Just say no

Between Techstars and Founders’ Co-op, I spend a lot of time helping early-stage companies raise money. I also hear a ton of pitches myself, and (for reasons that I try hard to be transparent about), my answer to the question “will you invest” is almost always “no”.

Since I see both the buy + sell side of the early-stage venture business I have lots of fresh data about how other investors handle the same question. And most people, whether individual angels or professional investors, handle it gracefully: answer the question, be direct, offer respectful feedback and part as friends.

But there’s a surprisingly big subset of people — including a disappointingly large percentage of professional investors — who can’t seem to answer the question at all. Some of this is obviously an attempt to preserve optionality; those answers tend to come back sounding more like this: “not right now”, “need more time to evaluate,” “we’d consider it if you achieved X or Y milestones”, and so on. This is less helpful to entrepreneurs than a clear yes or no, but at least it’s a kind of answer.

But the behavior that baffles me completely — for reasons I’ll get to in a minute — is when professional investors make an explicit commitment to come back with an answer (often with a clear deadline) and then go dark. Deadlines pass. Calls and emails go unanswered. It’s as if the conversation never happened at all.

This isn’t just rude, and it’s not just disrespectful of the entrepreneur’s role and situation, it’s fucking stupid.

 

There are a finite number of really talented founding teams in the world, and almost all of them are hardwired to found companies again and again. If you behave like an asshole this time around, you’re not going to hear from them the next time, no matter how well-known your fund is and what a big swinging dick you are.

Money is fungible, talent is not. If you don’t like a deal, have the courtesy to say so, wish the founders well and move on. It’s not that hard, and more importantly it shows that you think of the teams you meet with as peers and equals who are as passionate about their business as you are about yours, and deserving of the same respect they showed you by coming to see you.