VCs Are Not Your Friends

2/3/11Follow @sgblank

One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is not understanding the relationship they have with their investors. At times they confuse VCs with their friends.

Let’s Go to Lunch
At Rocket Science our video game company was struggling. Hubris, bad CEO decisions (mine) and a fundamental lack of understanding that we were in a “hits-based” entertainment business not in a Silicon Valley technology company were slowly killing us.

One day I got a call from my two investors, “Hey Steve, we’re both going to be up in San Francisco, lets grab lunch.” I liked my two investors. I’d known them for years, they were smart, trying to figure out the video game market with me, (in hindsight a business that none of us knew anything about and shouldn’t have been in,) coached me when needed, etc. Our board meetings were collegial and often fun.

We were just about to have a board meeting in another week to talk about raising another round of financing to keep our struggling disaster afloat. I had assumed that my VCs were behind me. Thinking we were having a social call, I was completely unprepared for the discussion. (Lesson – never take a VC meeting without knowing the agenda.)

“Steve, we thought we’d tell you this before the board meeting, but both our firms are going to pass on leading your next round.” I was speechless. I felt like I had just been kicked in the gut and stabbed in the back These were my lead investors. It was the ultimate vote of no confidence. If they passed the odds of anyone in the entire country funding us was zero.

I knew they had been questioning our ability to stay afloat as a company in the board meetings so this wasn’t a complete surprise but I would have expected some offer a bridge loan or some sign of support. (I finally got them to agree if I could find someone else to lead the round they would put in a token amount to say they were still supportive.)

“Is this about me as the CEO?” I asked. “I’ll resign if you guys think you can hire someone else you want to back.” They looked a bit sheepish and replied, “No it’s not you. You should stay and run the company. However, we realized that we’ve backed a business we don’t know much about, the company is a money sink and both our firms have no stomach for this industry.”

“But I thought you guys were my friends?!” You’re supposed to support me!! I said out of utter frustration.

VCs Are Not Your Friends
I had just gotten a very expensive reminder. I liked my board members. They liked me. But while I was just seeing a single board member, I was just one of twenty companies in … Next Page »

Steve Blank is the co-author of The Startup Owner's Manual and author of the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which details his Customer Development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University Engineering School and at U.C. Berkeley's Haas Business School. He blogs at www.steveblank.com. Follow @sgblank

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  • http://www.shanghaivest.com bruno bensaid

    excellent post, Steve. when the shit hits the fan, this is really when you see it all clearly. but did not you guess, when signing your term sheet, that the relationship was already unfair (anti-dilution, double dipping etc) etc? anyway, I am going to re-post this to my startup clients, I keep telling them about alignment, but it takes them time to get it.