Photo: CarbonNYC via Flickr
At times VC’s forget who their business is built on.
Last week in a car showroom of all places I ran into a VC who I hadn’t seen in 10 years. He had sat on the board of my last company and we chatted and made small talk as he was admiring a new car.
It was clear that he had no memory of a phone conversation my partner and I have never forgotten.
Big Name CEO
It was the Internet bubble and after almost three years our startup had found a business model and we were scaling revenue and headcount fast. Our second round of funding was from a firm and VC whose names were household words. This partner lived up to his reputation and helped us hire an experienced, world-class CEO from a large consulting company that we thought would be the guy to take our company to a billion dollars (think Internet-bubble Kool-aid.)
The legendary VC was too busy to sit on our board, so we got another younger partner in his firm with seemingly the right pedigree – engineering degree, MBA, lots of boards, etc. But as we would find out the hard way – zero experience as an entrepreneur.
Now that the big name CEO had tentatively accepted our job offer we were having a board meeting via conference call to approve his compensation package. My co-founder and I gulped as we went through each part of the package; the equity we were offering would make him an equal founder, and his salary, while a huge cut for him was a lot more than the starvation budget we had put ourselves on. However, the new CEO was as hungry to join a hot Internet startup and work with legendary VC and not miss the bubble, as we were in hiring him. We thought he’d be worth it. A point the young VC on our board kept reminding us of.
You’re Just the Founders
When the call was almost over my partner and I mentioned, “We want to remind you guys that we’ve been working at founders pay for almost three years. We’d like to adjust our salaries to reflect the new pay scale.” We had hoped for parity with the new CEO, but any offer of some kind of raise would have made us feel good. Instead, what we got from the VC, was “Who the hell do you think you guys are. You’re just the founders.” Then he proceeded to give us a lecture of why we should consider ourselves lucky to get this new guy, he and his firm were the ones that were going to do the heavy lifting and we should be happy that we were going to make our money on the stock, etc.
We never did get a raise. Luckily the company did go public, but I’ve never forgot the conversation.
For the last 12 years as friends and then students have asked me about how to approach this big name venture firm, I’ve managed to steer them to other venture firms in the valley – by suggesting that there were firms who would treat them like they mattered. I’ve averaged about 6 referrals a year.
I figure when I get to 100 I’m even.
“Founder-friendly VCs” do exist. Having a VC who has been an entrepreneur is a plus, but it’s attitude that matters. If you’re a founder, ask for a pay-parity agreement with a new CEO upfront and in writing.
Steve Blank teaches entrepreneurship at U.C. Berkeley, Stanford University and the Columbia University/Berkeley Joint Executive MBA program. He also wrote about building early stage companies in his book, Four Steps to the Epiphany. This post was originally published on his blog, and it is republished here with permission.
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