By Dennis Clemente
What makes a startup ripe for Seed A investment? There’s the most obvious answer: “You have demonstrable revenue growth.” There’s the hopeful response: “You’re selling more metrics and data than just sizzle.” And the standard throwaway response: “…If you’ve become a revenue-focused brand.” You’ll do better with the first reaction; keep your hopes up for the second; plan long for the third.”
Last May 13, Rubicon Venture Capital’s Joshua Siegel hosted a night of VC talk and startup demonstrations at Orrick at CBS building. For the first part of the night, Siegel brought in the venture capitalists to answer his prepared questions like the one above. The VCs were Marc Michel of Metamorphic Ventures; Will Peng of Red Swan Ventures; Brad Svrluga of High Peaks Venture Partners; Nikhil Kalghatgi of Vast Ventures and Matt Gorin of Contour Venture Partners.
Elaborating on their responses regarding Seed A investment, the VCs put importance to having customer acquisition metrics and a repeatable sales process. “If you’re past the idea of product/market fit thinking, then you’re ready,” Michel said.
Still, at least two VCs said it has become harder to pinpoint what Seed A means nowadays. “The nomenclature has changed. What was an A can now be B.”
Peng said strong engagement with a group of people is key, but he also attempted to simplify it, “Early stage is, ‘Do people want it’ (your startup)? Series A is, ‘Do a lot of people want it’?”
What areas or sectors are ripe for Series A funding? VCs may not always give you a straight answer, because even without them saying it, the tech space is always evolving, if not converging with some other service or technology. Michel considered marketplaces, the shared economy, even mentioning Uber as a marketplace, but to avoid pigeonholing himself, he said, “Every firm will have its own idiosyncrasies.”
Really now, why can’t they say more? Peng doesn’t want to influence mindsets, “We don’t want you to change your business model based on trends, because we look for companies that come from a genuine place. If you are building something you are passionate about and you have the conviction to make it work, then we’ll take a look at it.” For a few seconds, he buckled and said food, but stopped short of elaborating. If he is talking about Soylent, look into it if you haven’t heard about it.
Asked if they work with other investors, Michel said, “We syndicate everything we do. We look for good partners and share financial risk, because most companies take time to develop.”
VCs have the resources to add value to your startup where angel investors can only provide expertise. Kalghatgi, however, is not one to share a startup with another investor if it means he’ll be hampered by what his firm can offer.
The difference between East Coast and West Coast investors is a topic not brought too often in public, but Siegel tried to say who would respond. Without going into detail, he said, “We hear a lot of crazy stuff in San Francisco, (how) it’s easy to get money.”
Svrluga said, “It’s 10 times bigger (there). There are also better entrepreneurs out there.”
In New York as opposed to Silicon Valley, there was also a comment about how good VCs see through the hype—and fakery. They ask about hitting milestones that attract investors. They want the right team, the right technology, the right differentiation.
Peng added how he doesn’t like you buying traffic, because it’s fake growth, akin to what we’ve learned with the Emperor with No Clothes fable. “It you stop buying traffic, you will (see) that you don’t have anything. Don’t go this road of lies.”
A question that pops up every now and then is how to get noticed by VCs. The response has always been the same: (face-to-face) networking, but Svrluga went a step further. True to how technology has improved networking, he said Linkedin is the greatest referral tool. “If you can’t figure out Linkedin, then you won’t be able to get the audience.”
Naiveté permeates entrepreneur novices, according to Svrluga. He suggested you come to him with a warm lead; for Gorin, a strong reference; for Kalghatgi, a person who knows you really well and can give you an accurate portrayal.
It’s true what they say. Mondays are no-nos for VCs. Michel laid out his schedule on the table: “I have 30-meeting slots dedicated to meeting new companies. But he is also quick to say how it’s physically impossible to meet everyone. Mondays are a no-no. It’s all a day of meetings.”
After the VCs’ talk, the startup demonstrations followed. The presenters were Jeremy Kagan of Pricing Engine; Michael Ibrahim of Whisk, an Uber competitor; co-founders Merritt Baer and Brian Fenty of TodayTix; Peter Stebe of nextSociety, and Doug Chambers of Field Lens.
For those starting out in New York, nextSociety’s Stebe tells us how networking with the right people proved crucial in his life away from his home, Germany. Now he’s monetizing it with nextSociety, an iOS networking app using a relevance score, a smart indicator that tells you how well a connection aligns with your professional interests.
Every startup has an interesting back story. For Stebe, who is from Germany, it was always how he dreamed of living in New York. Now he has a startup here.
Field Lens’ Chambers was succinct and to the point in his short presentation. In his construction work app, he talked about how he is answering the problem of communication breakdowns typical in construction work. He has a solid team, another important ingredient in a startup.
Having been funded, he knows the drill. Determining a problem and how you can solve it is crucial to your success and VC funding.