VCs and Their Founders *Should* Be Friends
There’s a pretty famous article on Medium warning founders that VCs aren’t friends, they’re “frenemies.” Similarly, often I’ve heard VCs tell each other not to get too attached to founders, or that you shouldn’t be friends with founders.
That’s terrible advice.
Today we’re going to talk about why, and what I believe the true reason is that you’ll hear this advice.
When I started in venture I worked for a Will Coffield at Riot Ventures (who I still believe is one of the best emerging managers in the country). And Will always would say on calls that “the relationship between a founder and a VC lasts longer than the average marriage.”
Statistically speaking, this might be a bit of an exaggeration. Average marriage length in the US is 8.2 years, while the average lifespan of a startup is about 7 years depending on where you source your data from. But the sentiment carries through: VCs should be as committed to the startups they are investing in as they would be a romantic partner.
I personally believe that great romantic relationships are built on great friendships, and great friendships are built on mutual trust, respect, and a willingness to selflessly go above and beyond for the other person. VC/founder relationships are no different. As a VC you need to trust and respect founders, and often go above and beyond for them in order to truly honor your commitment beyond capital, and vice versa.
So why do people say you shouldn’t be friends with your founders?
My theory for this is simple: many VCs don’t know how to have real friends.
Friendships aren’t easy. You have to be willing to make sacrifices. You have to be willing to open up and be vulnerable to someone else. You have to be willing to be the most authentic version of yourself. And, most important for VC/founder relationships, you have to be willing to tell the truth even when it hurts. Life isn’t a rat race, and real friendships aren’t built through toxic competitions or situations where you have to talk to others. They’re built by finding people who have shared values, shared interests, and shared goals in life. VC could use a whole lot more of those relationships. The ones where you can be brutally honest and support people because you love them, and truly want the best for them.
VC is the complete opposite of that. It’s transactional, backstabbing, and full of white lies, black lies, and every shade of lie in-between. This comes from relationships, and how relationships are built in the industry. I don’t think you find the type of trust you need to be brutally honest at a happy hour. I don’t think you find that during a business undergrad program or an MBA. And I certainly don’t think you find it in artificially networked online VC communities. You find fluffy relationships where you’re “friends”, but not friends.
Friendships aren’t easy. Real founder/VC friendships aren’t easy either. But let’s face it, at the end of the day, if I could tell my best friend from high school that I didn’t think his girlfriend of 3 years was good for him, I certainly and should tell one of my founders if I don’t think their business model is working, or if I don’t think they’ve hit the milestones for us to back their next round. I’ll cross whatever river I need to in order to support my friends, and I’ll do the same for any of my founders.
I’m immensely proud to have some of the founders in the Builders portfolio and in my personal portfolio as my closest friends, through bad times and good. Wouldn’t change that for anything.