Get Real: Venture Capitalists Are Awesome
BY Steve Tobak
Yeah, yeah. You've heard why VCs are awful, greedy people. But, really, when you think about it, they aren't that bad.
A few years ago, I read an article called something like “What I hate about VCs.” It was pretty dead on. Now I can’t find it. Not to worry. Having spent decades in the high-tech industry, I’ve known gazillions of VCs. I’m sure I can do a pretty effective job of highlighting their more consistent shortcomings.
But you know what? I’m not going to do it.
I guess, after all these years, I’ve reached a sort of Zen-like coexistence with the venture capital community. As with all things, there’s a yin and a yang to working with VCs. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. And nobody ever talks about the good.
Well, it’s about time.
So, if you’re an entrepreneur who’s new to the whole venture capital game or you just want to get the flip side of the story from someone who has spent an awful lot of time with some of the most important and misunderstood folks in the technology business, here are seven things I love about VCs.
They give you money. Too obvious? So what? Why overlook the obvious. I mean, where would our entrepreneurial economy, our digital flywheel, our high-tech meccas like Silicon Valley and all the baby valleys be without venture funding? Nowhere. What’s America without venture capital? Canada. A nation full of Research in Motions. Wow, a cold chill just ran up my spine.
They’re super-polite. I once watched a famous VC tear a C-Level executive of a public company a new one in a board meeting--except he did it in such a polite way, I almost stood up and applauded his decency. Granted that politeness is one of those double-edge swords. Sometimes, you just want the straight story. Then again, I’ve been ripped apart by so many dysfunctional CEOs, it’s refreshing to get a little respect every now and then.
There are lots of them. If need to raise capital and the first 50 VCs you pitch blow you off, no problem; they’re crawling all over Palo Alto and Menlo Park. If you somehow manage to blow through all of those, there are hundreds more in Austin, New York, anywhere there’s a high-tech industry. Just remember what I always tell people: companies that should get funded, do. You and your team may just have to exist on Ramon noodles for a few months.
They don’t freak out when you screw up. If nothing else, VCs tend to be very, almost eerily, calm. And why shouldn’t they be? They’re holding all the cards. I was once pitching a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. When the moment came to reveal our very first sample, a technical marvel of silicon and fiber optics, I gently took it out of its box and held it out for the VCs to see. Then it shattered in my hand. They never flinched. They didn’t fund me either.
They’re human. Granted, I’ve never actually seen one sleep or bleed, so I can’t be absolutely certain, but I’ve watched them eat, so it’s a good bet they’re human. And they generally do have good senses of humor. Once, upon meeting a well-known VC I hadn’t seen in a while for lunch and complimenting how good he looked, he replied, “Do you have any idea how much work it takes to look this good at my age?”
They stick around, more or less. The VCs that always come to mind are the ones who had the foresight to back Google or Facebook, but the truth is that these guys spend half their time looking at pitches, helping their entrepreneurs make connections, giving advice, and getting bored to tears sitting in board meetings of companies that never go anywhere but somehow manage to take a decade to do it.
They’re wrong a lot, just like you and me. I once heard Steve Jurvetson, the fast-talking managing director of leading venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, say (I’m paraphrasing here) that when you’re trying to sell a disruptive idea, be ready for the first hundred VCs to tell you you’re crazy before you finally find someone who can see your vision. And how about the internet bubble? They all got caught with their pants down, just like you and me.