Spencer Kuzon spent 2 years on the Property Management Team at Corigin, before joining our Ventures team for 6 months. He is now working in Partnerships at Corigin Portfolio Company, Latch. Before he moved on, he put some thoughts down on paper for our community.
Venture Capital is an interesting beast. I realized pretty early on that the startup world is home to some of the hardest-working, talented, hungry individuals. In contrast, it’s also incredibly hard on founders – long nights, scrappy days and never-ending competition. I understood why more than 90% of startups eventually fail, and it’s certainly not due to a lack of great ideas.
With that in mind, it was no surprise to me that VC has become such a coveted field – there’s no other place in the world where individuals can make educated bets on the future of cutting-edge innovation for a living. For someone who has had an interest in the future of finance and blockchain, I knew right away it was going to be an interesting experience.
I was lucky enough to intern with the Corigin Ventures team during the first half of 2018, and to say it was an eye-opening experience wouldn’t do it justice. Unlike the brash and unrefined process commercialized on Shark Tank, real VC investment involves diligence, poise and an unrelenting desire to empower the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Reflecting back, I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to have closed the book on my wild ride at Corigin.
Below are some of my quick thoughts that I picked up along the way, during my short ‘stay’ in the venture capital world.
While I may have originally thought that good ideas were gold, much like is portrayed on Shark Tank, I instead got a much deeper understanding of what’s important in early-stage venture capital. The folks at Corigin have crafted their investment process to put a heavy emphasis on founder-market fit. It may seem counter-intuitive, but there is no shortage of good ideas. There is however, a shortage of really special people to execute on those ideas.
At Corigin, “founder” is listed first in the investment decision-making process for a reason. VCs are way more inclined to bet on unique founders playing in a tough market in which they have a competitive advantage rather than on a bland entrepreneur with a good idea.
It occurred to me early on that there’s a decent amount of luck and timing involved in startups. I thought about this during my time at Corigin and realized that there are two types of timing: one that you can control and one that you cannot.
Certainly, every entrepreneur dreads the notion of having a great idea but arriving too late to a market to achieve critical mass. On the flip side, while being “first to market” with a particular idea is often lauded as an undeniable advantage, it can also be a double-edged sword. I thought about this in the context of some of the software-based businesses during the dot-com boom.
On the flip side, there are critical timing decisions that founders can control during their developmental life, particularly around fundraising. In general, it’s easy for inexperienced founders to get caught up in industry hype and try to rush toward raising a round before they’re truly ready. Other than giving you time to further solidify product-market fit and build the right team, it also makes the eventual fundraise smoother and potentially more lucrative, due to a heightened focus and mounting traction. Conversely, it’s easy for a hasty founder to spread her/himself too thin amongst potentially investors before having an MVP and lose momentum, which sends a negative signal to the market.
While participating in a number of first-time pitch meetings with the Corigin team, I realized that there was an unquantifiable element that was visible with some founders: charisma. I didn’t realize why it was truly valuable at first, but came to after my months meeting new founders. Jared Dunn, from Silicon Valley (the HBO show), sums it up well:
“People don’t wanna follow an idea, they wanna follow a leader. Look at the last guy to create a new Internet. Al Gore. His ideas were excellent, but he talked like a narcoleptic plantation owner, so he lost the presidency to a fake cowboy and now he makes apocalypse porn.”
Whether it’s energizing your employees, or selling to benefactors during your fundraise, charisma combined with intelligence can turn a single into a home run.
THE PRIMACY EFFECT
As the most junior member of the Corigin team, I was often taking a first look at pitch decks that came in through cold leads. This meant that the range of quality could be quite wide. As such, I came to realize that founders are only as strong as their first foot forward. Given that I was screening so many of these, I started to become increasingly selective. Founders shouldn’t be giving VCs a reason to doubt them before they’ve even had a conversation. I saw some smart entrepreneurs & ideas get passed on due to lack of preparedness or administrative etiquette. To me, it was low-hanging fruit and an absolute must. A mentor of mine always used to say, “if you give anyone any chance to doubt of your work, they will do so.” Don’t give them that chance.
If your deck looks like it was thrown together in 15 minutes, they’ll probably assume your idea is as makeshift as its presentation. If it takes you weeks to furnish supporting documents when asked, they will use this as a data point to assume you’re ill-prepared or disorganized.
ENJOY THE RIDE
Above all, don’t forget to take a step back and smell the roses. While it’s easy to get caught up in the daily to-do list and sacrifice personal well-being for the sake of “the grind,” it’s no secret that exhaustion quickly begins to yield diminishing returns, which ultimately leads to burnout. Any entrepreneur worth his salt has likely battled this phenomenon at some point during his career and, while some wear it as a badge of honor, most list it as a serious concern that they need mitigating.
To help combat this for our Corigin family, our Head of Platform began instituting voluntary Wellness initiatives, ranging from meditation to personalized nutrition plans for anyone within the portfolio needing that extra push. While this example goes above and beyond what is expected from any fund in particular, entrepreneurs should be cognizant of the ways VCs help service their founders and utilize that knowledge as a data point when going out to fundraise.
A special thanks goes to Ryan & David for giving me the opportunity to learn from and work alongside a truly brilliant team. You’ve built an incredible thesis, culture, and fund, and I’m excited to witness the heights you’ll surely climb.
To Claire & Jackie, I owe you more than words can articulate – not only for an incredible learning environment, but also for a renewed sense of direction. Couldn’t have begun to formulate my next step without your limitless tutelage and advice…thanks for everything.