In the last seven months, the venture / entrepreneurial world has gone from “the only thing that matters is massive growth” to “the world is going to end.” For perspective, all you need to do is look at a dozen high-flying IPOs from 2020 or 2021 to see that the peak happened just before Thanksgiving.
The private markets lag the public markets. That’s not new. This time around, the lag was about a quarter, as many VCs started to talk about what was happening around the beginning of Q2.
There is no doubt that we are in the middle of, well, whatever you want to call it. “Correction” and “Choppy Waters” is probably a generous phrase for what is going on.
Having lived through this as an entrepreneur in 1987, an entrepreneur and VC in 2001, a VC in 2008, and a VC today, I embrace that this is just part of the entrepreneurial and economic cycle. I also know that many people freak out at this moment. If you’ve never been through this (like I hadn’t in 1987), it can be terrifying. If you are experienced and suddenly find yourself caught flat-footed for any number of reasons, it can be equally terrifying.
I no longer believe in clichés or prognostications such as “make sure you have three years of money in the bank” or “do a RIF quickly and deeply regardless of the situation you are in.” Instead, I think it is crucial for each company to understand its current reality clearly and make rapid and appropriate adjustments. This could mean “do a RIF quickly and deeply or “make sure you have three years of money in the bank,” but there are many other things to consider and do.
I’ve been involved in companies that have used these moments to gain huge market share from failing competitors. I’ve also been in companies that, in these moments, simply failed. I’ve been involved in companies that made adjustments, soldiered through, and came out the other side stronger. And, I’ve invested in brand new companies founded during these periods that ended up creating entirely new categories and extremely successful companies.
I expect that’s the tone of what we will discuss on 7/14 as part of Bolster’s Speaker Series about the VC Perspective on Navigating Choppy Waters. Fred Wilson has been through this many times, and his post on Amy and my 29th anniversary in Staying Positive is a wonderful perspective. Martina Lauchengco and Heather Hiles are long-time operators turned VCs who have also been through many cycles.
Join us on 7/14 @ 3pm ET for a discussion on Navigating Choppy Waters that hopefully will not be full of the same old clichés currently making the rounds.
My partner Ryan shared this with me. It’s a 10-minute video showing the evolution from System 0.97 to macOS 13 Ventura. I had an original Macintosh 128K which is now enjoying its retirement at the Media Archaeology Lab. Enjoy!
The 2nd Edition of my book Startup Boards: A Field Guide to Building and Leading an Effective Board of Directors launched today.
My co-authors, Matt Blumberg, the CEO of Bolster, and Mahendra Ramsinghani, were a joy to work with.
While the 1st Edition was a good book, I wasn’t particularly proud of it because I didn’t feel like it was my best writing. We worked hard on this edition, and I now feel like it’s equivalent in quality to my other books.
Effective boards are critical at this moment in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. While I hope this downturn is short, I think it will be long and painful. In either case, highly functioning boards can help startups navigate this moment, while dysfunctional and weak boards can accelerate the demise of startups.
If you have a board of directors, want to have a well functioning one, are a director, or want to be a director, I encourage you to grab a copy of Startup Boards: A Field Guide to Building and Leading an Effective Board of Directors.
Connie Loizos is one of the long-time tech industry writers who I respect. I don’t respond to many interview requests these days, but I’ll always talk to her.
She has a good article today in TechCrunch titled Embrace the down round (it’s going to be okay, maybe). I like the quote she pulled out of me in our conversation.
[Brad Feld] says his “strong belief” that “just doing a clean resetting — at whatever the valuation so that everybody is aligned and dealing with reality — is much, much better for a company.”
Now, I’m not encouraging anyone to do a down round if unnecessary., especially when many existing investors are currently willing to add on additional dollars at the most recent valuation. If you can do this cleanly, take the money.
Rather, when you have a choice between a financing at a lower valuation and a financing with all kinds of crazy structure to try to maintain a previous valuation, negotiate the best price you can but do a clean financing with no structure.
If you don’t know what I mean by structure, they are terms like:
… and a bunch of other things.
Sometimes, given your syndicate configuration, you have no choice but to take structure in a new round. But if you can do a clean financing at a lower price, I always think that’s a better option for everyone (founders, employees, and existing investors.)
While my optimistic personality hopes this downturn/adjustment is short-lived, I fear it won’t be. So, as an entrepreneur, I encourage you to deal with reality.
About a year ago, I decided to take a summer vacation from blogging. I didn’t feel like blogging when summer ended, so I extended my blogging vacation indefinitely. I figured I’d wake up one day and feel like blogging again or not. That summer vacation (from blogging) lasted a year.
Initially, I was working on a new book that I got bored of midway through the summer. I put it on the shelf with several other partially completed books. Google Docs now has a surprising number of my started but unfinished books.
Sometime in the fall, Matt Blumberg (Bolster CEO) approached me about doing a 2nd Edition of Startup Boards. Matt and I were on the board together of Return Path, his previous company, for almost 20 years. So when Mahendra Ramsinghani came out with the 1st Edition of Startup Boards in 2013, Matt gave me plenty of feedback on the book. Then, in fall 2021, he correctly suggested that the book needed a significant refresh.
While I always felt the 1st Edition was an important book, I never loved it. Mahendra and I worked hard on it, but I felt like I forced a lot of my writing at some point. Long-time readers of this blog know I had an extended depressive episode in the first half of 2013, and this book was one of the chores that I felt like I just had to get done in that period. Mahendra was kind and patient with me, but I’m sure there were moments when he wanted to scream something like, “Brad, will you just do the writing you said you’d do so we can get this book finished?”
So, we decided to do a 2nd Edition which is now finished and shipping on 6/15. I’m psyched about it. Matt contributed a lot of new content, and I had a chance to rework and refactor the entire book. I had plenty of energy for it, and, given that I’ve written a few more books and thousands of blog posts since 2013, my writing has continued to improve.
Early in the refactoring, we got feedback from several women that the 1st Edition wasn’t very accessible to them because all the sidebars and quotes were from men. So I made a Google Sheet of all the sidebars and quotes, and my brain broke for long enough that I had to go for a walk. So even though I thought I was self-aware and engaged in gender equity in tech in 2013, my actions, at least concerning this book, didn’t match my words.
Subsequently, we replaced about 50% of the sidebars and quotes with new ones from women and people of color. We also changed the pronoun dynamics to use the Singular They, which I am trying to do in all my writing (if you are interested in this topic, Khan Academy has an awesome video.)
Startup Boards: A Field Guide to Building and Leading an Effective Board of Directors 2nd edition launch day is 6/15. If you are interested, pre-order it now.