Our SECSI value proposition to Founders
Frst is a seed-stage VC firm focused on supporting a new generation of French entrepreneurs with global ambitions.
Building a startup is a race against the clock, with cash burn as the measuring unit for the time that passes.
As a consequence, to execute against the vision, founders must optimally allocate scarce resources (Time, Money, Energy and People), while constantly gathering new resources as needed.
A VC’s role is essentially to provide founders with these resources as they go, and help them find the optimal way of allocating them.
However, there is a foundational difference between the Seed Phase and the later stages of a startup’s development:
- Once Product-Market Fit is found, i.e. post Series A, the company becomes the product, and “company building” matters take an ever-growing share of the Founders’ attention (scaling the sales process, building large teams, opening countries,…)
- But until then, the Seed Phase is all about building something people want — in other terms, finding Product-Market Fit. Find it, and the venture lives. Don’t, and everyone can go packing
The SECSI framework
With that in mind, we have built Frst as a product for the most ambitious entrepreneurs of the French ecosystem, with a laser focus on the Seed Phase, and a simple mission: catalyze the founders’ efforts to maximize their chances of finding Product-Market Fit.
We like to sum up and track our value proposition for this very specific (and messy!) phase of a startup’s life along the SECSI framework:
Here is what this means for us in the context of the Seed Phase.
Getting a startup off the ground is terribly hard —a daily fight against conformism and skepticism, with a healthy dose of emotional rollercoaster rides.
The last thing entrepreneurs need is to deal with their investors’ own anxieties and insecurity.
To the contrary, in order to truly open up with their investors and share their doubts and issues, entrepreneurs need to trust that their investors will react in a predictable and supportive way each time they go to them with bad news.
This is where our DNA & investment model play their most important role:
- We are the first believers — It’s literally written on our website. We seek non-conformist ideas, and once we have found them we do everything in our power to protect them and help them thrive
- We are entrepreneurs too — we have built Frst from scratch, iterating ceaselessly to find our initial Product-Market Fit, pitching anyone that would listen, and forfeiting our salaries for 1,5 years to get our first institutional fund off the ground
- We are by design OK with losing our money — that’s the flip side of shooting for deca-billion outcomes. So losing money is an integral part of our job, which allows us to keep a cool head in all circumstances
We also make it our duty to always be available on short notice whenever founders need us, whatever their question is, to help them move forward without skipping a beat. How we do that:
- We have a fairly concentrated portfolio, and only invest in a handful of startups per year
- We work as one team, with founders having full access to everyone at the firm and everyone at the firm leveraging their network for portfolio companies
- We work on a free-flow basis with founders, mostly built on top of Whatsapp, complemented with targeted informal work sessions on an as-needed basis to sync with founders, help them take a step back, keep tabs on the team’s progress and think of the most relevant insights & intros we can provide at each point in time
As investors 100% focused and dedicated to the Seed Phase, we have seen the “Zero to Series A” movie many times around already.
This has made us very humble on the value we can add to a venture besides our money; this is why our only real commitment to founders is to work hard and surprise them to the upside.
However, while domain-specific knowledge is hardly replicable from one startup to the other, there are general truths that we have seen proven time and time again, which we tend to be quite opinionated about, and that are in essence quite close to the YC checklist.
- “Funding secured” — We move fast and underwrite 100% of the round, to solve the money question, but we are also open to syndicating up to 20% of the round in order to bring in value-added angels
- Terms and valuations are not our battle — we shoot for deca-billion outcomes, and the only thing that really matters to us is to protect our fair share of the upside. Besides that all our terms are optimized for simplicity, transparency, alignment and speed of signature
- As 80%+ of a round will go to salaries, we mostly design the round size to provide founders with sufficient resources to pay top-tier wages for top talent if they need to
- We are OK with losing our money on each investment, which forms an integral part of our investment model
All this is done in order to let the team and us quickly move on to the fun part, which is why we wake up in the morning: finding Product-Market Fit.
Because of the need to iterate fast, the team built during the Seed Phase has to be very small, but very high-quality; the quality of the early team is actually the best proxy for the long-term success of the venture.
But it can be tough to convince top talent to join a project that sometimes only exists in the founders’ brain, in particular in a context of fierce competition from other startups and large tech companies — So this is where the most muscle is needed.
How we help here:
- As mentioned, we design the round size and options pool to provide founders with sufficient resources to offer attractive work packages
- This is amplified by the fact that being backed by a well-known, ambitious VC brand is a great employer brand proxy, until the company is renowned in its own right — This goes a long way to communicate the level of quality and ambition of the project to potential hires (and it has actually been scientifically proven)
- We also often get to pitch candidates ourselves during their hiring process, to give them our investor’s point of view on the company’s prospects and help close them
Because their time is so precious, Founders should not spend a minute networking or attending events (unless it’s the best way to gain clients).
To the contrary, a VC’s networking efforts are made more efficient by the fact that they can meet people once but connect them several times.
As such, a VC can act as a mutualized connector, introducing founders to relevant advisors, mentors, fellow entrepreneurs, talent, potential customers and of course other investors.
We do this across the entire Seed Phase:
- Before the investment, we start working with founders to attract the most useful angels & investors to optimize the blend of skills surrounding the team
- Whenever a thorny problem arises, we cherry-pick the most knowledgeable connection in our network to help founders move forward
- We find relevant intros to populate the first list of customers / beta-users
- We have spoken with dozens of potential hires over the past few years, which means we are often able to source interesting leads for founders to meet
- And when the next round comes up we connect founders with the most relevant Series A+ investors and help them hone their pitch
In a nutshell
We are deep believers that world-class companies are built through a unique blend of ambition, vision and execution — and that execution is essentially the result of millions of resources allocation decisions, big and small.
The onus is on founders to make all those decisions, and as investors it is our privilege to try an be positive catalysts to maximize their chances of success.
We think that this SECSI framework is a good way for us to track our humble contribution.
firstname.lastname@example.org — www.frst.vc