East vs. West: Location, Location, Location
What does location have to do with venture-capital funding? Plenty, says Scott Randall, founder and CEO of FairMarket Inc., a Woburn, Mass., Internet-auction-services company. In 1997, when Randall left California-based Yahoo Marketplace to start FairMarket in New England, he consciously brought the best of West Coast culture with him, blending casual style with high technology to create a West Coast-like company that could move at the breakneck speed of the Internet.
During negotiations for his first round of funding, Randall ended up with term sheets from two venture firms in Boston but discovered that a West Coast firm -- Sierra Ventures of Menlo Park, Calif. -- was a better match for his style. As far as he's concerned, East Coast and West Coast venture capitalists are culturally more than just three time zones apart. Randall has gone so far as to categorize the three main areas of difference:
Speed of the deal. "We got term sheets with East Coast VCs in a couple of weeks," Randall says. But after an hour-and-a-half meeting with Sierra, "we got a term sheet on the spot."
Language of the term sheets. "The questions and the terms with East Coast VCs were more focused on the downside," he says. "I felt lucky to get a term sheet." The West Coast VCs, however, "didn't have all of these downside precautions," Randall says. "It was like they were saying, 'Don't worry about the downside. We'll give you the tools to make the big win."
The terms. "I think the East Coast term sheets were more favorable for the VCs on each of the points," he says. "They were reasonable by VC standards, but I still had to negotiate every point." With Sierra, "we got a very fair term sheet right away, one that basically put the VC and the entrepreneur on equal ground. It felt more like a discussion than a negotiation."
FairMarket signed a deal with Sierra worth $10 million, and Randall says he's not in need of additional VC cash just yet. When that time comes, however, he'll still shop both coasts in search of the best deal. "No matter what," he says, "we start each process with a blank sheet of paper."