Founders Are Our Customers: How We Serve Prime Movers

A New Standard of Founder-Friendly

Dakin Sloss
Mar 17, 2019 · 11 min read

Although most investors tout a founder-friendly approach, few follow through on this lofty ambition. This post explains how we at Prime Movers Lab partner with Prime Movers, the creators of breakthrough scientific inventions, to commercialize their technologies and transform billions of lives. Most importantly, we view and treat the founders of our current and potential portfolio companies as customers. This perspective guides every interaction we have, from introduction to diligence to negotiation to building together. Our process focuses on four components: founder, business, technology, and deal. For each step, we work tirelessly to identify learning opportunities and useful connections that can help accelerate a startup’s growth.

Our founder-friendly approach starts at our introductory meeting, when we ask Prime Movers “how can we serve you?” and “what is the biggest challenge you need support on?”. In our experience as entrepreneurs, most first VC conversations turn into a pitch and information transfer from founder to investor. We think this is a wasted opportunity because we at Prime Movers Lab are entrepreneurs and can offer valuable advice and introductions for founders. We ensure that in our first conversation, we find ways to add massive value that justifies the precious time founders spend speaking with us.

Immediately after this initial conversation, we jump into action to support founders with further feedback, customer introductions, fundraising advice, or whatever else a founder has asked for. We do this for Prime Movers even if we have decided not to pursue further evaluation of an investment, because we are primarily here to help build world-changing companies, and investing is just one component of that mission. We value contributing to founders even if it is not the right time for a financial partnership.

We tell people stories about working with Prime Movers Lab because the experience is 5 sigma out there and utterly different from anyone else we have spoken to. Their service to and coaching of entrepreneurs is the ideal that every investor pretends to offer. We can’t believe how lucky we are. — Gabe Hare, Founder of Reification

We have also designed our diligence process to maximize value creation for Prime Movers such that even if we don’t choose to invest, the startup is in a stronger position for having worked through our evaluation.

For the founder-focused portion of our evaluation, we provide actionable coaching and feedback to support personal development in the most critical areas to startup success. We are lucky to have one of the world’s greatest coaches and business strategists support Prime Movers in this area. Our Partner, Tony Robbins is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, philanthropist, and the world’s #1 life and business strategist. Tony coaches breakthrough Prime Movers using the tools that have made him the #1 personal and professional development leader of all time. Through his partnership with Prime Movers Lab, Tony gives founders access to his live events, coaching programs, audio content and other premium resources to help business leaders accelerate on the path to success.

Our Partner Michael J Savage is an Executive Coach with Prime Movers Lab. He brings two decades and over 100,000 hours of coaching experience across a wide range of businesses, from startups coming out of YCombinator or 500Startups, to C-Level executive coaching inside some of the most recognizable companies today. For over 15 years Michael traveled the world supporting individuals and teams as a Trainer with Robbins Research — founded by Life and Business Strategist Tony Robbins. He was a Business Coach and Trainer during his time at Robbins Research, and traveled the globe supporting and Facilitating Business Results Workshops on a broad range of topics, as well as Tony’s Life & Wealth Mastery Events. He is an ICF and BCC certified Executive Coach.

Outside of coaching, Michael has successfully built businesses in financial services as well as retail. He has supported founders and startups, coaching individuals and teams, as well as training and certifying coaches working in startup ecosystems like Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project in Las Vegas. As a business coach and advisor Michael holds board seats in a number of small and medium sized organizations, and holds a seat on the Board of the Hero Initiative, a not for profit charity supporting the creative minds behind the world’s greatest comic book and pop culture icons. He resides in central Florida with his partner and daughter.

For the business-focused portions of our evaluation, we strive to help founders identify new strategies, tactics, and experiments to maximize value creation for their customers. We approach these conversations as brainstorming opportunities to help think through marketing, sales, and customer support processes and we share our learnings from serving some of the world’s largest organizations across energy, transportation, infrastructure, manufacturing, human augmentation, and computing. Our commitment is to unlock so much value in the go-to-market planning during these discussions, that founders say they would have sought the conversation independent of investment.

