Detailed forecasts are largely meaningless in seed and early stage investing. When I get monthly forecasts of specific KPI’s and financial statements for a company that has yet to launch, or one with a very limited operating history, I only glance over the values in each specific month. There are simply too many assumptions which go into the forecasts, and too much uncertainty about each assumption, for the forecast to be valuable.
Instead, I take a look at the forecast figures for a specific month roughly one year into the company’s future. Specifically, I look to see whether these figures are aggressive or conservative. These figures reveal a lot about the entrepreneur’s psychology and approach to the business.
Sometimes there’s a reasonable alignment between the entrepreneur’s expectations and mine. This includes any forecast where the difference between our expectations is less than a factor of 3 apart. Although a factor of 3 may initially appear like a large difference, it isn’t in the context of seed and early stage startups.
However, at other times the forecasts are too conservative. For example, the entrepreneur’s forecast may be 10 times smaller than what I think they could achieve. This may indicate that the entrepreneur isn’t thinking in big enough terms for the business to be a successful investment. Venture investing requires very large returns from a select few investments so we can’t invest in entrepreneurs without bold ambitions.
Although this takes place less frequently, sometimes the forecasts can also be unrealistically aggressive. The market may simply not be large enough to accommodate the forecasts. There can be exceptions to this rule if the company has the potential to expand an existing market, or create a new one. However, outside of these exceptions, forecasts that appear unrealistic relative to a market’s size can signal that the entrepreneur hasn’t done their market research.
Board meetings are very valuable. This is because they take place rarely (at most once a month, and usually less often), and they bring together people who either have a vested interest in your business’ success (like investors), relevant experience (like industry advisors), or both. This makes them a platform where the entrepreneur has the opportunity to extract a lot of value in a short period of time.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always take place. Board meetings are wasted when the entrepreneur spends the meeting sharing the company’s qualitative progress and quantitative financial and KPI performance. This information is difficult for board members to properly digest on the spot, and it leaves little time to discuss what actions the company should take to improve its performance.
The solution to this problem is simple. It consists of taking two actions.
First, you need to share the company’s qualitative and quantitative status updates prior to the meeting. Although sharing this information a week in advance is ideal, even sharing it 2 days in advance usually gives your board members enough time to go through the updates and come prepared to the meeting. This lets you dedicate the meeting time to solving problems rather than updating people.
Second, you need to share a list of the most pressing issues on your mind where you’d like the input of your board members. This should be shared together with the status updates. Depending on the depth of each issue you’d like to discuss, you’ll probably share somewhere between 1 to 3 issues for each meeting. By sharing what you’d like to talk about during the meeting in advance, you give your board members the opportunity to reflect on these issues prior to the meeting. This produces much more thoughtful insights than when you ask for their input on the spot.
Both of these actions are examples of planning and preparation. Being planned and prepared for board meetings is correlated with being planned and prepared for your company’s future.
In a recent blog post, Wonolo’s co-founder Yong Kim uses a personal anecdote about his uncle to illustrate the important worker need that on-demand companies fulfill. Although not all on-demand companies will be successful, Yong argues, and I agree, that the on-demand economy overall is here to stay.
The reason is that on-demand companies don’t just give consumers what they want. This is widely accepted. Equally important, they give workers what they need.
As a result, we need a new category of worker somewhere between an employee and an independent contractor to emerge. This is a topic I wrote about in an earlier post which Yong also puts forth in his post.
In theory, a jack of all trades is someone who has many different skills and can therefore do many different kinds of work. I used to believe that such people existed.
The problem is that, whenever I thought I had discovered a jack of all trades, I eventually found out that this wasn’t actually the case. Looking back, there were two reasons for my misjudgments.
The first was that I didn’t actually know what an exceptional person in a specific line of work looked like. Since I didn’t know what a master looked like, I couldn’t distinguish between a good performer and a master.
The second was that I had multiple types of work that needed to get done and it was easier to attempt to fill them with a single person than to put in the greater time and effort necessary to find multiple people to fill the roles. The concept of a single silver bullet was romantic. Unfortunately it wasn’t realistic.
