07 December 2007

Man’s Best Friend

The prevailing view in national politics is that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. This same axiom is true for the CEO of a venture-backed company.

Sure, while they were courting you, your venture capitalists said wonderful things about your company. They applauded your past successes. They told you of their hands-off style and how they were there to help you navigate (only) the strategic issues. They persuaded you that they brought more than money to the table. They brought their contacts, their experience, the synergy of their other portfolio companies, and of course their “brand.” But what they probably left out of the equation is that the sole reason they invested in your company is their expectation of a healthy return on their investment. In other words, they are in it for the money!

Venture capital is often a necessary evil to get you, your colleagues and your company to the next level. Often times you can’t get there without it. And in many cases it is a badge of success for an entrepreneur. Venture backed companies get more attention from the press, tend to grow faster, and, in fact it is much more likely that you will accomplish an IPO with venture backing than without.

Oh sure, you say, you always knew VC’s were in it for the money. And in fact, you’re probably in it for the money too! Otherwise, why would you be putting in those long hours, enduring the hardships of limited resources, competitive pressures and dealing with hard-to-please employees and investors. But while this may be a similarity between you and your VC, there is an important difference. While you both may be in it for the money…they are in it ONLY for the money.

You, on the other hand, may have to maintain friendships and relationships with your employees, you may have your name on the line with your angel investors, friends, or family. It is on you whom the vendors are taking their chances. And perhaps you have some desire to continue running your company. You need to make decisions that may have implications that go beyond just plain money. These “other” considerations all are part of what makes you a CEO. But your VC ultimately wants nothing to do with them.

VC’s really only care about the money. You and your company are just a vehicle to get them to their goal of a return on their investment. If something, anything extraneous, gets between them and their return, like you or your “other” considerations, you will likely find yourself alone.

If you haven’t experienced this yet, just wait until your try to raise the next round of capital. Or, you miss you numbers one time too often. Or, you are forced to sell your company at a price that is not quite what the venture guys were hoping. Or perhaps worse yet, you go through a liquidation. Then see who ends up with what’s left.

So next time you are sitting at a board meeting, and perhaps things are going well enough to let your guard down just a bit, don’t consider for an instant that they the guy next to you is your friend. Unless he’s got long furry ears and a tail, think again!