Why its new funding model may just find product-market fit with female founders
A new fund from O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures (OATV) was announced a few weeks ago. indie.vc debuted with a low-key website and a downright revolutionary investment thesis, at least for Silicon Valley:
At a San Francisco info session last week, Bryce Roberts spent much of the Q&A explaining the unique funding structure of the indie.vc model: focusing on building sustainable, postive cash-flow businesses.
Minds were blown.
Partners Bryce, Tim, and Mark say indie.vc is not not looking for successful, scalable, blow-out-the-windows companies. They are just looking for companies that don’t view closing a funding round as their first key milestone or an acqui-hire within two years as mission accomplished.
Big rounds of funding make for great headlines and driving clicks. But most of this capital, and these headlines, are having a dangerous effect on founders and the companies they’re building. It would be no understatement to say that the vast majority of the capital being raised today is done so out of vanity or fear, not need. — @Bryce “The Biggest Misunderstanding About Indie.vc”
In response to questions from “founders [who] are just interested in raising a small amount of money with the intent to raise more from traditional VCs as quickly as possible,” Bryce clarified:
“ Indie.vc is not a back up school for failed attempts at getting into other incubators, accelerators or a grander catapult to launch you into the world or traditional VC funding. This is intended to be something different.”
I told Bryce “something different” sounded pretty good to me.
Apparently indie.vc is hearing that from a lot of people, especially women. Bryce asked why I thought the announcement had hit such a chord with female founders.
I sent a list.
[NOTE: Generalizations are just that. What follows obviously does not apply to every woman and certainly could apply to many men.]
- In the most generic sense: traditional VC pattern matching doesn’t work well for women. (This is not a revolutionary statement.) They are almost always an exception to the pattern-to-be-matched, whether in personality, experience, approach, market. A new pattern means new opportunity, potentially with less inherent bias.
- Many women hate the bombast required for a typical VC pitch — and that bombast is typically received differently when delivered by a woman. Women have no trouble thinking big and absolutely no problem working hard — but generally prefer to under-promise and over-deliver.
- Women are used to working with less capital... and delivering. With fewer options, women have had to bootstrap more, make do with less, and focus on revenue sooner: “Women-led private technology companies are more capital-efficient, achieving 35% higher return on investment, and, when venture-backed, bringing in 12% higher revenue than male-owned tech companies, according to Women in Technology: Evolving, Ready to Save the World, research conducted by the Kauffman Foundation.” — Forbes.
- Socialization in the startup sector can be unpleasant. I actually was a judge at the famous hackathon that prompted an on-stage apology from organizers. A few bad apples continue to rot some of the banner events that purport to represent the tech industry. If a company’s goal is to be acquired by another company or take later-stage funding, the events can feel necessary… and many still have a long way to go.
- Women build businesses to solve problems. In evaluating success, most don’t ask: Did my business exit? They ask: Did I solve the problem? (And if the answer is no, they are not done.) “[Women] are not looking for simple answers. They create comprehensive solutions.” — Larry Keeley, author of Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs, as quoted in Forbes. Comprehensive solutions require a slower build, a longer cycle; very different from the “build an app and sell to Google” fever of the past few years.
The indie.vc model seems, at first blush, designed to reward and encourage many of the qualities frequently cited as inherent characteristics of women entrepreneurs. For many, that will be a welcome departure from the norm — and potentially quite a lucrative one.
Related: Check out Karen Rubin’s new analysis on Quantopian: “What would happen if you invested in companies with female CEOs?”
The startup landscape has changed significantly in the past decade: from the rise of the superangel and seed funds, to AngelList syndicates and crowdfunding. Each innovation has lowered barriers to entry. Each new model has created incentives that drive the way companies are built. More people — including women — are starting companies than every before, yet, numbers for women raising VC remain statistically crazy.
How will companies look if the goal is to build for sustainability and organic scale, rather than institutional funding and an exit?
indie.vc is … an experiment to see if all the talk of ever decreasing costs in infrastructure and distribution can lead to more profitable companies and projects scaling on customers and revenue instead of venture capital.
I, for one, am excited to see what they find. I’m hoping to see stats that buck industry trends and beat industry averages, on many scores.
Marci Harris is co-founder and CEO of POPVOX, a mission-focused, angel-funded “civic startup.” indie.vc partner, Tim O’Reilly, is a POPVOX investor.