I Was More Wrong Than Right

Last year I had a friendly debate with someone about getting more capital to more early-stage founders. At the time, I believed scale was the way to go. Build larger VC firms (not funds) to increase the number of seats in a historically cottage industry. Make it possible to institutionalize the knowledge of how best to fund and support early-stage founders, which would become more distributed as team members left these larger firms. Build firms, not funds, was mostly my thought process.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many emerging and established VC fund managers, their limited partners (LPs), academics, and of course founders since then. These conversations have made me realize my original thesis was incorrect (that’s the power of discovery). Scaling larger VC firms with larger funds isn’t the way to get more capital in the hands of high-potential early-stage founders.

Larger funds create challenges for LPs and VC fund managers (emerging and established) doing early-stage investing:

  • Smaller funds are a better fit because they enable fund managers to write a check that’s an appropriate size for an early-stage company.
  • Early-stage investors need to suspend disbelief and make nonconsensual investment decisions. Otherwise, investors fund what everybody else is funding. That’s hard to do in a large organization, because decisions tend to lean toward consensus when more people are involved. Smaller teams are more likely to make nonconsensual decisions.
  • I also believe in a world where great founders are more geographically dispersed—centralized capital deployment isn’t as effective in reaching high-potential founders. A dispersed model would be more effective because it would help capital meet founders where they are.

It’s been interesting to see my thinking on this topic evolve and realize that the person I was chatting with was more right in his thinking than I was.