Junior people in VC are gate keepers who add friction to the system

My friend Dave Knox just added a piece on his blog that looks at this issue through the lens of business development and sales. It is a great perspective on B2B deals.

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I joined First Round Capital as a Principal knowing I would have a voice on the investment team, not a vote.

Keeping you out or fighting to keep you in? Gate keepers can do both...

I have a specific approach to meetings with entrepreneurs and work hard to add value to each founder who takes the time to meet with me. Some of this value is strategic. It is based on my experience as an entrepreneur, as a consumer-focused product development and marketing guy, and pop-culture loving sneakerheadVC who loves to talk with smart people building great stuff. Some of this value is tactical. It is based on my position within First Round, the visibility I have into our deal process, our portfolio and the time I spend with our partners and my peers.

For the founders who are friends with a partner (and I do not mean you have their e-mail address from the bio on our website or some tangential LinkedIn introduction, but real, call you on your mobile on a Sunday to discuss some aspect of cohort analysis and strategies to reduce customer churn type friendship), you don’t need tactical help and talking to me prior to meeting with a partner is a waste of time.

For everyone else, I can help.

I spend my time between Philadelphia, New York and Boston meeting with entrepreneurs who are building companies that are intriguing to me and working with them to see if First Round would be a good investment partner. Some of these companies are introduced to me by a partner at First Round and some of them come from my personal network.  I learn a lot from each of them.

Just like a partner, I try to figure out if I believe the market is big, the team is kick-ass and the approach is differentiated. Just like a partner, I need to understand if our model is in alignment with the entrepreneur’s goals and if our approach is likely to support the evolution of their vision. I have to identify a fit with our investment focus (Internet technology), the stage we invest (seed stage), and the structure of deals we participate in (equity investments).

Different from a partner I also try to decide if I think a specific partner will share my view and if together, we can build passion for the business across the investment team. Each week I participate in pitches with the partnership and spend time talking to them about the deals they are reviewing. I dig into the questions they ask and understand each business that they are evaluating and what is driving their point of view on each investment decision. When I read a plan or meet with an entrepreneur, I usually know how each partner will react to the pitch, what areas they will be excited about and the concerns they will have about the model, the market and the team.

This pattern recognition is valuable for entrepreneurs and I am happy to share it.

Visibility into my thinking and what I have learned from Josh, Chris, Howard and Rob based on the thousands of deals they have seen in their careers will improve your pitch and may help you think about the business differently, identify a larger opportunity or have a better chance of capturing the opportunity you have already identified. The partners trust my judgment and know that I help founders shape their story to resonate with the partnership, provide clarity around the entrepreneur’s hypothesis and define the needs and the opportunities represented by the business. My knowledge of our investment thesis is better than virtually any other deal source and because of this, my conviction around a deal, my voice, is an extremely strong signal for the members of the investment team who do have a vote.

It is natural to view us junior people in the VC world as gatekeepers to the real opportunity. When you are building a company, time is your most valuable resource and if you can be more efficient by going directly to a partner, it is very appealing.

Non-partners on the investment team are friction in the system, but if we do our job well, we can be the friction that keeps you IN, rather than the force that keeps you out.