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The 3 VC’s you’ll meet on Monday
It’s Friday, and many folks are looking forward to a couple days off the screens that dominate our lives these days — but for a ton of…
It’s Friday, and many folks are looking forward to a couple days off the screens that dominate our lives these days — but for a ton of founders with partner meetings set for Monday, this weekend is packed with preparation. As you get ready to “pitch” make sure you also take some time to think about what you are looking for in a partner and how you will identify the right person to work with. Firms have brands, but you work with a person and in many ways the mental model the partner uses to define how they will contribute to your success should drive your choice.
Every investor is different, but in my experience, there are three VC mindsets when it comes to partnering with founders — those who fix, those who help and those who serve. (NOTE: I am ignoring the 4th category of vampire VC who sucks the life out of you as your company heads toward zombie status. I assume you did not respond to the email inviting you to meet their partners…)
The Fixer — The fixer is very sure the best solution to any problem your company faces lives in their past. This partner typically has operating experience and believes in applying their lessons with high frequency and force to your business. The Fixer is exceptional at finding what is broken, and this is actually where their primary value lies. Often the observations of a fixer will highlight challenges and areas of weakness that you’ve missed and if you can leverage them for problem identification rather than lean on them for solutions, they can be great partners. This can be challenging because the Fixer is unlikely to have a well developed appreciation for how the world may have changed since their time in the trenches and the investment in education or debate rarely pays off for founders.
The Helper — The helper views your weaknesses as an opportunity to show their strengths. Different than the fixer, who finds problems and always has “the solution”, the helper listens to your problems and offers to engage where they can add value. Very unlikely to be value detracting, the helper is highest leverage in areas where many startups struggle (i.e. recruiting process and pipeline, PR, customer connections or general management tactics like goal setting and OKRs). The challenge with helpers is they can take away more than they give by getting you to comfort with best practices but stopping short of pushing you to the world class, and often contrarian thinking required to maximize your potential. When your partner is a helper, use their support to establish the basics, but don’t be afraid to leave them behind and explore the edges of what is possible. These edges are often where company defining decisions are made and where helpers are most out of their depth.
The Enlisted — The enlisted are in service of you and your company and will do whatever they believe is best for those they serve. There can be tension when a CEO and a VC partner with an enlisted mindset disagree about what is best for the CEO or for the company. The strength of conviction it takes to “enlist” can also lead to emotion around what is best and how to achieve it — and this typically has to be managed by the CEO. The enlisted can also be frustrating for CEOs to work with because they are conscious of not robbing you of your autonomy by “helping” or “fixing.” The enlisted tend to sit with you in the struggle longer than others and explore solutions that depend on amplifying your strengths and demanding your growth as a leader. But, even in disagreement, the intense desire of the enlisted VC to do whatever it takes for you to maximize your potential as CEO, to have the most meaningful impact on the company and for your company to capture the largest market opportunity available is the foundation of this type of partnership.
Every founder has unique needs and their own path to walk in the search for their best. There is no optimal VC type but knowing who you are partnering with, the mindset they will bring to the partnership and how that mindset will (and will not) serve you is the most critical part of the decision.