Shoehorning startups into the VC model

2012-07-19

Tech startups go in an out of fashion. When they’re in fashion, as they are now, entrepreneurs and VCs get lots of attention. Most of this attention focuses on things that involve money, like financings and acquisitions. For some entrepreneurs, raising venture capital becomes a goal unto itself, instead of what it should be: a heavy burden that only makes sense in certain cases.

A startup should raise venture capital (or “venture-style” angel/seed funding) only if: 1) the goal is to build a billion-dollar (valuation) company, and 2) raising millions of dollars is absolutely necessary or will significantly accelerate growth.

There are lots of tech companies that are very successful but don’t fit the VC model. If they don’t raise VC, the founders can make money, create jobs, and work on something they love. If they raise VC, a wide range of outcomes that would otherwise be good become bad.

Unfortunately, many of these startups graft VC-friendly narratives onto their plans and raise too much money. Short term it might seem like a good idea but long term it won’t.

The best source of capital is customers. The next best is the founders (cash or forgone salaries), or investors who are less aggressive about returns than VCs. Every startup has its natural source of financing. Venture capital is the natural source of financing for only a small fraction of startups, despite what the press might lead you to believe.

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