VCs: Be a Partnership, Not a Collection of Partners

As a seed stage fund most of my time is spent with the founders we’ve invested in already and those who are talking with us about potential funding. Each week I’ll also catch up with a handful of other VCs, either because we’re looking at deals together or just generally updating folks on our Homebrew mission. The question I get most often from them is “Is that Homebrew tattoo real?” but I’ve already written about that 🙂 The second most frequent question – usually from partners at funds who are less active in seed but find point of entry in A or B Rounds – is some variation of “what do entrepreneurs think about our firm?” There’s always one thing I can tell them – entrepreneurs want their VC backer to feel like a partnership, not just a collection of partners.

What’s the distinction between the two? Here are some of the ways founders have articulated the differences to us:

  • When they’re pitching and coming in to meet a second partner, or pitch the partnership group, does it feel like the group has been briefed on what was already discussed or are the founders forced to repeat everything again. Does each meeting with the firm build on the previous one?
  • Do the partners focus on various verticals or industries and ensure the founders land with the best match for their company, or is there a lot of overlap and it’s someone’s deal just because they were point of introduction?
  • Does the firm stand for something? This does not necessarily equate to strength of brand or social media noise, but rather, does it feel like the partnership exists because they have a mission to accomplish or just because they have a slug of money to invest?
  • When the founders need operational help or guidance, how often do other people at the firm outside the deal partner offer to help?

When we formed Homebrew we committed to be a true partnership. In fact, Homebrew wouldn’t have existed in any other combination than the two of us coming together – neither Satya or I were thinking of starting a fund on our own. And although we intend at some point to invite other General Partners to join us, we want to be intentional about remaining a partnership that is greater than the sum of its parts. Brad Feld of Foundry Group, a firm and team who have been especially helpful to us, writes about this in his post Business Love. As Brad says,

The process of creating and building new companies from nothing is hard. It’s incredibly rewarding when it’s successful, but the process can be an excruciating, chaotic, and messy. There are moments of extreme stress. Failure is always lurking in the background. Working alongside people you truly love makes a huge difference, at least for me.

I’ve been in this business only a short while and have plenty to prove over the coming years, but my guess is that the “collection of partners” model will struggle in the face of truly integrated partnerships who are able to move quickly, evolve with the markets and signal to founders that they’ve got the commitment of an entire organization behind them.