There have been a lot of perspectives shared by VCs about managing startups during the age of Coronavirus, from Sequoia’s Black Swan warning to Haystack’s advice for fundraising during a pandemic. As a first-time founder experiencing a rather jarring beginning to entrepreneurship due to the sudden state of the world, these perspectives have been really insightful and appreciated.
Perhaps due to the power dynamics involved, there has been less advice shared from the entrepreneur perspective. I am a member of several different female founder groups, and am actively raising a pre-seed round for the startup that I am co-founding, OwnTrail. From that vantage point, I wanted to share some advice to investors on behalf of entrepreneurs.
Communication is Key
During the 2008 recession, I remember Zillow’s CEO Rich Barton saying to the company: “It’s times like this that we learn who our true friends are”. Those words ring very true for me today. Every single person is going through a wide range of emotions right now, including fear, sadness and confusion. That’s a given. It’s how we deal with those emotions that really reveals how dependable and resilient a person is.
As founders, one of the biggest things we notice about investors during a time of crisis — and always — is how well they communicate with us. We’re not necessarily expecting a definitive yes or no answer in this time of uncertainty, but we do expect great investors to keep the conversation open as both of us navigate unforeseen complexities.
Investors, if you were in conversations with a founder, had verbally committed to an investment, or were reviewing term sheets, be responsive and let them know where you stand now. This difficult and unprecedented moment in history will eventually pass, and the entrepreneurs who make it out the other side will remember who their true friends were.
Who to Bet On
A big part of deciding to found a company, and deciding to invest in that company, is evaluating and mitigating risks. The interesting thing about living in this new reality is that our usual rubric for risks needs to be recalibrated.
In addition to the somewhat obvious risks around business models (those that rely on in-person interactions and supply chains will now struggle more than those that can be made virtual) and stage of business (early-stage businesses that were planning to be pre-revenue this year will now be less impacted than those with ambitious revenue forecasts), I also suggest a recalibration of what investors look for in founders.
Statistically speaking, the trends in investments tend to skew towards those identities that have a “proven track record” of founding successful companies, which of course creates a self-fulfilling prophecy based on who has been funded historically. There is plenty of research showing the tangible effects that biases and pattern-matching have on investing decisions.
Investors, I would suggest that at an unprecedented time like this (and also… yesterday), you start to place more bets on the founders that haven’t historically been bet on: women and founders of color. We are the ones that haven’t gotten used to anything being handed to us, have had to work twice as hard to prove ourselves, and have the grit and scrappiness to make it through this crazy time. And the date backs that up… BCG found that companies with a female founder generated twice as much per dollar invested. As Tribute CEO and founder Sarah Haggard pointed out, “many female-founded and minority-owned companies live and breathe in a ‘recession’ mindset all year round.”
There is a through-the-roof level of uncertainty and risk in the world right now. How we react to that, and how we value and take care of each other, is going to make the biggest difference in how we emerge from this. Communicate, take the right risks and, most importantly, lift each other up. We’ve got this.