The Network Problem in VC

I was chatting with a founder this week, and he was asking me how to approach fundraising. Specifically, he was asking how to connect with investors via a warm intro when his circles don’t overlap with theirs. He doesn’t have relationships with people who know venture capital investors.

In the past few months, I’ve reviewed a number of fundraising decks for venture capital firms looking to raise money from limited partners (LPs). One of the things they consistently highlight to LPs is how great their network is. The better the network, the better your deal flow. The better your deal flow, the more likely you are to see a great investment opportunity—or so the logic goes. When you dig a bit, you realize that most examples used to demonstrate a great network are exclusive organizations (think elite schools and companies). So, investors are communicating to potential LPs that they run in exclusive circles that give them access to great founders whose companies would be worthwhile investments.

Lots of investors believe (admittedly or not) that founders should get a warm intro to them. Founders can always send emails directly or use other cold outreach methods, but the warm intro is what most investors value most. This dings founders who aren’t part of exclusive groups that attract venture investors. Investors are communicating to founders: Find a way into my circle. Come meet me where I am.

There’s a network problem in venture capital. Investors expect founders to find their way into exclusive (i.e., narrow) circles to seek investment. LPs view such access as a positive attribute and an indication of potential investment success. To me, it seems it should be the other way around. Investors should have broad networks that allow them to meet founders of all backgrounds where they already are and to see the world from different perspectives. LPs should view broad networks as a positive attribute that could lead to overlooked investments that offer outsize returns.

The network problem in VC is waiting to be solved. When it is, the impact on entrepreneurship is likely to be major!