Sunday, June 7, 2009

Bubbles, Slogs, and Selling Out: Part 12

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First installment
All installments in reverse chronological order

This story is being told as a cautionary tale for other idealistic entrepreneurs. And I've been remiss in failing to talk about venture capitalists. So we need to backtrack.

I'd written way back in Installment #2:
..."thank God (in a way), the bubble burst and there was no funding to be had and we'd gone from Cutting Edge to hopeless relic in the space of a few months."
Why "thank God"? I can explain it quite easily by relating a story I'd heard early-on from an embittered former entrepreneur who'd founded a sensational online company that had garnered VC funding. The VCs had overreached for control, of course. And they weren't eager to see him paid a living wage, of course. Those sorts of issues are to be expected. But here's the really gripping part: When a healthy buyout offer had been extended, which would have made my friend a multimillionaire, the VCs nixed the deal. 

Why? Because VCs aren't looking for prudent gains. They're looking for an absolute explosion from a couple of their investments, and expect to blithely toss the rest into the gutter. And the number one rule of explosion seekers is: Never cash in your chips for less than a major score. You must let 'em ride all the way.

Mind you, the VCs were fully aware by that point that this company was unlikely to ever explode. But they preferred to see the operation whither, preserving an infinitesimal chance of a breakout, rather than take a moderate profit. Whither it did, the VC's shrugged off the loss, and the founders escaped with little more than the shirts on their backs. The company itself was long gone by the time I heard this story.

In that same Installment #2 quoted above, I recounted a meeting I'd had with the name partner of a highly-respected Silicon Valley law firm. The guy had gone on and on about how I needed to forecast a "hunredmillindollis home run". The guy was a feeder for that system. And it's not a system for people with mere $20 million dreams.

Mega-greedy investors may be remorseless, but consider this: if you've concocted a home run business plan to attract VC investment (something we, finally, were unwilling to do), why shouldn't you be held to the stellar outcome you yourself had fabricated? After having forecasted a $100M future, pretending to be as ravenously greedy as the VCs you were courting, why would you accept less? It'd be chutzpah to say, "Well, of course that business plan was a bunch of bull; c'mon, guys, let's just grab this easy offer!" After waving bloody steaks at sharks, one ought not expect modest appetites.

Of course, not taking investment money can mean a decade spent slogging along without resources, missing all sorts of opportunities (and even that only if things go really well!). But, hey, welcome to capitalism.

Because we'd never taken venture capital, Chowhound, after nearly a decade, still existed (albeit as a choke collar around my neck)...and I was free to do little deals like this one with CNET.

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