It feels like Prime Movers Lab has my back. The connections and introductions have been extremely helpful and have provided feedback and support and lead to further great introductions. Also, the help on branding has been huge. Getting a logo and website up fast has been really useful. — Francisco LePort, CEO of Gordian.Bio

For those companies where we do invest, the support in business strategy and high-value introductions is further amplified. Our Founder and General Partner, Dakin Sloss, who built OpenGov and Tachyus and invested in Boom, meets weekly to partner with Prime Movers and assist them in adapting to customer needs as the business unfolds.

Our General Partner, Brandon Simmons, is a seasoned operator and attorney who understands what it takes to scale a company from a few people to hundreds of employees. He served as Chief Operating Officer of Tachyus, where he led global business development, customer success, and operations. Brandon is also a sought-after coach and advisor to startups and nonprofits, including as a mentor at Berkeley SkyDeck.

The technology that our founders develop generates immense value but it’s just as critical that our companies are able to capture some of that value. Our Partner, Anton Brevde, is a fantastic resource in this area, leveraging his seven years of experience as the CEO of Asseta where his day to day focus was on global business development to Fortune 500 companies. He supports Prime Movers in developing their tactics and strategies around sales and business development.

Additionally, our Creative Director and Partner, JJ Moi, who has served startups, governments, and Fortune 50 brands, is available to our startups to help with branding, marketing, and product design. His work helps our startups rapidly establish the look, feel, and polish of a mature growth-stage company to impress future hires, clients, and investors at a minimal cost.

As companies scale, finding the right talent to fill key roles becomes a critical function. Our Talent Partner, Ashley Nowicki, leads talent initiatives for the firm, manages recruiter and expert relationships across different verticals of interest, and advises portfolio companies in hiring and team building. Ashley continues to develop our community and can advise portfolio companies in their hiring and talent development. She can help to create tools and build more intimate ecosystems to support them as they grow.

Prime Movers Lab has been deeply supportive and we feel the partnership. I am very grateful for help on the small stuff and big picture strategy. It has even helped me to create my style and approach. I like our consistent conversations and that we are well synchronized on our milestones and plans. I feel I am not alone. I am finding it very helpful. — Mikhail Kokorich, CEO of Momentus

We also assist Prime Movers by partnering with a public relations firm to announce milestones like fundraising and product launches. We can help our founders develop a press strategy to maximize their impact on the world.

On the technology side, we perform deeper diligence than most funds and thus typically serve Prime Movers in refining their productization roadmap, IP strategy, and risk mitigation plans. Our Principal Systems Engineer and Partner, Dan Slomski, has designed everything from particle accelerators to stem cell sorters.

Dan and a network of dozens of world-leading scientific subject-matter experts with decades of research and development experience dive in with founders to help them evaluate the biggest remaining scientific and engineering risks and low-cost approaches to address them. Additionally, they serve Prime Movers in considering the balance of patent protection and trade secrets to effectively minimize competitive threats. So far, hundreds of founders have received sufficient value from our thorough technical diligence process to justify the time spent with us even when we haven’t invested. After investing, Dan, and the subject matter experts continue to be available for further brainstorming, design reviews, and technical mentorship.

Dan is joined by Carly Anderson, Principal Chemical Engineer and Partner. Carly has designed gas separation processes for heavy industries and led fundamental research on creating electrical plasma devices. She has experience in startups, technology development, and technical consulting, and offers these skills to portfolio companies by helping them overcome key process design, scalability, and implementation challenges. She has a perfect blend of practical, real-world experience and deep theoretical understanding that she can apply to the inevitable hurdles that deeptech companies face.

In biotech and life sciences we have an equally accomplished Partner in Amy Kruse. Amy is a Principal Biologist and has a background in neuroscience. She has helped an applied neuroscience company develop a robust intellectual property portfolio as well as overseeing innovation and R&D at a global defense company. She managed a DARPA budget of $300M and developed the agency’s first performance-oriented neuroscience program. She leverages this experience with companies in the defense, biotech, or life sciences sectors and can help them navigate arcane government budget and procurement processes or bring complex technology into real-world environments.

