I love the start-up world. I love working with founders and young companies. I love the excitement of working on business ideas that are new and different. I love seeing the success that often comes from this hard work. I’ve never before in my professional life seen a time of such innovation and creativity. At Foundry we see more business plans now than we ever have. And, what’s more, more of those business plans are really interesting (and fundable).
It goes without saying that I love the business of venture capital. I love helping entrepreneurs work on their ideas. And I love helping companies figure out how to become as successful as possible. I love the challenge of trying to figure out the next great investment and the energy that comes from working with amazing and creative people.
But I’m worried and I wanted to get it out there.
I’m worried that in all the hype, in all the “we launched our company” events, and “we changed our name again” parties, and “we redid our website – come celebrate!” shindigs, and the SXSW parties, and the hoodies, that we’re losing sight a bit of the really hard work that is creating and building a business.
I’m worried that in offering term sheets after a single 60 minute meeting, and in pricing early stage deals like they were already late-stage successes and most egregiously by constantly running around self promoting and self aggrandizing, VCs are falling prey to a cult of personality about themselves and forgetting that their jobs are to help companies be successful. And as far as I can tell, very few seem to believe what I hold as a fundamental tenet of the venture industry, which is that entrepreneurs come first, not VCs.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a good party (not to mention a good hoodie!). And I recognize the reasons to celebrate important company milestones and for industry events like CES and SXSW. And in bringing a bunch of customers, prospects and partners together at a social event. But I feel like I’m hearing less of “did you see XYX company’s great new product” and more “are you going to so and so’s party at ad:tech?” I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I’ve received 30 invites to SXSW parties but not a single invite to a panel session at the conference. And when someone tells me that someone is “killing it” (a phrase I think I hear 10 times a day these days), more often than not they mean “doing the job they were hired for.”
I hear more and more stories about companies making a pitch to a VC and having an offer before they walk out of the room (entrepreneurs: do you really want to work with someone who puts so little thought into their investment process that they would do this?). And the way VCs talk about the companies they work with has clearly shifted to be substantially more VC-centric (lots of use of “I” and taking credit for company success as something they themselves created rather than participated in or helped with).
And, of course, much has been written about rising valuations and the potential risk this poses to early-stage companies. Not to mention the increasing popularity of the “party round,” where many VCs participate but no one actually takes ownership (also not good for entrepreneurs, in my opinion).
It feels like a lot of this is for external show: “I’m cool; I run a shit hot start-up; I saw [insert big name technorati here] at our company party last night. I’m in such and such company with [long list of other investors] and doesn’t that make me awesome. I’m awesome I’m awesome – look at me!”
And not really about building great products or great businesses.
So by all means, lets keep having fun. But let’s also remember that the goal is to build great companies. And please – my fellow venture capitalists – can we take it down a few notches and remember that our role is a supporting one. If you wanted to be the star you should have become an entrepreneur.
Seth Levine (@sether) is a managing director with Colorado-based venture capital firm Foundry Group