The noise across the venture investing landscape is deafening. Is there a valuation bubble? Is the boom in angel investing about to tip? Should large venture funds be doing seed stage investing? Is small-ticket Micro VC a legitimate strategy? Can new venture managers get funded? Blah, blah, blah. Bottom line: I don't care and neither should you.
Whether you are building a new business, investing as an angel or deploying the capital of others, the guiding principles are the same:
- Have a plan
- Speak to lots of smart people about the plan
- Iterate the plan
- Execute the plan
- Constantly critique the plan
- Adjust the plan as necessary
- Rinse, repeat
In short, know thyself and stay true to the mission. Just because someone else's mission looks cooler and more successful than yours doesn't mean that yours sucks; it may just take longer to play out. And if you try and adopt someone else's mission, odds are that people will know you're faking it and lack the true passion necessary for its successful execution. And if your mission, over time, proves to truly suck, then it's time to ditch the mission and reassess: the market has spoken.
There is a huge difference between incorporating the feedback of smart people while preserving your core philosophy and changing missions as the wind blows. I can tell you that such a lack of rootedness will invariably lead to failure. Whether a business builder, an investor or both, it takes maniacal focus, passion and intensity to be successful. Only you can find your way; you simply can't dial in the mission.
Worried about the macro environment? If you're a company then raise 2-years of cash, not 9-12 months. If you're a fund, make sure you are properly reserved for a hostile fund-raising environment where you'll need to step up and support your companies until the market thaws. Otherwise, you'll likely get jammed in pay-to-plays and get flushed at the worst possible time. These are things you can plan for and they don't involve rocket science. Just plain good judgment and planning. It is perfectly reasonable to take a different view and be more aggressive, either by raising less and taking less dilution now (if a company) or by making more investments with lower or no reserves on the theory that the strong start-up market will continue to run (if you're an angel or a fund). As long as you go in eyes wide open, I'm cool. You might get carried out in the end, but you took a calculated risk and lost. In my book that's fine. Unfortunate, but fine. You proactively made the decision and followed through.
In short, I think both founders and investors are, in many cases, paying way too much attention to reverberations within the venture echo-chamber instead of just making good, sensible plans consistent with their missions. If a certain set of investors don't like it, too bad. Find some others. If LPs don't like your approach? Either take friends-and-family money or execute your plan as an angel and prove out your thesis. It's within your control. Don't cede control of your destiny to the oscillating waves of popular thought. Who cares what's popular? Often what's popular today falls out of favor tomorrow, so giving up on what looks like a contrarian strategy might be the worst decision you could possibly make.
Follow Roger Ehrenberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/infoarbitrage