Caleb Bell brings our life sciences team experience in biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysical chemistry. He is a passionate entrepreneur, well-published scientist, and enthusiastic investor. He has started multiple businesses in diverse sectors including the entertainment, food, and biotech industries. His unique combination of startup, venture capital, and technical experience makes him an invaluable asset to our founders supporting commercial and clinical realization of living medicines (cell, gene, and microbiome therapies), bio-inspired innovations being brought to market in synergy with nature, and the intersection of computers and hardware with biology.

Jyothi Devakumar adds depth to our longevity and regenerative medicine practice as a Partner and Principal Biologist. Jyothi continues an admirable career serving in a range of positions from one-woman army to the C suite and across the world, in India, China, Singapore, Malaysia, and the USA. She is a valuable resource for companies developing new regenerative techniques or pushing the frontier of stem cell therapies and looks forward to partnering with companies to bring technology from the lab to the field.

Alessandro Levi rounds out our technical team as Partner and Electrical Engineer. He founded and was CEO of Semplus Corp and has experience across the full breadth of startup CEO tasks, including business development, fundraising, partnerships, developing IP, and operations. He is passionate about mentorship and helping young entrepreneurs. In addition to his skill on the business side, he also offers technical expertise in fields such as robotics, transportation, IoT, telecommunications, semiconductors, and computing. After investing, Alessandro continues to be a valuable resource to founders he works with by helping them develop go to market strategies, design robotic solutions, or reach their next fundraising milestone.

For the deal, we are transparent, just, and flexible. We offer the most founder-friendly term sheet in the market, giving founders maximum control while respecting the basic protective provisions required for a venture investment. We give founders two board seats and ask for one as the lead investor, and we expect to transfer that seat to the Series A lead to maintain founder-control. We also help founders to set up special share classes that give them additional voting rights. Although we are highly active contributors to the Prime Movers we back, we recognize that it is their vision and companies. We are only there to be an extremely supportive partner, never to prevent them from leading where they believe it is best to go.

I can honestly report that their team has offered value to both myself and our company in a manner that I’ve never before experienced. In addition to offering us access to their minds and Rolodex, Prime Movers proactively interacts with our company as if we are their customer, and as if their only job is to do whatever is needed to ensure that we are wildly successful. — David Bach, CEO of PlatypusNeuro

Additionally, we guide founders to establish FF preferred shares with the ability to more easily gain liquidity along the way as their company scales. We want Prime Movers to be incentivized for the long term and to be able to realize the benefits of their success during that journey. Lastly, we reverse archaic provisions such as companies reimbursing VCs for legal fees, and instead we reimburse startups for their legal fees. Legal counsel for the startups we have invested in have unanimously found us to be setting a new standard for founder-friendly negotiation. We go out of our way to help founders understand how to set up the best deal for themselves and the company long-term, even if it might mean a short-term concession from us.

We also support our founders in helping them plan and executive around their future funding needs. Our General Partner, Suzanne Fletcher, is an invaluable resource in this area having previously spent five years running the Stanford StartX fund. As Fund Manager at StartX, Suzanne oversaw $175M of direct investment in 300 start-ups across 500+ rounds, from seed through Series D, in industries ranging across Enterprise, Consumer, Hardware, and Medical.

After diligence, as mentioned above, we provide two weekly coaching sessions to our founders focused on leadership and business strategy. Beyond that, we are available to our founders for daily text, Slack, and email and serve as their trusted partner. We regularly ask for feedback on what we else we could offer to contribute at an even higher level and add even more value. Already based on that frequent feedback, we have established semi-annual retreats to bring Prime Movers together together to learn from each other and take the time to work on their leadership development. Our Prime Movers also meet bi-weekly in a mastermind to support each other and benefit from peer-to-peer feedback. We also share a proven playbook of sales, marketing, operations, recruiting, and product development strategies and processes with our Prime Movers to accelerate their identification of best practices to adopt.

To summarize, at every step in our relationship (introduction, diligence, building together) with Prime Movers, we take a customer-centric founder-friendly approach and ask ourselves “how can we create more value for founders than anyone else”? If you are interested in experiencing what it is like to be a customer, not an investment, contact to explore how we can serve you.

Prime Movers Lab invests in breakthrough scientific startups founded by Prime Movers, the inventors who transform billions of lives. We invest in seed-stage companies reinventing energy, transportation, infrastructure, manufacturing, human augmentation and computing.

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