Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fundraising Survival Guide

Paul Graham (of Y Combinator fame) has recently posted a great essay on how to survive the difficult task of fundraising.

I particularly like this because it talks about the pressures experienced by the entrepreneur and the behaviour witnessed by both parties - investor and entrepreneur. There are very rational reasons that lead VCs to act the way they do. One of my favourite quotes from him was the following:

Problem number 3: investors are very random. All investors, including us, are by ordinary standards incompetent. We constantly have to make decisions about things we don't understand, and more often than not we're wrong.

We don't like to call ourselves incompetent - but the truth is that being good at being a VC involves learning a lot about something new very quickly. Even with a certain degree of specialization, the entrepreneur will know more about the particular business than the VC. Of our areas of focus (life sciences, IT, and cleantech), I primarily focus on cleantech. However, within cleantech there are still a huge range of subsectors - solar, wind, fuel cells, batteries, smart meters, biofuels, grey water, black water, carbon storage, synfuels, etc. While I've had the privilege of being involved in startups in a number of these areas, if you come to me with a new material that dramatically improves the energy efficiency in some market somewhere, I'll need to understand how much value the market will place on your offering, the technical feasibility of what you've done, the difficulty it will be to ramp up manufacturing, the cost sensitivity of the inputs, the competitive landscape, etc. So, we get good at learning quickly.

However, all of this dance of information exchange can seem, to the entrepreneur, to be frustrating. The entrepreneur has been living this vision for the past "x" months/years and can't understand why everyone else doesn't see what they do. We try to recognize the situation from the entrepreneur's point of view. and this is why, if we aren't going to progress an investment, we strive to provide companies with a quick "no" rather than a slow "no", and this is why we try to give feedback where we can - although often it is difficult for us to provide feedback because the reasons for us progressing an investment can often be intertwined with other investments we are considering. Nevertheless, the road to funding can be a long one, and Paul's post I think helps chart the course.

1 comment:

Andrew Neilson said...

Hi Aaron,
Good to stumble across your blog,and enjoyed your openness about VC- world. I'm also enjoying many of the VC blogs you're into. A lot of great tips and know how out there....

Keep it up, and see you at an industry event soon,
Andrew Neilson