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The “Come-from-Behind” Lead Investor

As an entrepreneur, if you’re running a venture capital fundraise effectively, you’re treating the process like a sale process: identifying a set of prospects to fill the top of the funnel, cultivating those relationships over a series of meetings, then narrowing down to a handful of contender firms who will ultimately make an offer to invest with a term sheet. Of key importance, which we emphasize with our NextView portfolio companies when they’re out raising their Series A, is to run the conversations in parallel rather than serially. In other words, as much as feasible, to gate all of the VC discussions so that they’re progressing along essentially the same pace – with the goal to receive multiple terms sheets near simultaneously in order to best select the best offer and best partner, with full information.

But reality doesn’t always play out as neatly. Often for a myriad of often idiosyncratic reasons, an entrepreneur is introduced to an attractive new potential VC partner late in the game. The founder CEO is already a couple meetings deep into the process with others, at or nearing the final partner meeting decision, and somebody new is all of a sudden interested. Really interested. Is it worth paying attention to this potential “come-from-behind” VC investor?

The risk with engaging with an investor who isn’t as up to speed is a waste of the most valuable limited resource – time – when a CEO is concentrating on figuring out the best fit among the remaining candidates AND while simultaneously running a company, after all. There is also risk that the supposedly strong interest isn’t as sincere and the VC is merely “hanging around the hoop” and maintaining optionality to see if/what the contour of the round looks like, so that they can jump in front of the train at the last minute if validated by another fancier VC.

However, in my personal experience, the come-from-behind lead investor is worth incorporating into the process, as it turns out more often than you’d expect that they end up leading the round. This situation happens because a genuine come-from-behind lead investor is:

  • Self-selecting in because they’re really interested, not just going through the motions of whatever the most intriguing investment opportunity currently on their plate. If they’re fully aware of their initial position in the running, and despite that fact, they’ve decided to still push forward, they’re more likely to get to yes than the average firm in the process.
  • Driving their own internal decisioning process quickly, forgoing the unnecessary (internal political) steps, in an effort to reach a definitive yes-or-no sooner rather than later.
  • Cognizant of their position, they tend to be overly aggressive on company-attractive terms to win the deal.

The best litmus test to suss out whether or not a potential come-from-behind investor is worth paying attention to is if they’re “doing work.” And a lot of it in a short period of time: making diligence calls, using the product, striving to understand your market, engaging with questions to learn more about business. While often there’s a requirement to juggle schedules to meet other members of the firm, meeting other folks in the shop shouldn’t be the only activity going on the VC if s/he is truly getting up to speed. It should be clear that the come-from-behind investor is making every effort to fully appreciate the business as quickly as possible.

With the right motivation, abbreviated but ample time for conclusive diligence, and a willingness to overcommunicate to get to know a startup’s founder, the come-from-behind investor isn’t always the underdog in the VC financing process.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by About.com where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.