There are academics and then there are academics. Some academics seem lost in their own world, absent minded geniuses who solve incredibly complex and difficult problems, but socially cannot carry a conversation for more than a few minutes outside of their domain expertise. I had one such breakfast in Denver last week and I am still surprised it lasted an hour.
But tonight I had dinner with an academic who wasn’t such a person. A professor of materials science at a top university, and inventor/founder of a new materials science technology company…and he was suave, smart, warm, and fun. And carried an interesting opinion on VCs.
As his company goes through the fun exercise of raising a formal round (post a healthy seed investment), he is getting to meet a bunch of VCs, and I got to learn a bit from him how he perceived and experienced some of his interactions. Here’s some of what he observed (btw: he is meeting VCs from pretty well known, highly credible firms):
· He thinks VCs are smart and he has enjoyed his interaction with them. At least one VC knew so much about his space that he was simply ‘blown away’.
· Every VC has focused on a different aspect of his company as most critical for success, or as most risky. Some focused on technology, some focused on scaleup and manufacturing issues, some needed to know early markets and company strategy for early customer adoption, while others only wanted to talk about the long-term big markets where the ‘pop’ would come from. He seemed surprised we did not all have the same checklist as w went into due diligence J.
· VCs that end up spending/wasting a lot of his time on tech due diligence are usually the ones who themselves do not have a technical background. They keep going around in circles, and he seemed a bit tired of responding to their hired consultants.
· Some VCs like to dig into the nitty gritty details of technology – and in his opinion not only becausethey deemed it necessary for their contribution to company’s success, but because they felt they had to be ‘man’ enough to stand toe to toe with the technical guys in the firm. An absolutely ridiculous endeavor, he thought.
· VCs do bring value-add. They don’t just bring money, but also a tremendous network, and a broad-based view of the horizontal industry landscape. He thinks of VCs as ‘aggregators of information and people’, to the benefit oftheir portfolio companies.
· After a few of these meetings he has begun to realize the importance of having investors on his Board that bring a variety of experiences to the table. Not only can they challenge each other, but can also help the company in a variety of ways. VC rolodexes don’t often overlap (esp with industry contacts etc), and often critical strategic decisions need to be made inside the company where having a diversity of opinions and frameworks would aid good decision making.
· He found General Catalyst approach of focusing on the entrepreneurs refreshing and attractive. But then, he did say that right after I paid the bill. So I will take that with a grain of salt J.
I had a wonderful time at dinner. Need to meet more profs like that.