Passing in VC: A Great Responsibility

Saying no to someone isn’t comfortable or easy because it’s never what a person waiting for an answer about anything hopes to hear. In our industry, venture investors are responsible for passing on an investment in nine out of 10 companies they meet. Theoretically, passing is what we should be doing most often, second only to meeting new companies.

At NextView, one of our ethos points is Invited Guest. We believe we are guests at the tables of the entrepreneurs we work with, in attendance only because we’ve been lucky enough to be asked. From the first time we meet or speak to founders through our entire relationship with a company, they’ve invited us to be there — especially when such a gracious and fortunate invitation needs to be declined.

We endeavor to be efficient, transparent and helpful in our role as investors during evaluation and diligence of a new company. The phrase I’ve learned from my colleague Lee is: it’s a few days to a no and a few weeks to a yes. When it comes time to pass, we intend to do so with a clear explanation as to why we are. The amount of feedback is generally proportional to the time spent with the founders and how much we’ve been able to learn. One phone call with a founder may mean a shorter pass email; several group meetings and other diligence requests to founders will bring more detail on why we’re passing.

We are, of course, human. While we intend no error in our process as described, we miss or drop things at times as anyone does. This is not a prescription for perfection — to write a thoughtful pass message takes time that isn’t always there. But human error aside, we go into every startup meeting with the intention of conducting ourselves as those founders’ invited guests.

The reason we take passing seriously is because we know something that entrepreneurs know all too well: fundraising sucks.

As a process at the seed stage, it’s fundamentally insane. In meeting multiple times with an entrepreneur, asking them to provide references and jump through various other diligence hoops, we take them away from building the very thing that they are asking us to invest in. Their time is better spent doing that herculean task of building their business then having a sixth partner meeting with a fund that isn’t going to invest. Eliminating the distraction of a drawn-out fundraise is the least we can do.

Personally, I keep the following three facts in mind during any pitch process — a mini reflection on why being an invited guest is humbling:

What you do is harder than what we do.

What you do is more important than what we do.

Your time is more valuable than ours.

When investors don’t pass appropriately, we are willfully negligent. Unfortunately, there’s less accountability here because our performance is not measured by how effectively we say, “no”. Avoiding these conversations because they might be awkward does a disservice to founders who are already attempting the near impossible by starting a company. If we don’t invest 10 times as often as we do, then we should be passing early and often. It’s the right thing to do and, as a service provider in the startup ecosystem, it’s our job.