kudos to Cooley for doing this. We need to make the transaction costs of getting a financing done as low as possible and putting the legal docs into the public domain is a great step forward in doing that.

Thirty Years

Thirty years ago today the Gotham Gal and I were married. It was a very warm and humid day in the Washington DC area and the skies opened up and poured during the wedding ceremony which was happily inside. After that, the humidity cleared and the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful evening. That was a good omen and while our marriage has had a few thunderstorms, it has mostly been sunny skies.

We’ve known each other since we were nineteen and have lived together since we were twenty. We moved to NYC at twenty-one without a dime to our names and the first bank account we opened was a joint account. Everything we’ve accomplished over the years has been our collective success and there have been many successes and plenty of failures too.

Our three amazing children are our greatest success and our greatest joy. We also love NYC, LA, Amagansett, Paris, Park City, art, food, and entrepreneurs, not in any particular order.

Thirty years of marriage feels substantial. It’s not yet a lifetime together but we are getting there now. And it feels great. There is no greater feeling in life than to love and be loved and I feel bathed in it today and every day.

To celebrate this milestone, we took off four weeks from memorial day weekend through this coming weekend. I like to call it a victory lap. While we haven’t avoided work entirely, we have cut back on it dramatically. And today, we won’t work at all. We plan to spend the day together in Paris enjoying each other and everything this wonderful city has to offer.

Paris

The Gotham Gal and I have been coming to Paris for close to thirty years. We started coming with our family a little more than fifteen years ago and spent one summer here as a family about ten years ago. We bought an apartment here around five years ago and we try to be here two to four weeks a year. Needless to say, we love Paris.

We have been in Paris three times in the past month and just arrived back yesterday. Every time I arrive here I marvel at the beauty of the city. It’s not just the architecture and scale (no skyscrapers) and light, all of which contribute to the beauty of Paris, it is the people, the stores, the sidewalk cafes, the parks, and much more. I have been to hundreds of cities around the world and I have never been to a city as beautiful as Paris.

I have noticed a lot of changes in Paris over the years we have been coming. The Parisians are much more tolerant of English and English speakers these days. Their English is generally better than my French. 

Paris has always had great transportation with it’s amazing Metro system, and the best thing to do in Paris is walk, but Velib and a host of ride sharing apps have made getting around even eaiser.

Paris continues to reinvent itself. There are new neighborhoods to explore, new shops to buy from, and new restaurants that continue to push the cuisine forward. That is not true of many cities in Europe these days and is a testament to the city and its citizens.

The new French leader Emmanuel Macron wants France to act like a startup. From what I see in Paris these days, that is already happening although leadership at the top can and will certainly help.

And speaking of startups, there are plenty of good ones in France and specifically in Paris. We have one of them, LaRuche, in our portfolio and I know of many great entrepreneurs, startups, and VCs in Paris.

I also know of a few big tech companies in the Bay Area that are eyeing Paris for a remote engineering location. The French have a great education system and produce a lot of engineers. It makes a lot of sense that companies looking to access new talent pools would come here.

There are, of course, challenges doing business in France. It’s hard to rapidly scale up and down your workforces here. The labor laws are challenging for high growth volatile companies to deal with. And it’s too complicated to conclude financings quickly in France (and Germany and other European countries). Macron and his team would be wise to move these laws closer to the US model.

But all in all, Paris is a thriving, bustling, innovative place that is lovely to be in and I am very bullish on it and the new French leadership.

Here’s a photo I took on our walk home from dinner last night along the river that captures what a lovely place Paris is.

Should Your Company Be Profitable?

Mark Suster just put up a long post on this topic. His message is “it depends” and he explains the rationale for investing in growth vs getting profitable.

I have come to think about this differently.

If you are bootstrapping your company without the help of outside investment (ie angels, VCs, etc), then you have to be profitable from day one. No debate or discussion there.

But if you have the ability to lose money because of the availability of outside investment, then you can and should lose money in the first three stages of your company’s development which are; 1) building the product, 2) shipping the product, 3) scaling the revenues. But once you have achieved those three objectives, I believe you should move on to #4 – getting profitable.

There is this idea that you can’t grow really fast and be profitable at the same time. There is also this idea that you have to keep adding engineering and product resources as you scale your business. And there is this idea that more salespeople equals more sales. I have found that all three of those ideas are wrong to some extent. And I have found that really strong execution in product, engineering, and sales, based on doing less, not more, and based on having a high performing team without a lot of baggage, will allow your company to grow fast and be profitable at the same time.

We have a number of portfolio companies that are now seven, eight, nine, and ten years old that for most of their lives have been unprofitable and focused on growing users, revenues, and the team. I have been working closely with a few of them in the last year or two to help them to change their mindset to get profitable. This has, in some cases, meant reducing the size of the team, in a few cases significantly.

It has been enlightening to watch what has happened with this cohort of companies. They have kept growing, sometimes at a higher growth rate than before the belt tightening. They are better places to work, more stable, more focused, and more successful. They are better companies and they are more valuable companies. They are easier to finance and they are easier to exit.

I would encourage all entrepreneurs and leaders out there to embrace the idea of getting profitable sooner than you might think you can or should. It’s good for your companies and it is good for you.