Brad Feld

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A Rant on VCs, Financial Models, and Experience

Dec 27, 2007

I love a good rant.  I got one several months ago from Janet Stites in reaction to a post I wrote about financial projections.  I asked her if I could publish it and she said "yup."  Here it is.  Janet’s thoughts are her own and come from her experience, but I thought her perspective on entrepreneurship and VC’s was a useful perspective to ruminate on.

Dear Brad: I’m Janet Stites, cofounder/ former publisher of AlleyCat News now founder/publisher of Talent Pool New [east]. I came across your posting on the issue of projections always being wrong and how you mentioned (in a small way) the value of creating a business which scales. I wish you could open this dialogue on a larger basis with VCs and particularly early stage investors because one’s company can go under while taking the time to create these models. If VCs, early stage and particularly angel investors, would begin to ask for the revenue model, price point, universe of the market, competitive advantage and, from there, try to ascertain how flexible & creative, in terms of tweaking the b-model, the entrepreneur might be if the market changes, war starts, economy falters.  Investors might see a lot better deal flow in terms of quality and management in terms of tenacity and the entrepreneur might be able to avoid having to walk away from a potentially great company because his/her credit line has run out…spouse left…child starts college (I remember when the founders of iVillage thought, in 1995, chat was their model and, thought, in 1996, they would make their fortune off of subscriptions.).

As you mentioned, it often takes one and a half to two years to start accruing revenue. I bet what stands between entrepreneurs and the finish line a few months out is often about $75,000 to $100,000–which may be too much to come up with personally after two years of no income and, no doubt, already a second mortgage, college fund diminished, etc.

I wonder how many viable businesses have had to fold because the entrepreneur wasn’t a trust fund baby or student just dropping out of Harvard (often the same) and able to live with 6 friends in a closet for a year or so (don’t forget the Teva’s and the bike!) What missed opportunities for investments and innovations in general? VCs might say that "if it was really worth it, you would make the time," but that is easy for them because VCs get a money management fee–you don’t have to wait until one of your investments has been acquired, gone public, or is simply in the black, to make your money. During the boom any number of VCs made a fortune as their portfolio companies were acquired or went public and they could cash out, even though the companies were never profitable and shareholders lost their shirts.

Also, often VCs –based on the many I know–are not the primary care takers of their kids so they are not choosing between making sure there is something fresh and green on the table for dinner, all the permission slips are signed, etc. or sitting in front of a computer all night creating multiple case scenario spreadsheets. One VC who has a blog once wrote that if he wasn’t writing the blog, he’d be changing diapers. My heart went out to his wife. What if she wanted to start a blog or a business? That would be one stinky baby.

Unlike the west coast, many early-stage or angel investors didn’t make their money as entrepreneurs —never even sweated payroll or signed personally for a credit line, so it’s hard for them to understand the time-value ratio of seeking money vs. credit card debt, vs. just calling it a day.

Anyhoo–I wonder what would happen if someone with your visibility in the financial community would encourage VCs/angels to re-think what they want in terms of projections (given they’re always wrong). You are in a position to create change…but your audience has to be your peers, not the entrepreneurs.