Saying “No” as a VC

An entrepreneur last week called me: he met many times with a VC, who kept saying over and over he really wanted to invest.  Then, suddenly, nothing. The VC wouldn’t return his calls or emails.

In another recent situation, a different entrepreneur had many meetings with another VC.  After many weeks, the VC passed on the financing, saying the company didn’t have enough revenue.  That entrepreneur was very frustrated.  Why, he wonders, did the VC pass based on something that would have been obvious in the first meeting?

The short answer is you’ll never know why a VC doesn’t engage or invest.  So, stop stressing about it. It is Bill Belichick-ean to say, but just turn the page and move on.

I wrote a blog series on “How to Raise VC Money,” and in one post about handling VC due diligence, I listed some reasons why a VC passes:

  • The VC took the meeting as a favor and was never interested in investing
  • He doesn’t believe in your space
  • He is on too many Boards and is holding out for a later-stage investment
  • He is secretly thinking of leaving his firm
  • That VC has limited power to influence his partnership
  • He wants to see if other VCs show up and validate your idea for him
  • He reference-checked you with someone he knows—and, it was negative
  • His partners really didn’t like the idea
  • He is a new VC– the senior partner supervising him isn’t interested

My own personal view is this: I’m really busy, the entrepreneur is even busier, and so, I try to pass quickly.  I often do it in the first meeting. Or, when I get an email requesting a meeting, I often decline if the start-up isn’t in one of our core investment themes or sweet spot.

I endeavor to move things in and out of our pipeline quickly, and in the process, give entrepreneurs clear feedback.  Admittedly, it sucks when entrepreneurs get defensive with any feedback I give.  In those situations, I just dis-engage.

But, I’d rather disappoint people quickly than really disappoint them later.

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