How to be a Value-Added VC—Straight From the CEOs

VCs, consider this a value-add intervention.

While there are a lot of CEOs writing blogs to mock, criticize or point out that your industry’s days are numbered, we’re not like that.

In truth, we’ve been fans for a long time. Many of our best friends are investors. As such, we’re here to tell you something that everyone has wanted to say, but hasn’t had the guts to until now.

We know you want to be more than just the money people. You want to add value. We think the sentiment is genuine from most of you. But the truth is, based on our experience talking to other CEOs and sitting on boards, not every investor understands what value a CEO wants added.

We’ve been fortunate to have worked with some amazing investors where we’ve seen how much positive impact a great investor can add.

In that spirit, here’s what CEOs want from you:

  1. Respond. This first one should be a “gimme,” but it’s not. It’s amazing how many CEOs we know tell us that their board members aren’t always responsive. If a CEO can’t count on her board to be responsive, she won’t reach out to them.
  2. Push. Contrary to what you may read, we want you to push us. We want you to push us in the important stuff only, but we don’t want you to sit back and let us drive off a cliff. Give us feedback. Do a quarterly review for us. Point us to advisors. Most importantly, help us think even bigger than we already are.
  3. Focus. On the flip side, push us only on stuff that matters. Every time you opine on press release wording or ask about some tiny competitor, you’re creating a chain reaction in our company that may not be intended. We have people to help with the minutiae.
  4. Connect. You know a ton of people. We want to meet people, such as other CEOs, potential customers and hires. But please, NO blind intros. Qualify the intent on both sides and make sure there is an interest in meeting.
  5. Organize. To do this, get organized. Some of the best firms out there are investing in CRM, contact management, etc. just like your portfolio companies do. But we still see many VCs who can’t keep track of who’s in their companies and who they’ve met. You wouldn’t want us to run our companies that way, so practice the golden rule.
  6. Promote. We love seeing our name mentioned. The best firms are investing in PR strategically. You have a megaphone that many of your portfolio companies don’t have. Use it.
  7. Collaborate. It’s our job to get the board aligned, but you can help. Build consensus outside of the board meeting. If there’s an elephant in the room, step up and call us on it, even if the elephant is us.
  8. Confide. When you tell us the dirty laundry of what’s happening in another investment, we wonder what you’re saying about us. If we can’t trust you, we won’t tell you everything. That’s not good for anyone.
  9. Motivate. Startups are full of ups and down. They are a thrill but we need support during the down times. Piling on with concerns and frustration doesn’t help. If you stop believing, tell us. But until then, stay on our side.
  10. Listen. We don’t expect you to solve all of our problems. If you try to, you minimize the feeling of their complexity. Often, we just want someone to talk to. Don’t always jump to the answer.

Again, we love you. But because we love, you deserve to hear the truth. Here’s to an everlasting relationship.

Nick Mehta is CEO of Gainsight and a former EIR at Accel Partners. Follow him on Twitter at @nrmehta and the company at @GainsightHQ. He can be reached at nmehta@gainsight.com.

Photo image of CEOs from Shutterstock.

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2 Comments

  • Let’s add some others, shall we???

    1. Don’t jump in where you’re not wanted. VCs have a dramatically over-inflated view of their value add, ESPECIALLY in Marketing. You guys STINK at Marketing.

    2. Don’t second-guess all our moves. You’re not here every day. If you were truly an operator, you’d be running this business. You’re NOT an operator.

    3. Bring your damn wallet. Many companies have been killed dead when ‘wink and nod’ agreements never materialized in investment dollars.

    4. Don’t lie to me. Tell me what you need me to know. Don’t coddle me and then surprise me with board decisions I didn’t expect.

    5. Don’t work my team behind my back. My credibility is important to the success of the entire organization. If you cuts my legs out by going directly to my people, you’ve also told them I’m no good as a CEO.

    • Thanks, Frank, for advancing the conversation. Some compelling adds you have here!

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