(Editor’s note: Ted Driscoll is a Technology Partner at Claremont Creek Ventures. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
Entrepreneurs are used to hearing Venture Capitalists say “no”. It is, after all, one of the most common responses we give. But quite often, they don’t hear anything at all. What’s that supposed to mean?
It’s easy to lump together the explicit “no” answer with a no response outcome, but they sometimes mean slightly different things. Yesterday, I attempted to explain in detail exactly what a direct “no” answer might mean – beyond the obvious. Today, I’d like to distinguish what silence can mean.
What “no response” Might Mean.
Any of the reasons associated with “no,” combined with our being swamped. – We see hundreds of deals a year. The common metaphor is that we “live at the end of a fire hose”. There are so many deals, and so little time. There is, therefore, a premium placed on time management.
In order to simply manage our time most efficiently, VCs have to make fairly quick triage decisions: “Is this a deal that has a realistic chance of being funded by our firm?”
When the answer is no, and our time permits, it is polite to communicate this back to the entrepreneur in a constructive and helpful manner. But frequently, the fire hose smothers that deal under layers of subsequent submissions. Some polite declines just don’t get done.
Your submission was unsolicited or not introduced by a credible source. – We get a large number of “over-the-transom” deals. Frequently, they have been blindly submitted without any effort made to see if this is an area we might invest in – or an individual we don’t know (or hold in poor regard) is the one referring the deal to us. It might also come from some remote location far from our offices.
Or it comes from a “finder”, i.e. from a company that is contracted to help find venture funds for a start up. I must confess in those particular cases, I feel much less obligation to reply even negatively. And most VCs are very reluctant to work with finders because they are typically compensated out of the proceeds, and the VC sees their commitment discounted at the outset — VCs don’t like that.
We already have an investment addressing that market area. – In some cases it’s better (safer) if we say nothing at all. But I want to assure the entrepreneurs out there that reputable VCs do respect confidentiality notices on submissions. Our businesses run on trust and our reputations would be quickly damaged if we fed confidential information to another company we had an interest in.
That reinforces the importance of the entrepreneur researching venture firms and their partners, portfolios and focus areas, before blindly submitting their plan. Ideally, an entrepreneur should look for an investor that has some familiarity with a market and/or technology area, but isn’t already invested in a directly competing business.
Your submission went into my spam folder. – This, unfortunately, happens a few times a year. Avoid sending your submission from a Tongan web address, and avoid using the word “V1agra” in your text. Not much help there…
Remember, there is information to be drawn from a turn-down. Ideally, a good VC will try to give some constructive feedback with a decline message. But life at the end of the fire hose means we don’t always have the time.
As an entrepreneur, you will hear more “no’s” than “yes’s” in your startup career. The key is to focus your efforts on putting together a credible story, an important market need, a technological advantage, a well-suited, complementary team, and then finding the right investor who gets it and then wants to help you make it happen.