The reason why a jack of all trades no longer makes sense to me is because it takes time to be exceptional at something. And since we have a fixed amount of time, if you spend your time doing multiple things rather than allocating the vast majority of your time to a single line of work, you can be pretty sure that you’ll eventually fall behind someone with similar talent who focuses on a single objective. They’ll set the standard for what’s exceptional.
I guess that’s why they eventually started saying “jack of all trades, master of none”.
One of our founders was recently approached by an investor interested in investing in their company. The company doesn’t need money right now and can do a lot more with its current cash to become a bigger and better company over the next few months.
When a startup receives investor interest outside of a formal fundraising cycle, it can be tempting for the entrepreneur to act on the interest. This is especially true in markets like Turkey where funding for startups is a scarce resource.
However, there are two problems with moving forward with fundraising discussions with a single investor outside of when you decide to launch a formal fundraising process.
The first is that you don’t need the cash. You therefore leave money on the table by foregoing the higher valuation that you would secure if you used your existing cash to become a bigger and better company. I wrote about how you want to start fundraising with 6 to 12 months of runway left in an earlier post.
The second is that, if you move forward with a single investor, you’re going to have one bidder at best at the end of your talks. And the number of bidders you have at the table is the single most important factor for your startup’s valuation. I wrote about this in an earlier post.
These two reasons shouldn’t be read as a recommendation to optimize for valuation. At the end of a formal fundraising process which you launch when you have identified a need for cash in the upcoming 6 to 12 months, you should prioritize the identity and your personal fit with each potential investor over small differences in the valuations that different investors may be offering.
You should also build a relationship with potential investors before launching a formal fundraising process. This means meeting them, sharing your vision, and keeping them updated on the company’s progress through regular check-ins. This will help you find the right partner and reach a fast conclusion when you begin to fundraise.
However, in each of these discussions, you should be clear that you’re currently not looking for money. You know the right time to raise money for your company, and you want to be talking to multiple investors when that time arrives.
Our portfolio company Modanisa recently celebrated its 5th birthday.
The company has come a long way since its beginnings in 2011. It is now one of the world’s leading Muslim female clothing e-commerce companies. The next 5 years promise to be even more exciting than the first 5.
Modanisa shared the video below to celebrate its 5th birthday. The video is in Turkish and includes several statistics about the company’s performance. Here’s one worth noting: a thin green pashmina shawl on Modanisa was sold in 70 different countries.
If someone cares about you, they’ll be kind to you. There’s a correlation between caring about someone and kindness, and most people would agree with this.
However, this correlation eventually breaks down. There is such a thing as too much kindness. After a certain point, kindness changes from being a signal of caring to signaling that someone is trying to take advantage of you for their own interests.
You should therefore welcome kind people in your life because life is funner and more productive that way. But you need to watch out for people who are too kind. Kindness beyond reason is an attempt to cloak self-interest as mutual interest. And that self-interest will eventually come at your expense.
In a post from last year, I wrote about how The Information is the only news source which I pay an annual subscription fee to access. Most other news sources contain increasingly commoditized information for which I’m not willing to pay a subscription fee.
Recently, a second source of information for which I’m willing to a subscription fee has emerged: Stratechery.
In contrast to The Information which writes more about current events pertaining to tech startups, Stratechery shares insights about the strategies of large tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. This lets you draw you own implications for what these moves mean for startups.
Stratechery’s articles consist of strategic deep dives based on the earnings releases and public news around large tech companies. They not only aggregate and summarize the parts of the publicly available information that matter, but also use this information to draw well-reasoned insights that I can’t find elsewhere. This makes the articles harder to digest than those from other news sources but that’s also what makes them worthwhile.
Stratechery is the solo effort of Ben Thompson. As a result, there are 4 articles each week (one on each of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday). And since it’s a one-man operation, its $100 annual subscription fee is a lot less than the $600 annual fee for The Information.