Ask a VC: Your Questions Answered
I said, “Ask us anything.” And you did.
As a follow-up from my post “How a VC Makes Investments,” I wanted to do a separate post to answer some of your questions. I hope my answers help give a clearer picture how VCs work.
Is obtaining a controlling interest and a seat on the board a primary goal for most VCs?
When I hear the phrase “controlling interest,” I think of a majority stake, i.e. over fifty percent ownership. I’d say the answer is no for most venture capital firms. Most VC firms are taking a minority ownership position in the companies in which they invest. But yes, we will take a board seat if we’re leading a new funding round, as will most VCs.
Our goal in taking minority stake is twofold: We’re not going to tell you how to run your business or do the work ourselves, but we do want to see the founders and management teams to continue to have a meaningful ownership stake in the company and to be marching in the same direction. It’s not in anyone’s interest—including ours—for us to take control. If that happens, the founders and management can lose focus and interest. But a board seat is critical because it allows us a voice on behalf of our investment.
Make no mistake, we will have opinions and we’ll make sure they’re heard. A board exists for a reason — to provide advice and strategic discussions to take the business to the next level. That’s our motivation.
What percentage of the firms you invest in fail?
OpenView has a very high success rate with our investments but remember that we focus on expansion-stage companies that have already proven themselves to some extent. That lowers the likelihood our investments will fail. We don’t invest in ideas or very early stage start-ups, both of which have the highest chance of failure.
Having sad that, we have a unique approach vis-à-vis other VCs. There are certainly other VCs who take greater risks that might be paid off with incredible returns when ideas take off—if they do take off. There are, of course, many, many that never take off.
So that’s two really different terrains here, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to put a fixed number on failures.
What do you do when a firm you invest in starts failing?
This depends on a lot of things, so I’ll provide an overview answer that’s not specific to OpenView. Generally, you try to understand the root cause. Is it a product/market issue, i.e. the market isn’t quite ready? Is the present team the right group of people? Is it a case of poor execution? And so on.
Once we understand the underlying cause(s), we’ll be in a better position to attack and solve it. No one wants to run away from a problem. If the management is still excited about the business and market opportunity, then you want to do what you can to fix problems and give it your best shot.
What is your investment criteria?
Our investment criteria are pretty well laid out on our investment page.
However, we have flexibility around those numbers. For example, a company that’s earlier in its development than we usually invest in, but is growing quickly and has a strong line of site and is at less than $2 million in revenue could be an investment.
Another investment criteria we’re looking for is capitally-efficient businesses in large markets. It doesn’t have to be a billion dollar market, but it does have to be “bigger than a breadbox.”
Broadly, we’re looking for differentiated technology that’s solving a real pain point for their customers. That’s non-negotiable.
What deal structures do you use?
This is an easy one: We are always equity investors and we’re always investing in a preferred equity security. Generally, we’re not purchasing common stock.
Got more questions? Ask them in the comments and I’ll do our best to answer them in another “Your Questions: Answered” post.
It’s not an easy decision, but most important ones in life aren’t.