Today’s guest, Nick Adams, has a background in tech companies and deal-making. Now he’s a Managing Partner and co-founder at Differential Ventures, a seed stage venture capital fund. His group invests early in the process, which gives him a bird’s eye view of mistakes and innovations in the field. In addition, Nick’s been part of growth and deals connected to scaling from two million to ten, or ten million to twenty-five. He’s seen how deals and decision making can make or break a business.
Getting Into Venture Capital
Nick shares that, as a kid, he wanted to be a major league baseball shortstop. Although he did play ball throughout college, his career ended there. At age 22 he played his last official game, and moved on with his future.
One of Nick’s earliest memorable deals involved early software sales. He remembers closing the deal with the A&P supermarket chain and being elated. Now he’s in the venture capital field. His focus is in investing in companies in their earliest stages. This is usually a step beyond “idea stages”, but pre-revenue.
Often when companies raise money, early rounds include family and friends. This is also where angel investors might get involved. After this you’ll find seed stage investors, followed by series B, C, D and so on until fundraising is done or the company is placed on the market for public buy ins.
Differential Ventures often comes in with investments between $250,000 and 1.2 million as part of a seed room. In exchange they usually receive a board seat, and work with founders to build out the company. This involves everything from product development to finding those first few customers. Nick finds that each company’s needs vary greatly. Often, his team tends to pick up more technically based founders, so one thing they look for is whether there is going to be an ability for the founder or founding team to build a product all the way out to being saleable.
To learn which is more essential: team, technology, or market, listen to the full episode!
Do Venture Capitalists Eliminate Founders?
Nick notes that his sort of venture capital work isn’t for everyone. First and foremost, founders need to have an awareness of whether their company warrants outside investment at a higher level, as well as what that sort of increase in funds will mean for their organizations. Out of curiosity, I asked him to share more about what happens when VC money comes in, and founders get pushed out.
In my experience, founders and CEOs who leave their companies after investments are granted are usually looked on favorably. The public seems ready to take their side, and venture capitalists can end up looking like the “bad guys”. Although Nick acknowledges that things do go wildly sideways sometimes, that tends to be the exception, not the rule.
He does share that sometimes founders get pushed out, but this can happen for a variety of reasons. Timing, personality, growth needs, or even a founder no longer wanting to be part of the deal. Sometimes technical founders loved creating and building, but have little desire to take on a CEO role. In that case, they may initiate their own transition. However, it’s rare for a VC to come into a business and actually force a founder or CEO out of their role.
In his opinion, Nick finds that most VC’s are pretty good actors. Their funding and outcomes are very much attached to a start-ups success and needs. There are long holding periods, things move slow, and there is a strenuous process involved in really making a profit. In fact, he finds that angel investors can sometimes put more pressure on a young business simply because they don’t understand the nature of the slow game that investing can be.
Is Venture Capital Funding For You?
The percentage of companies that are really right for VC funding is small. For one thing, they need to be ready for massive growth, and to take the market by storm. For another, they should actually need the money as an avenue for growth.
Nick shares that he recently had a potential client who shared that he wouldn’t be bothered with an early exit from the fund if taken on. The rejoinder: Nick knew immediately his company wasn’t interested. In order for VC funding to make sense, there needs to be a large return that can pay off investors and create profit. Although the potential client was shocked to be turned down so quickly, Nicks’ been in VC funding long enough to know that short term thinking doesn’t work well.
He also knows that this kind of long term, high dollar deal isn’t for everybody. Neither is venture capital funding! Unlike angel investors (who are using their own money), a fund mathematically requires a high return to pay back each party involved.
The Ideal Founder
If you’re considering approaching a venture capital fund, Nick suggests that the best founding teams combine leaders who have:
+ Strong technical differential and skills (academic background, work history, etc)
+ Entrepreneurial by nature
+ Experience working with both engineers/creators and customers
+ Product management ability
In addition, Nick shares that their best founders who seem to be most successful are usually in it for some reason larger than just “being” a founder. They often have some deep sense of obligation to a family member, friend, community, or other group that they want to prove themselves to. When someone has believed in you and invested in you, you’re highly motivated to make good in their name.
Having a deeper drive and purpose is a key part of pushing through hardship and delivering the best possible outcome. This is true for any entrepreneurial group, but especially so for founders who want to bring on venture capital funds!
There is a risk calculation here: how far are you willing to go to bring your idea to life? Depending on your savings, your family’s needs, and your ability to handle risk, your answer might be quite different from someone else’s. There are no wrong answers, but it’s vital that you’re honest with yourself about what those answers are for you.
Nick encourages founders to establish the amount of risk they’re willing and able to take on for themselves prior to seeking funding.
Venture Capital Funding and Covid-19
Nick shares that he believes there has been too much capital in too many startups across the market. Leading up to February, the market was fairly overheated, and it contained a number of startups and investors who probably didn’t belong in the market for the long haul.
When Covid-19 broke out and businesses started to close, a great deal of capital either froze or dried up. After a slow March and April and a brutal adjustment period, Nick has seen changes taking place. They completed their first completely remote deal in which they hadn’t known the founder in any capacity beforehand at the end of June.
They negotiated the terms sheet at 6pm, and the founder’s 6-year old was present for the end of the call, staring into the Zoom screen and watching the proceedings. The market is still moving along, and Nick is optimistic about the direction it’s taking.
You can connect with Nick by emailing him at [email protected]. He encourages you to be able to succinctly communicate:
What are you doing?
Why is it important?
Why are you uniquely qualified?
What proof points do you have?