People, in general, like to make other people happy. And despite their reputation for a clear-eyed focus on business fundamentals (read: commitment to making money), that includes your friendly local venture capitalist.

This reality, coupled sometimes with a healthy dose of strategic obfuscation, means that investors are often, how shall we say this, less than entirely candid with founders. Don't believe me? On his blog recently, 500 Startups partner Sean Percival went so far as to write, "During the pitch, no one is actually saying what they really mean."

"This can be frustrating for both sides involved," he goes on to say (with a touch of understatement). But thankfully, Percival is happy to play translator, offering a list of common phrases used by VCs as well as what they really mean. Here you go:

  1. "It's too early for us to jump in here" = I can't think of a real reason to decline
  2. "We're looking for mission-driven founders" = We expect you to work unhealthy amounts of hours on this
  3. "When is your round closing?" = How long can I delay in giving you a commitment?
  4. "Who else are you talking with?" = I'm going to email them right after this meeting to gossip about you
  5. "Who else is investing in this round?" = Is anyone smarter than me sticking their neck out first?
  6. "How are your cohorts performing?" = I sound smart if I use words like "cohorts"
  7. "Oh, yes. I know them very well!" = We had lunch once
  8. "We're going to pass at this time, but I'll be rooting from the sidelines for you!" = I'm appearing supportive just in case you actually make it work and I want to invest later

Of course, founders are guilty of less than straight talk too. So check out the complete post for Percival's list of founder phrases, as well as a handy guide to reading the tea leaves of investor meeting behavior (muffins, apparently, are a really good sign).

What example of investor speak most frustrated you during the fundraising process?

Published on: Sep 14, 2016
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of